Should I Buy Used Tires to Save Money?

Sure, you’ll save a few bucks. But you’ll also be rolling around on rubber death traps.

If the modern automobile had a status on Facebook, it would undoubtedly be “It’s complicated.” With their computer-controlled fuel-injection systems, continuously variable transmissions and three-phase four-pole AC induction motors, the days when every Tom, Dick or Harry could wrench on their ride seem long gone. So let us help — especially with the seemingly mundane stuff that if not done properly, your dad and/or his favorite mechanic vowed would ruin your car forever. Because when it comes to cars — and this column — no question is too dumb. 

These last few months have been difficult, particularly financially. I don’t drive around that much anymore, and when I do, it’s usually not more than a few miles in any one direction. Still, I need new tires. Any reason why I can’t save a few bucks and buy them used?
Buying used tires — i.e., tires that have been driven on previously, but are in a “condition almost as good as new” after having been “inspected by a professional” and if need be, “professionally repaired” — does make some financial sense, considering that you can expect to pay only 30 to 50 percent of what you’d pay for brand new tires.

Not only that, but they’re “good for the environment,” too. After all, according to rerubber.com, more than 300 million tires are burned, landfilled or otherwise scrapped each year. Considering that it takes seven gallons of oil to make a single tire, that’s both a lot of trash and a lot of wasted energy for something that could just as easily be recycled.

But even with those very clear benefits for your wallet and the environment, used tires are still a no-good, very bad idea. “They’re ticking time bombs,” says Mario, a tire specialist in L.A. who asked me not to use his last name since his own store sells used tires. “You have no idea how they were used previously, despite all the assurances the person or shop who sold them to you about them being ‘safe’ and ‘inspected.’ What if the person who owned them previously overinflated them? Or didn’t rotate them properly? Or drove too fast on them? Do you really trust that a tire shop is going to sell you a 100-percent safe used product?”

Let’s also analyze the idea that recycling used tires is good for the environment. Sure, tossing out a gently used tire is bad, and that tire can indeed have a second life. But on another car? No. Instead, if you care about what happens to your tires when you replace them, take them to a recycling center, where they can be turned into raw material for new tires, concrete and asphalt or used as artificial reefs and infill for synthetic grass and garden beds. 

Trying to save money is always a smart move, and there are plenty of ways to do exactly that with your car, like performing preventative maintenance on it yourself. But buying used tires is like going to the plastic surgeon who went to clown college — nobody ends up looking good.