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I have never been a fan of dealers selling used tires. You’re not in the garage business, after all, and selling used only diminishes the value of the new products you rely on for long-term profitability.

But I get it. Certain consumers can only do so much – especially now. A “good” used tire may be in better shape than the rubber they are riding on. A number of you feel expert enough to separate the good from the questionable. Many more simply don’t see a problem, and “any sale is a good sale.”

I get it.

Hawking used tires is nothing new, and certainly not just an all-American phenomenon. It’s been going on for decades, here and abroad.

But a recent report by TyreSafe, a quasi-independent consumer education body (don’t you wish we had one of those?) in the U.K., may shed some new light on the issue.

Proving the acorn-tree thing can work in reverse, drivers in the U.K. are just as bad about tire care as U.S. drivers. Roads and weather are pretty similar. U.K. vehicles tend to be a bit smaller – no one there rolls out in a Hummer 5 Mega-Monster over there – and, therefore, tires are a tad smaller overall.

Still, consumers on both shores see nothing wrong with buying used.

In the U.S., used tires are a featured attraction at countless yard sales and on Craigslist and eBay and the local classifieds. Used cars come with used tires, right? There is, therefore, an expectation that a used tire is A-OK provided there is some tread left and no visible damage.

TyreSafe’s findings, though, should serve as a warning that not all is A-OK when it comes to part-worn tires.

Birmingham, England, officials investigated the quality of used tires sold by local firms. In all, the investigators bought and checked nearly 200 tires, and found that nine out of 10 failed to meet minimum legal standards. Some 30% had physical defects (embedded nails, exposed cords, excessive wear). Some had required markings buffed off, and most failed to carry a mark identifying the tire as being used. One in particular was all of 17 years old.

And these were tires sold by tire shops – not at yard sales – by tire experts, I suspect, who pride themselves on having a keen eye for these kinds of things. Like American dealers.
Oh, it gets worse. TyreSafe did a deeper examination of six of the tires, using X-ray equipment to look for internal damage. All six showed clear signs of impact damage, exhibiting “unstable stress points” or “fatigue in components” that increase the likelihood of a blowout.

As TyreSafe noted, these highly dangerous defects would not be visible under normal inspections that used tires should undergo before going on sale.

“The results from the Birmingham investigation are extremely worrying and confirm our worst fears about part-worn tires,” said TyreSafe chairman Stuart Jackson.

“Although guidelines do exist about the condition of tires being sold as part-worns, they are clearly not being adhered to by all traders. The types of faults found are extremely dangerous and, if fitted to a vehicle, could have caused serious accident and injury.”

Full disclosure: TyreSafe is partly funded by donations from tiremakers, but acts independently in its consumer education efforts. Also, the U.K. has strict laws regarding used tires, which must meet certain standards and be permanently marked as being sold as part-worn.

Back on these shores, here are some stats you can examine under your in-shop shearography machine, courtesy of the RMA’s 2010 Tire Pressure Survey:

• Of 6,300 vehicles checked, only 17% had four properly inflated tires.
• 55% had at least one underinflated tire.
• 15% had at least one tire down by at least 8 psi
• 20% had at least one tire underinflated by 6 psi.
• 31% were underinflated by at least 4 psi.

As used tires go, eight in 10 you might sell have been run underinflated.

How long were these tires run underinflated? How many potholes and curbs did they meet? What debris did they roll over? How many panic stops did they endure? How many times have they been mounted/dismounted?

Who knows? You don’t, and no one’s eyeballs are that good.

Look, to sell or not to sell used is your decision, and yours alone. But don’t think that in “sue-first” America that you’re alone; if one of your used tires fails, there is nothing to insulate you from a court judgment – and nothing to prevent that tire’s maker from joining you in court.

Our industry much prefers suggestion to regulation. And when it comes to used tires, that’s exactly what we have.

If you want to sell used tires, that’s fine. Some will even praise your efforts. Just know what you don’t know, and understand that every used tire you sell is another round of Lawsuit Roulette.

Because you just don’t know.
This article appeared in the August 2010 edition of Tire Review. You can read the entire issue on your phone or tablet by downloading the Tire Review app.

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Jim Smith
With 30 years in the tire and automotive industries, Jim’s communications experience includes stints as a newspaper reporter and editor, a public relations manager and a variety of creative and management roles with a B2B marketing communications agency. The Kent State University journalism major served as editor for a number of community newspapers in Northeast Ohio before joining Modern Tire Dealer in 1984. After four years in brand and corporate public relations roles with Bridgestone Americas, Jim joined Nashville’s Stumpf Bartels Advertising in 1992. He became Tire Review‘s editor in October 1999.
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