Are part-worn tyres safe?

In straitened times it’s little wonder so many drivers baulk at the cost of a new set of tyres. One solution, at least for some, is to avoid buying brand new rubber altogether and instead buy tyres that have already been used by somebody else. They’re called part-worn tyres.

UK law on part-worn tyres

In the UK, buying or selling part-worn tyres is not illegal. In fact, according to industry body TyreSafe, as many as 5.5 million used tyres are sold here every year. Vendors are bound by law to adhere to a number of strict regulations, however. First and foremost, second-hand tyres should be in good condition, which means no bulges in the sidewall and no large cuts in the tread, while none of the structural carcass or cords should be visible. Additionally, they should have have at least 2mm of tread across their width and around their circumference, and they should be clearly and permanently marked ‘part-worn’ in upper case letters at least 4mm in height on their sidewalls.

Although these regulations are very straightforward, many part-worn tyre suppliers are known to flout them. If you are considering buying a set of used tyres, make sure the vendor is compliant with these laws – and remember, tyres that do not meet these minimum requirements could cause you to have a very serious accident.

Advantages of part-worn tyres

As has been pointed out many times before, if you buy a second-hand car and don’t replace the tyres with a new set immediately, you are in effect buying part-worn tyres. Lots of us will admit to having done exactly that with no idea whatsoever where those tyres have come from or what their history might be.

Some part-worn tyres are shipped over from Germany, where the minimum legal tread depth is 3mm. In the UK it’s 1.6mm, so a part-worn tyre imported from Germany will still have plenty of tread left and perhaps a couple of thousand miles still to run.

The big advantage of part-worn tyres, of course, is that they cost less than brand new tyres. What’s more, by buying a set of used rubber you might be able to afford a higher quality tyre from a big name brand, rather than a budget tyre from a manufacturer you’ve never heard of.

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Paul Heaton, R&D Director at Pirelli UK feels very strongly about part-worn tyres. “All part-worn tyres are required to be thoroughly inspected internally and externally before sale, but in reality, far too many have not been checked at all,’ he says. ‘Many tyres are sold with structural damage that should mean the tyre is scrapped. The best course of action is simply to avoid part-worn tyres.”