Used tire safety risks may outweigh cost savings

Consumer Reports News: July 30, 2012 02:08 PM

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With prices that can be a fraction the cost of a new set, buying used tires might seem like a great way to save a few bucks on car maintenance. But there's more to buying tires than finding a set with plenty of tread at a good price. In fact, buying used has dangers that don't always meet the eye.

Buying used may make green-minded drivers feel more eco friendly, preserving natural resources by giving a used set of tires a new lease on life. And with their ready availability through online auction sites and classified sites, finding a set in the right size for your car can be easy. But there is no way to tell if a tire has been driven while overloaded in its previous life, or driven for extended periods while underinflated, or at excessively high speeds. Any one of these misuses can affect the tire integrity in a way that might not be visible, leading to a possible failure down the road. Other pitfalls when buying used is that tires may have been improperly repaired or mishandled and damaged when dismounted from the seller's wheels. (See our tire pressure gauge ratings.)

Also, remember that all tires age and can degrade over time. Even an unused spare tire can be unsafe to drive on if you've had it for a number of years. Some tire manufacturers recommend replacing tires, regardless of wear, 10 years or more from the date of manufacture including the spare. Also, some automakers go further and advise replacement after six years due to potential tire breakdown, which may not be outwardly visible-check your owner's manual for additional information on tires.

All tires are stamped at the factory with a Department of Transportation (DOT) code on the sidewall, indicating the date of manufacture. Typically 11-14 digits long, the last four digits of the code indicate the week and year the tire was made. Even when buying new, it is worth checking the date code to ensure the tires are not more than a couple of years old, as they may have been sitting around a warehouse for quite some time before being delivered to your local tire store.

Another reason to steer clear of used tires is that 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. If you're not the original owner, you may never know if the tire has been or will be the subject of a recall.

The elephant in the room is that buying a used car can often means buying used tires. But that's not necessarily the case. When buying a used car from a dealer, new tires may be included with the purchase. At the very least, use tires as a bargaining chip as part of the negotiation. That can be a good way to close the deal. Things get murkier if you're buying from a private seller, but at least you have some tools to gauge what shape the tires are in. You can see the vehicle they are on, along with its overall condition and total mileage. You can also ask for proof of maintenance records. You may not know the complete history of the tires, but if the rest of the car has been neglected, chances are the tires have been, too.

In the end, budgeting for a new set can be a worthwhile investment to avoid the unknown history and potential danger of a blowout at speed, and the cost of replacement can be a good point for haggling the price.

The bottom line:
Used tires can save money, but they are not worth the risk.

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

Jim Travers

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