Is it safe to buy used tires?

Consumer Reports News: April 04, 2011 09:08 AM

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Recently someone asked for our recommendation on buying used tires. It’s tempting to go that route and giving a used tire a new lease on life even seems eco-friendly. Consumers are trying to pinch pennies anywhere they can nowadays, and buying new replacement tires can be unexpected and costly. Steeper and more frequent tire price hikes, reflecting the higher cost of petroleum-based raw materials, will only add to the purchase pain. Some consumers might opt to look for a cheaper alternative by buying partially worn used tires. Is this a good way to save money?

We say, “Nay, nay.” Don’t buy used tires: you don’t know where they have been or how they’ve been used. The tire could have been driven overloaded, underinflated, or to excessively high speed. Any one or a combination of these factors could lead to internal damage not visible from the outside. In short, the used tire could be unsafe.

What’s the likelihood they are unsafe? No one really knows and that’s why we err on the side of caution. Also, tires age and can degrade over time. An old, unused spare tire can be past its prime and unsafe to drive on, as well. Don’t risk buying a tire without a known history. Buy new tires and refer to DOT codes to be sure they are not more than a couple of years old. (See our tire buying advice.)

But don’t people sell used tires all the time? It’s true that some tire dealers sell used tire take-offs, and a lot of individuals sell tires online and through local newspapers. But you’re taking a risk not knowing anything about the tires’ past history. All new tires are registered to the buyer for direct notification in the event of a recall. That link is broken if you buy used tires. You may not even know if the tire has been or will be a subject of a recall.

Still, we’re asked: Lots of used cars are sold with used tires on them, so why not buy used tires? That’s true and you still may not know if the tires have internal damage, but you do have a better gauge to assess the tires’ condition. You know the vehicle they are on, its condition, mileage, and you can ask the seller for proof of maintenance records. It’s not much information to make a definitive decision on tire wellness, but if the car was neglected, chances are the tires were, too. Regardless, replacing worn tires with new ones can be a good point for haggling the price on a used car.

See our tire ratings to help you choose the right tires for your needs.

Gene Petersen

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