If your car needs new tyres you might be shocked at how much replacement rubber can cost. But while often cheaper than new, buying second-hand tyres can have serious safety implications. New research has found that nine out of 10 retailers selling used or part-worn tyres are trading in illegal rubber.
Charity TyreSafe and Trading Standards have spent the past five years investigating part-worn tyres on sale in the UK. They discovered that just 13 of the 152 dealers they visited were selling roadworthy tyres. TyreSafe chairman Stuart Jackson said: “As far as we’re aware there is no other retail sector with such an atrocious track record.”
What exactly are part-worn tyres?
These are tyres that have already been used by another vehicle. There is a strict set of regulations that retailers should comply with when dealing with tyres.
Is selling part-worn tyres legal?
Yes, it’s completely within the law to sell a part-worn or second-hand tyre. You can even sell a tyre that has been previously punctured, as long as it’s been properly repaired. However, there is strict legislation set out by the Consumer Protection Act, Motor Vehicle Tyres (Safety) Regulations that sellers must comply with. Tyres should:
- Have an original tread pattern that’s 2mm deep.
- Be marked as PART-WORN in capital letters at least 4mm high
- Show no internal or external bulges, lumps, tears or other unrepaired damage
- Have no ply or cord (usually metal wires) exposed
- Display no cuts more than 25mm or 10 per cent of the tyre’s width
- Pass an inflation test before sale
Where do part-worn tyres come from?
That is one of the real problems of part-worn tyres. There’s a chance not even the outlet selling them knows where some part-worns originated. They may simply be tyres that someone has decided to replace when their tread has worn down to 3mm (the legal minimum is 1.6mm). They may come from a car that’s been written off in an accident. Or they may have been shipped over from another country that doesn’t have as strict rules on the sale of used tyres.
Why might they be dangerous?
The thing about part-worn tyres is you don’t know their history. Let’s presume they are technically legal and pass an inflation test; you still don’t know how they’ve been treated during their life. They might have only been inflated when they were looking flat, which can cause serious damage to the tyre’s internal construction. Or they may have been punctured and repaired without the knowledge of whoever you’re buying them from. They may not even be sold legally.
How dangerous are part-worn tyres?
According to the TyreSafe investigators, the 139 outlets selling unroadworthy tyres were committing a catalogue of crimes. Some were selling tyres full of water. Others fitted the wrong size tyres. TyreSafe showed that a third (34 per cent) of tyres sold were in a dangerous state. Some were fitted while still full of water, others had nails in them, had suffered structural failure or damage and some didn’t have enough tread. The majority of tyres that didn’t conform to rules had incorrect markings on them so potential buyers may not know what they’re getting.
Why are tyres so important?
The only physical contact your car has with the road is the post-card sized imprint of each of its four tyres. As Stuart Jackson from TyreSafe says: “Let’s remember these dealers are selling safety critical components. When tyres are driven in an unroadworthy condition, a vehicle’s braking and steering are compromised, and road users are put at significant risk of a catastrophic tyre failure.”
Will part-worn tyres save you any money?
The chances are slim. A brand-new tyre has 8mm of tread depth. A part-worn tyre usually has about 2mm of tread. TyreSafe has done the sums and believes that in pounds per millimetre of tread, a part-worn tyre actually works out more expensive than a budget alternative. Buy a new budget tyre for £40 and it works out at £5 per millimetre of tread. That means a part-worn tyre would have to cost just £10 to give the same value for money. Frequently they are more expensive than that.
Not all budget tyres are brilliant quality. However, at least with a new budget tyre you know it isn’t harbouring any secrets. You know for sure that it hasn’t been used and abused. And you know it’ll have 8mm of tread and a decent life ahead of it. You can’t say the same for a part-worn alternative.