Currently reading: Part worn tyres: are they safe and should I buy them?
We consider the pros and cons of part-worn tyres, and what to look out for

One solution to the cost of living crisis is simply tightening one's belt. Motorists can save money by scrimping here and there, and buying part-worn car tyres is often advertised as a no-brainer.

The idea is simple enough. The consumer simply buys a set of tyres that have, for whatever reason, been taken off a car but still have thousands of miles left in them.

But is it that simple? Autocar investigates.

What are part-worn tyres?

Part-worn tyres are essentially tyres previously used by another driver. It is estimated that 5.5 million tyres bought in the UK are categorised as ‘part-worn’, which is around 10% of all tyres sold every year.

A great many of part-worn tyres make their way to the UK from Germany. This is because the legal tread depth in Germany is 3mm, compared with 1.6mm in the UK. As a result, tyres that are still road-legal in the UK are exported here from Germany to be sold as ‘part-worn’.

Is it legal to buy or sell part-worn tyres in the UK? 

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. 

However, vendors are bound by law to adhere to a number of strict regulations, described below.

Regulations in the UK

Second-hand tyres should be in good condition, which means no bulges in the sidewall and no large cuts in the tread, and none of the structural carcass or cords should be visible. 

Part worn tyres 1737d

They should 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. 

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How long should part-worn tyres last

Second-hand tyres will not last as long as new ones. You’ll have to replace them much more often, so the savings will be less substantial than they might first appear. 

A new tyre might have as much as 8mm of tread, whereas a part-worn might have only a quarter of that. It’ll therefore be fit for only a few hundred miles and will need replacing before long. 

Pros of part-worn tyres

The big advantage of part-worn tyres is that they cost less than brand-new ones. Typically going used can save tens, if not hundreds of pounds, especially when buying four 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.

There's also the ecological benefit of buying something that has already been manufacturered and using it until the end of its lifecycle.

Part worn tyres 1735b

Cons of part-worn tyres

Many part-worn tyres are potentially unsafe. It should be considered that if somebody has removed a set of tyres from their car, they have done so because they no longer consider them to be safe. If those tyres aren’t good enough for another driver, are they really good enough for you? 

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With less tread depth than a brand-new tyre, part-worn tyres will generate less grip, particularly in the wet. That means your car will have less traction and - more importantly - less cornering and braking grip. 

A survey carried out by TyreSafe found that up to 98% of used tyres sold in Britain did not comply with the regulations, while 34% could be considered dangerous. However, even a tyre that does satisfy the regulations could be harbouring a nasty secret, whereas a brand-new tyre will not. 

In addition, during a government investigation, it was found that 85% of part-worn tyres were non-compliant as they were incorrectly marked. Some 11% of part-worn tyres were found to be over 10 years old. 

Here are a few more problems the investigation into part-worn tyres found: 

  • Some tyres had cuts in the primary tread area, which were deep enough to expose the metal cords 
  • Tyres fitted incorrectly, with the outside sidewall of the tyre fitted to the inside of the wheel rim 
  • Abnormal bulges in one of the sidewalls  
  • Repairs that did not conform to British Standard, including a 'string'-type plug that does not form a permanent seal and may not be secure 
  • Hard objects penetrating the tyres 

Alternatives to part-worn tyres

In years gone by, remoulded tyres, or retreaded tyres, were a popular solution. Remoulds are still legal in the UK, so long as they comply with strict regulations, and if manufactured with care they needn’t be significantly less safe than new tyres. 

Retreading a tyre involves stripping the tread and sidewall from a used tyre (the structure of which should be in good condition) and applying new rubber to the carcass. As budget tyres from the Far East have become more commonplace, though, remoulded tyres have become less popular.

Should I buy part-worn tyres?

If we could guarantee that part-worn tyres were completely safe and compliant with the regulations, there’d be little reason to be wary of them. However, as those TyreSafe figures demonstrate, there are no such assurances.

If there is one area of car maintenance on which you shouldn’t scrimp on cost, it’s the only part of the car that actually makes contact with the road - the tyres. Ultimately, it is down to personal choice and whether you are willing to accept that it could offer a false economy, as well as be potentially dangerous. 

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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."

Additional reporting by Murray Scullion

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ElizabethLaw 15 February 2022

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Tyre guy 19 January 2022
Noticed it says the legal limit in Germany is 3mm, that is wrong, the legal limit is 1.6mm the same as the UK, infact all countries are 1.6mm, a winter tyre should be changed at 4mm as it stops working as a winter tyre,
Peter Cavellini 29 October 2020

Trouble is...

 There are people who will pray on people's poverty, desperation and sell them defective part worn tyres, they know they might be dangerous,but, because of circumstances,might take the risk, so, yes, maybe part worms should be a thing of the past.