Part Worn Tyres: Are They Safe To Buy & Drive?

Part Worn Tyres: Are They Safe To Buy & Drive?

If you drive a lot of miles, tyres can be one of the largest costs after fuel. It’s tempting then to look into so-called “part-worn” tyres to save money. Is this a genuine money-saving trick, or do you get what you pay for? 

What Are Part Worn Tyres? 

Part-worn tyres are second-hand tyres that have already been used on the road. They are often sold by smaller independent tyre fitters and are generally cheaper than new tyres.  

Where do Part Worn Tyres Come From? 

Some part-worn tyres come from breakers yards, where crash-damaged or scrapped cars are dismantled for parts. This only accounts for a small amount of the part worns sold in the UK, most come from continental Europe, specifically Germany.  

Also, part-worn tyres are shipped in from Germany en masse as tyres that are considered completely worn in Germany are still legal here. The legal limit for tread depth in Germany is 3mm, whereas in the UK it is 1.6mm.

Are Part Worn Tyres Safe? 

The UK government has set rules for the sale of part-worn tyres, namely The Motor Vehicle Tyres (Safety) Regulations 1994 if these rules are adhered to, then there is no reason why part-worn tyres could not be considered safe.  

Tyres are generally rated to last 6-8 years, so as long as they are under this age, and don’t show signs of damage, as per the government rules, they should be as reliable and safe as new tyres. However, it’s a common complaint that part-worn tyre sellers do not follow these rules. 

Are the Regulations Followed? 

Statistical evidence shows that part-worn tyre shops often flout the rules on selling “part worns”. This government blog post, reports the findings of the DVSA and Trading Standards tests on part-worn tyre garages.  

The report does not look good on the standards of part-worn tyre shops, over 10% of the tyres checked were over 10 years old, and some had noticeable physical defects such as cuts, bulges or foreign objects in the tread.  

This is especially alarming as most tyre manufacturers recommend not using tyres past 8 years old, and the average part-worn tyre buyer is not likely to be able to inspect their tyres as well as the DVSA, with their expertise and dedicated facilities. 

Something noted in the DVSA/Trading Standards tests is the lack of indelible markings present on the tyres, all part-worn tyres must have “PART-WORN” marked on the outer face. 85% of the tyres tested did not have these markings. 

Other Safety Considerations 

The legislation sets out the minimum condition tyres are to adhere to, but from our experience, there are a few other considerations to make before having back-street tyre shops fit part-worns to your car. 

Wheel Nut Torquing 

Fasteners should be tightened to a specific torque level, set by the manufacturer, to ensure bolts don’t come loose, and that the material isn’t being damaged through over-tightening.  

Wheel bolts are no different, but many garages charging only £20-30 per tyre, don’t spend the time to tighten bolts properly. What’s worse is that many use high-powered impact guns instead, over-tightening the nuts and putting stress on the fastener. 

Wheel Balancing 

As well as torquing the wheel nuts properly, a wheel and tyre should be balanced whenever changed or repaired. This prevents vibration at high speeds, which can cause various knock-on effects.  

In our experience, some cheaper part-worn tyre shops do not bother to balance after fitting different tyres, which is something to look out for. 

Mismatched tyres 

Unless you can specify which exact tyre you want, from their stock, most part worn tyre places fit whatever tyre fits your car, and is on top of the stack, regardless of level of wear or type of tyre.  

It is not recommended to fit mismatched tyres on your car, and the consequences can be even worse if it is a 4-wheel drive vehicle. In heavy braking or cornering mismatched tyres can make the car unpredictable and seriously affect control. 

Uneven Wear 

Wear level too can have a negative effect, when fitting new tyres to a driven axle (e.g. changing both front tyres on a front-wheel drive car), they wear at even rates, with the rolling radius decreasing evenly across the axle.  

Part-worn tyres are likely to have differing levels of wear initially, and if the tyre model is different, this problem may worsen as one wears faster than the other.  

This can cause serious problems with your car's differential, as one wheel will be spinning faster than the other, all the time. This will be worse in cars with a Limited Slip differential, such as sports or off-road vehicles.  

Car Accidents and Part-Worn Tyres 

The Department for Transport reported that 25% of the accidents on UK roads in 2022 were caused by poor or worn-out tyres. We don’t know how many of these were bought part-worn, but it does prove tyres have a big impact on road safety.  

You could have the reaction times of Lewis Hamilton, and the brakes from his Formula 1 car, but if your tyres are old, worn out or of poor quality, you are more likely to be involved in a road traffic collision.  

Make sure to inspect part-worn tyres thoroughly for damage, age and the performance of the tyre when new, as the stats above prove not all garages selling part-worn tyres can be trusted to do so.

Are Part Worn Tyres Cheaper? 

Part-worn tyres are definitely cheaper than any new tyre, many places only charge £20 or so per tyre including fitting. The cheapest new tyres, even budget ones, average around £60.  

However, one important thing to remember is that part-worn tyres usually only have around 3mm of tread left, while new tyres have around 9mm. With the legal limit being 1.6mm, that's only 1.4mm of use left.  

So for £20, you are getting 15-20% of a tyre that may have only cost £60 new. That doesn’t sound like great value to us! 

How to Buy Part Worn Tyres 

There are part-worn tyre shops up and down the country, with many selling new tyres too, and some even offering further services such as tracking, exhausts or MOTs.  

To have the best shot at getting tyres that are safe, find a garage with a good rating online, and that states it conforms to the British standards for used tyre safety. 

How to Check Part Worn Tyres Are Safe 

If you can get near to the tyres that are for sale - and in many part-worn tyre shops you can - try to inspect and advocate for the best tyres available, using the following criteria: 

  • Age: Check the age stamp on the sidewall, it will appear as 4 digits e.g. 3518. The first two are week number, and the second is the year. Don’t purchase anything over 5 years old. 
  • Tread depth: seek as much tread depth as possible, not just to get value for money, but it will be less likely the tyre has been damaged. 
  • Damage: check carefully all around the outside face, sidewall and inside the tyre for foreign objects, repairs, abrasions or cuts.  
  • Get a pair: tyres should be replaced in axle pairs, to ensure safe handling and braking, so find another tyre that matches in brand, rough age and tread depth 
  • Balancing: check the garage will be balancing the tyres, you don’t want to have to live with an annoying and potentially dangerous vibration from your wheels. 
  • Wheel nut torquing: check they will be torquing the wheel nuts, without excessively using an impact gun first, this will protect your wheel bolts from damage. 

Should I Buy Budget Tyres or Part Worn Tyres? 

We’re not oblivious to the cost of living crisis, and driving on safe part-worn tyres is better than prolonging your worn-out current tyres, but we would always encourage drivers to buy new, well-rated tyres where possible.  

Part worn Tyres Pros 

The upfront cost is cheaper,  most part-worns cost 30-50% of a new tyre. 

Part Worn Tyres Cons 

As the statistics show, many part worms sold in the UK do not meet the legal requirements, and as such their safety cannot be guaranteed.  

Whilst the initial cost of buying part-worn tyres is lower, you don’t actually get very good value for your money, furthermore they will need replacing much sooner than new tyres. 

Why Do People Choose Part Worn Tyres? 

Generally, the upfront cost of new tyres is the main factor, as part worms can be less than half the cost.  

Alternatives to Part Worn Tyres 

Budget tyres can be bought for many smaller cars for less than £60 a corner, some more premium brands can cost up to £150 for the same size.  

Whilst budget tyres are a good option, and we’d probably lean towards that over risky part-worns, some budget tyres offer substandard levels of performance in both efficiency and braking/handling.  

Affordable tyres from trusted repairers 

One of the best alternatives to buying part-worn tyres is paying for your tyres in monthly payments. This way you get branded, well-rated tyres but don’t have to pay a large amount upfront. 

Split the cost of tyres into interest-free monthly instalments with Bumper. Choose from 1,000s of trusted tyre fitters and apply online before you visit. 

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