How to Choose Used Tires for a Car

Buying new tires for your vehicle can get expensive, especially if you purchase a full set. In order to save money, some vehicle owners opt for used tires. While not in as good a condition as a new tire, used tires are considerably cheaper and can offer a safe alternative as long as they meet certain criteria. Before purchasing used tires, make sure to fully inspect the tires you want to buy for damage and wear. You must also decide when searching for used tires whether you want to buy a single tire, a pair of tires, or a matched set of four tires.

Part 1 of 3: Considering tire quality

When looking for used tires, the first thing you want to check out is tire quality. While not as good as a new tire, a used tire should have an adequate amount of tread, be in generally good shape, and not have excessive wear on the corners of the tread.

top view of tire with uneven wear

Step 1: Check for tire wear. Look closely at the tread on a tire before buying.

Tires with insufficient tread make it difficult to get the grip you need to handle turning or staying on slick roads.

To determine if a tire without wear indicators has enough tread, insert a penny into the tread with Lincoln's head upside down. If you can see all of Lincoln's head, then the tire tread is too worn.

  • Tip: Some tires have wear indicators on them. You can find these within the grooves of the tread. If the tread is worn down to where it is level, or even, with the wear indicators, then the tires do not have enough tread.

Step 2: Look for the tire wear pattern. You also need to inspect the wear pattern of the tire.

A tire worn unevenly indicates that it was on a vehicle that was out of alignment. Only buy used tires that have even wear to avoid premature tire failure.

  • Warning: Avoid buying tires that have wires showing on the edge of the tread. Tires with wires exposed are a good candidate for failure and are dangerous to drive on.

Step 2: Determine tire age. To determine the age of the tire, look for a date stamp on the side wall.

This date stamp is comprised of four numbers together, with the week of the year first followed by the year. For example, 0710 signifies that the tire was manufactured in the seventh week of 2010, whereas a date stamp of 4915 tells you that the tire was made at the end of 2015 during the 49th week.

When purchasing a used tire, try not to buy any that are more than five years old. Tires older than five years old tend to develop dry rot and can potentially fail more often than new tires.

dry rot on the top section of a tire sidewall

Step 3: Look for dry rot. Dry rot on a tire can lead to tire failure.

To check for dry rot, inspect the side wall of the tire, looking for small cracks.

If no cracks are evident initially, pinch roughly three inches of the sidewall to see if any cracking occurs. Perform this test at various points around the tire, making sure to check both sides of the tire.

Step 4: Check for tire repairs. You should also inspect any tire you want to buy to see if it has received any repairs.

You are looking for any plugs or patches indicating the tire has suffered a puncture in the past. For the most part, avoid buying tires with any repaired spots on them. If you have no choice, such as in an emergency, ask for a discount on the tire.

Part 2 of 3: Buying a single tire

When buying a single used tire, you need to keep some factors in mind. In addition to tire condition, you need to try and match up the tire, both in size and condition, to the tires already on your vehicle.

a used tire of the same size sitting next to a left rear tire already on a vehicle

Step 1: Determine if the tire matches. Match up the tire you want to buy with the one you are replacing.

If, for some reason, the repair shop is out of tires in the size you want, you should ask the specialist what alternatives they have, if any. In a worst-case scenario, they might need to have the tire brought in from somewhere else.

When placing individual tires on your car, find out if the tire is a one-direction tire. One-direction tires have the tread going in a certain direction, and if it's not rotated properly, it will not grip the road properly.

Step 2: Check the tread depth. Any replacement tire you buy should have as much tread, or more, than the opposite tire.

This helps prevent premature tire failure and ensures that you have enough grip with your tires.

Step 3: Determine tire width. You want to find tires of the same width to help ensure you get the grip and stability you need from the replacement tire and the one opposite it on the same axle.

Width is read in millimeters and is the distance between the inner and outer edge of the tire tread. You can find the width directly after the tire type designation.

Step 4: Check the aspect ratio. The aspect ratio of a tire is its height in comparison to its width.

For example, if a tire has an aspect ratio of 65, then its height is equal to 65 percent of the width of the tire.

You want to avoid a tire that has an aspect ratio that is too much smaller or larger than that of the tire opposite of it on the same axle. For the most part, the used tire should be within a 1/4 inch in circumference to the rest of the tires on your vehicle to avoid any issues.

Part 3 of 3: Buying a pair or matched set

When buying more than one tire, you have other important factors that come into play -- this includes when buying matched sets and tire pairs. Some things to keep in mind when doing so include matching up the width and aspect ratios of the used tires, at least for the tires on each individual axles. You have a little leeway when it comes to tread wear and tread pattern when buying used tires.

Step 1: Match tires in pairs. When buying matched pairs, the most important thing is to match up the tire widths and aspect ratios.

Failure to match up the tire height can cause extra wear on the differential and CV joints, eventually affecting vehicle handling.

You also need to match up the tire types, making sure that cars have the letter P, for passenger cars, and light trucks have the letters LT, for light trucks, at the start of the numerical code on the sidewall.

While not as important as tire width or aspect ratio, the tread pattern on a matched pair of tires should be as close to the same as possible.

Step 2: Get a matched set. When buying matched tire sets, you do not need to match up all of the tires.

As long as the two front tires match up and the two rear tires match up, you should be okay.

  • Tip: Proper tire rotation can help your tires last longer. This allows the tire to wear more evenly over time as a result of an even amount of weight placed on front and back tires.

Finding a good set of used tires for your vehicle is easy as long as you keep certain factors in mind. This includes matching tires up on the same axle, checking the used tire for tread wear and damage, and making sure that the used tire is in good shape and does not have any dry rot. When purchasing used tires, keep in mind that rotating them every 5,000 to 8,000 miles ensures that they last longer. If you need help rotating your tires, contact one of our expert mechanics to do the job for you.


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