Used tires can save you money if you need a cheap set of tires and can’t afford to buy new tires, but are used tires worth the risk? It depends on the tire. Used tires that still have adequate tread depth (4/32 inch or more), no unusual or uneven tread wear, no damage or defects and are less than 6 to 8 years old can be a good buy – but you should always examine the tires carefully because buying used tires is always a risk.
Used tires are available from a variety of sources: tire stores, repair shops, salvage yards, garage sales, Craigs List, ebay, you-name-it. Tire stores and repair shops that sell used tires usually get their used tires from customers who have bought new tires. In most cases, the former owner of the tires was given no credit or payment for their old tires and are usually charged a "disposal" fee that ranges from a few dollars up to $6 or more each. Consequently, the store selling the tires has virtually no cost in their used tires unless they have purchased them from a local salvage yard.
According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA), an estimated 20 million to 25 million used tires enter the U.S. domestic market each year. Many of these are scrapped because they are worn out, damaged or otherwise unusable. But many used tires are also resold. The RMA is pushing for legislation that would make it illegal to sell "unsafe" used tires. The new rules (which are based on industry accepted practices anyway) would establishing criteria that used tires must meet before they can be resold. RMA says this is necessary to protect unwary consumers against the possible risks posed by used tires that are worn out, damaged, too old or otherwise unsafe to remain on the road.
How Much Should You Pay for a Set of Used Tires?
Used tires can sell for $10 to as much as $60 or more depending on the size and condition of the tire, and whether or not they come already mounted on a wheel. Low mileage tires are obviously worth much more than tires that are nearly worn out. Large expensive truck tires typically sell for more than common 14 and 15 inch passenger car tires. Low profile tires and performance tires also fetch a premium because of their higher initial price and residual value.
If you can buy a set of good used tires for $30 to $40 apiece or less, you are probably getting a good deal – provided there are no problems with the tires and the store doesn’t gouge you on installation and balancing. New valve stems are always recommended when replacing tires, and they only cost a few dollars each. Mounting usually runs $8 to $12 a tire for labor, and balancing can be $10 to $15 extra for each tire. The store may or may not include free mounting and balancing with the sale. If they do not, there may be room for some negotiation on the price.
Checking Tread Depth to Estimate Remaining Tire Life
Most new tires have about 10/32 to 11/32 inch of tread on the tire. The rate at which the tread wears down depends on a LOT of variables, including the relative hardness of the rubber, how the vehicle is driven, road conditions, ambient temperature, wheel alignment and inflation pressure.
On the side of every tire is a TREADWEAR rating. The higher the number, the more miles the tires should last. On a tire with a treadwear rating of 400 or higher, you can figure the tire will probably wear down about 1/32 inch every 8,000 to 10,000 miles of normal driving (assuming no alignment problems and proper inflation and rotation). Softer tires with treadwear ratings in the 200 or 300 range wear at a faster rate). So if you are buying used tires, you should measure the tread depth to estimate how many miles are probably left in the tires.
Do not waste your money buying used tires that are nearly worn out. By law, tires are considered worn out when the tread depth is worn down to 2/32 inches, or the wear bars are flush with the tread.
DO NOT buy a used tire has 2/32 inch or less tread left on the tire. In fact, many experts recommend replacing tires when the tread depth is worn down to 4/32 inch because there may not be enough groove area remaining to channel water out from under the tire, increasing the risk of hydroplaning and loss of control during wet weather. If the tread is worn down to the cords, the tire is junk and should be scrapped.
WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR WHEN BUYING USED TIRES
DO NOT buy tires that are more than 10 years old. Check the DATE CODE on the sidewall of the tire. Tires that are more than 10 years old may be dangerously weak and should not be reused. In Europe, they require tires that are more than SIX years old to be replaced! See Watch Out for Old Tires for more information on how to read the date code on a tire.
Check the tread for uneven or unusual wear. Heavy uneven shoulder wear or a diagonal wear pattern across the face of the tread (which you can feel by rubbing your hand across the tires), can produce a rough, noisy ride. Avoid such tires.
Check the inside of the tire for previous repairs. Patches are an acceptable repair for fixing a puncture, but the patch must be applied properly and should have a center plug that extends all the way through the tire to completely seal the hole. Avoid any tire that has more than one patch inside or that has not been repaired properly. Patches will NOT stick to the sidewall or shoulder area of the tire, and will soon come loose.
Putting a tube inside a leaky tubeless tire is a trick that some shops may recommend to salvage an otherwise unpatchable tire. It works, but a tube inside a tubeless tire makes the tire run hot, and is NOT recommended for sustained highway driving, especially during hot weather.
Check the inside and outside of the tire for sidewall damage such as gouges, bulges, cuts or punctures. Such damage can weaken the tire and increase the risk of sudden tire failure. Avoid such tires.
DO NOT buy any tire that has deep cracks in the grooves between the treads, has tread or ply separation, bulges or missing chunks of rubber. Such a tire is junk and should be scrapped.
DO NOT buy a tire that has damage to the bead area. It probably won’t hold air and will leak and go flat.
DO NOT buy a tire that has been ground or buffed to obscure or remove the DOT serial number, treadwear , temperature and traction ratings or other sidewall information that is required by law. Why? Because the tires may be stolen or the seller may be trying to hide something from you.
DO NOT buy a used tire that has been recalled. If a tire was recalled for a manufacturing defect, consider it unsafe to use.
Tire recall information can be found at SaferCar.gov.