When buying a used car, there are myriad factors to consider, but don’t lose sight of the dangers of worn rubber meeting the road. Consider the overall condition of both the vehicle and its tires. Tires can tell you a lot about how well the car was maintained and driven.

We are against buying used tires. Sure, a used tire might seem like a sensible idea to save money and give a tire another chance in service life, but the risk is not worth it. Even if the tire looks “like new,” the tire could have hidden internal damage or may be too old to use. Also, adding a mismatched tire on your car could compromise handling and braking performance.

The same holds true for tires on a used car, but at least in this case, you have some context for assessing them.

worn tire

Checklist for Inspecting a Used Tire

  1. Look for mismatched tires as a first sign of trouble. Most tire manufacturers recommend using the same model at all four corners for optimal ride and handling. Also, check the tire information placard on the driver’s door jamb of the car to confirm the correct tire size is on the car.   

  2. Low mileage cars may very well still have the original equipment tires with plenty of wear left. Older or high-mileage cars likely have replacement tires. In either case, check to see how much tread is left. Tires must have at least 2/32-inches of tread remaining to be legal in most states. But you should start shopping when the tires are at 4/32-inches, which provides some tread left for all-weather grip. Check the tread depth with a tread-depth tool (available at auto-parts stores) or a quarter. Insert the quarter into the tread groove, with Washington’s head down. If you can see the top of his head, the tire should be replaced.   

  3. Uneven wear across the width of the tire should raise flags, about how aggressively the car was driven, was the maintenance schedule followed, or if there are possible suspension issues. Fast center wear can indicate over-inflation, but more common is excessive shoulder wear suggesting the tires were run under-inflated (or were over-loaded). Fast wear on the tire’s outside shoulder may signal aggressive cornering. A difference in wear and wear pattern between front and rear tires can also mean the tires were not rotated routinely.

  4. If the car is older with low mileage and the tires appear to have plenty of tread life, check the DOT date code on the lower sidewall of the tire. The last four digits indicate the week and year of manufacture. Some car manufacturers recommend removing a tire after six years of service, and many tire manufacturers recommend removing any tire 10 years or older, no matter if was used or not. That includes the spare tire, too.

  5. Look at the obvious for tire sidewall scuffing, cracking, cuts, and bulges. Also check if the car has a spare tire, and if the jack and tool kit are included and in working order.

Learn more in our used-car buying guide.