Used tyre scandal

1 May, 2012 3:09pm Julie Sinclair

Think you’re getting a bargain with a discount part-worn? Think again, as we expose the shock state of some of the tyres on sale

Second-hand clothes ooze retro charm, but part-worn tyres don’t. Yes, they’re usually dirt-cheap – four new tyres can cost anything up to £1,000, so it’s hardly surprising that motorists buy an estimated four million part-worn tyres every year, cutting this bill in half on average. Bargain, surely? Apparently not.

Auto Express joined forces with campaign group TyreSafe to investigate the sale and condition of these cut-price, part-worn tyres in the UK, and we were horrified by what we found. Our investigation revealed a thriving black market in illegal, and in some cases lethal, second-hand tyres being sold to unwitting, cash-strapped families.

Yet these part-worn tyre retailers aren’t selling in secret – they have premises on busy high streets and their products are plastered all over the Internet. They also litter big-name auction sites, like eBay.

So you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that part-worn tyres must be safe to buy and fit to your family car. But you’d be wrong. As part of our joint investigation, TyreSafe bought a random sample of 50 part-worns – half sourced online, half from high street retailers in the Midlands – and then inspected them back at base.

Independent tyre expert Ted Foreman – whose job it was to put them under the microscope – instantly told us all but one wasn’t even legal. Unlike the rest of Europe, the UK has strict rules on the conditions of sale of part-worn tyres. The Motor Vehicle Tyres (Safety) Regulations Act 1994 – part of the Consumer Protection Act – dictates the acceptable repair, tread depth and overall condition of rubber.

It also stipulates labelling and traceability: repairs to the rubber should carry the name and registration number of the garage that did the work. These were missing on all of our repaired tyres. Part-worns must also be ink stamped ‘part worn’ on the sidewall to show the tyre has been checked and meets all of these legal requirements. Only one of our 50 tyres bore that seal of approval – and if our sample is representative of the tyres sold across the UK, that’s a mere two per cent of the entire part-worn tyre stock.

It also means that in 98 per cent of cases, motorists buying these tyres would have no way of knowing if they were safe or not. And they could be pretty certain the seller had not adhered to UK regulations – even though part-worn tyre outlets reassure their customers to the contrary. Auto Express rang six retailers across the country at random, posing as a potential customer, and was told in each case that the tyres had been checked.

Worse still, the omission of the ‘part worn’ stamp on our sample of tyres was the tip of the iceberg – and icebergs are an accurate analogy, because our part-worns appeared in good shape to the untrained eye, but hide an array of dangers. Most had glossy black rubber and healthy tread patterns; all our tyres had at least the legal minimum 1.6mm of tread.

Ted explained: “In many cases, these tyres look great. They have loads of tread and could fool you into thinking they’re a bargain. But when you buy them, you inherit their dodgy history – every time they ran up a kerb, every accident, every time the owner drove on them under-inflated.”

Ted told us driving on under-inflated rubber damages the tyre structurally, and this accumulates over time. “If you pump them up, next time they’re under-inflated it tops up the damage you caused first time around, and eventually leads to a blow-out,” he said.

He added that most motorists wouldn’t get a chance to inspect a part-worn tyre before it was fitted, either. “You need the tyre to be removed from its rim to inspect it,” he warned. “That’s where the safety hazards lie hidden.” Ted carried out his inspection using the same safety checklist that retailers are meant to use before selling these tyres. And he found some shocking faults.

More than one third had shoddy, illegal repairs, tears or punctures that had been botched or ignored before the retailer sold them to us, posing as drivers wanting a cheap tyre to get our car through its MoT.

In some cases our stooge was a family man; in others we used a younger man posing as a cash-strapped student. But age and family status were clearly no bar to selling dangerous, illegal tyres. One of our tyres was a death trap. Ted pointed out a rusty nail, which was quite clearly sticking 5cm through the inside of its sidewall. “That could kill you,” he warned. “No doubt about it.”


Our sample also included illegal, unplugged punctures, patched on the inside. Ted compared these to open wounds. “There’s steel wire running through,” he said. “It’s like bones in a skeleton. If the protective layer of waterproof rubber is compromised, this metal will be exposed, rust and perish from the inside. This one looks like it’s been fixed with a bicycle puncture repair kit.”

So how are part-worn tyre retailers able to operate without detection or penalty? eBay didn’t seem interested in the vendors selling part-worns via its site. We sourced half of our sample from such sellers, but eBay refused to comment when we approached it.

The Office of Fair Trading couldn’t help, either, even though consumer protection is one of its remits. It suggested we contact Trading Standards, which is responsible for policing these dubious sales practices at a local authority level. But an online search for regional clampdowns revealed little, if any, action.

So these retailers are left largely unchecked, even though they face fines of up to £5,000 for flouting rules on part-worn tyres. TyreSafe chairman Stuart Jackson said: “Although a number of clear regulations exist which permit the sale of part-worn tyres, our investigation makes it obvious these are not being adhered to.”

He demanded that Trading Standards act “as a matter of urgency”. But Trading Standards may have missed the boat, claims the Tyre Industry Federation (TIF) – an independent body tasked with lobbying Government on unsafe practice in this market. It says the Department for Transport (DfT) is about to take full responsibility for all tyre regulations, including part-worns, and is appointing an agency as early as next month to enforce them. The legislation is being reviewed and tightened in preparation for this, too.

TIF chief Graham Wilson told us this would be a wake-up call to rogue traders. “The DfT will want the agency it appoints to commit to a certain level of enforcement. It will want to know how many site visits and how much mystery shopping are planned.”

Taking a gamble on a part-worn tyre is a risk that doesn’t necessarily pay off, either. We measured the tread depth of our sample tyres and compared them to the price paid to calculate a pence-per-millimetre tread figure. We then did the same for a brand new tyre of the same size, with the maximum 8mm tread depth, using an average quoted new tyre price. Surprisingly, in more than half the sizes we examined, it was better value to buy brand new tyres.

This rang true for one self-confessed part-worn tyre buyer. Colin Smith, of Wolverhampton, W Mids, told us that a cheap set he bought for his Vauxhall Calibra “lasted only 500 miles”.

“On closer inspection, I realised what a big mistake I’d made,” he said. “The tread was uneven; one showed heavy wear in the centre and the other was worn on the outsides. The previous owner clearly hadn’t run them at the right pressure.” Colin added there was a cut in the tyre sidewall, too – enough to bring an MoT failure, or three points on your licence and a fine.

But when he swapped them for another used set, he didn’t fare much better. “These didn’t hold their pressure,” he said. It turned out paint on the rim had stopped the tyre from sealing properly. A clean solved this, but Colin is still disillusioned by part-worns.

“My Vauxhall Astra Coupe has always had new tyres. Its original set lasted nine years and 55,000 miles,” he said. “So you get what you pay for.” That’s something all drivers would do well to bear in mind before they shell out on a set of potentially lethal part-worns.

Visit for advice on part-worn tyres.

Average part-worn vs new tyre costs

Part-worn New
Tyre size Tread Price Cost per mm** Price Cost per mm**
165/70 R14 3.84mm £20.00 £8.93 £30.60 £3.99
165/65 R14 5.17mm £40.00 £11.20 £30.31 £4.12
175/65 R14 4.90mm £24.67 £7.47 £30.22 £4.29
195/50 R15 5.17mm £25.00 £7.00 £32.69 £4.72
175/65 R15 4.25mm £22.50 £8.48 £37.37 £7.74
205/50 R16 3.95mm £18.33 £7.81 £41.36 £4.78
205/55 R16 4.00mm £43.10 £17.96 £37.72 £4.81
195/55 R15 5.42mm £23.00 £6.02 £39.82 £4.99
185/60 R14 5.17mm £14.75 £4.13 £31.96 £5.11
175/65 R16 4.50mm £20.00 £6.90 £95.52 £5.84
155/70 R13 5.06mm £9.14 £2.64 £26.36 £5.89
165/80 R13 5.00mm £13.75 £4.04 £27.44 £6.22
165/65 R13 4.50mm £10.99 £3.79 £25.54 £6.46
155/65 R14 4.84mm £20.00 £6.17 £30.78 £14.93

*To legal limit. **To legal limit, based on tread depth of 8mm.

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Excellent article...this is a problem which will get worse as budgets are squeezed. Enforcement and education would help. Auto Express have really grasped the issue and shown the difference in price and serious risk u wud b taking doesn't add up.

Firstly you are comparing costs of a part worn (which from my experience are normally good brands) to what i can only guess are budget tyres.

I personally think budget tyres are the most dangerous thing in the tyre industry. People fail to realise that you have 4 a4 size contact patches and it isn't the tread which gives you grip (they dispel water) its the compound. Top tyre manufacturers spend millions in researching this

Do not buy budget.

I have been buying and fitting part worns myself for ages. I have access to equipment so I use it. I do my own puncture repairs and they are as good if not better than garage repaired as I care what I do to my tyres. I buy good used premuim tyres, check, clean and then fit them. All from ebay. If you buy a dodgy worn out budget tyre you'll get rubbish. The Uk only has strict rules to make other people money like usual in rip off Britain!

Totally agree, the difference between a decent quality tyre, and a budget brand can be staggering, I never use part worn or used tyres and always fit the tyres the car manufacturer or a trusted tyre fitter recommend.

This article is bias and at some points miss leading. It has merely focused on the negatives, where a good investigation would compare pros and cons. The part worn tyre prices they have paid are inflated to a figure that suits their attitude towards this issue. You can clearly see on eBay that the tyres are half the price of the ones stated. This is scaremongering against law abiding retailers of these products. My opinion, I think this is a poor article on briefing the public about this matter. rg1642 I completely agree with you on that point. I'd rather buy a half worn Continental Sport Contact, for the price I'd pay for a new Admiral budget.

This rather an alarmist report, and very one sided.

There is nothing at all wrong with using a good quality part worn tyre.
If for instance the tyres on you car are 25% worn, and you ruin a tyre by running over a sharp object or a nail puncture the edge of the tyre where it cant be repaired, why not replace it with a 25% worn tyre ?

Otherwise you could be in for two brand new tyres, to get ones with equal wear.

I know what I'd do.

Lots of cars are written off or scrapped with perfectly good tyres on them.
Of course you need to be careful, but I'd be more worried about having some of the kids who work in these countrywide tyre shops, trying to rip me off, with
work that doesn't need doing.

Where did you find NEW 195/50 R15 tyres for £32.69 I'd love to know the brand before I spend £40 on a pair of part worn continentals with 5mm of tread which retail at £120 new!

What an absolute load of TOSH! What do these people think happens everytime someone buys one of the millions of used cars sold every year in the U.K.? Guess what, they buy four part worn tyres! Duh! I'll wager that the tyres on used cars are subject to far LESS scrutiny than part worn tyres are. Are these tyres on used cars not bumped up the same kerbs and driven around underinflated? This article smacks of being written by someone who has been influenced by listening to some tyre industry bod who's feeling the pinch from hard up people like us voting with our wallets.

Here's a scenario for you. My BMW 325Ci came with four Full Run HP199's fitted which were almost new. I almost changed the diff on the car because of the wailing noise from the rear end. Turned out to be the tyres! They were nothing short of leathal in the wet! God only knows what the stopping distance would have been in a wet emergency. Fortunately they were not on there long enough to find out.

I priced up a set of Continental Sport Contact 3's for it which were over £700!!! A quick trip to my local part worn tyre dealer and she's sitting on 4 Conti SC 3's with 4.5mm all round for £150. The ride handling and wet weather grip is utterly transformed! My rear end wailing is silent, and all in all I feel ALOT safer.
In my opinion anyone who tells you budget tyres are better than premium part worns needs their head examined.

NONSENSE!! You buy part worn tyres on any second hand car, not knowing their history. Following this "advice", you would go and renew them immediately. If you buy part worn, you're doing your bit for the environment as well as saving lots of money. I NEVER buy new tyres for my car OR my motorbike.

Yeah I'd like to know where you're getting 195/50/15 for £32 from, cheapest new (budget) I can find is £50. And I totally agree with everyone that your article is completely biased & therefore useless as an informative piece of journalism.

Got rid of my part worn. It made a rumbling noise. My son had it fitted for me, told him i was not happy. The rumble led me to believe the wheel bearing had failed. When all the time it was the tyre £15. These tyres have been discarded for a reason, steer clear, excuse the pun.

The part worn also had a nick in the wall. Sorry, dont skimp when it comes to safety.

I've bought part worn tyres for years as and when finances dictate the choice. Choose a part worn retailer who does not mind that you can choose the tyre and spend time to inspect the tyre before it is fitted, you'll know it's not to be trusted if they say no. I have just had 2 Conti SC 5's and 2 Michelin Pilots fitted for £160! They all had 9mm of tread, not just on the legal limit! £160 for four, fitted!!! If they last me just a year I'm still well in pocket.

Absolutely ridiculous article and very biased .

I've been in the tyre trade for over 35 yrs now and have had years of experience in retail and wholesale of both new and used tyres.

For the last 20 yrs I've been based in Germany exporting tyres to the UK and many other markets around the world.

Partworn tyres offer a very good option to motorists and are completely safe if brought from a reputable dealer,which can be said for anything secondhand.

The system put in place where tyres have to be stamped with Partworn,is basically unworkable,and really wouldn't make any difference to the safety of used tyres sold.

Also, why should a tyre that is openly being sold as secondhand,also have to have it printed on the side by the seller ?.

Maybe all secondhand cars should have a matching yellow secondhand sign painted on them ??

Would it make the car safer,"no",it's an unworkable stupid regulation that has not been enforced.

Most used tyre retailers will be looking to offer their customers with quality safe tyres at competitive prices, securing a long lasting business.

They normally also sell Partworn along side new tyres,so the customer has an option.

Another point.

Ask your tyre expert Ted,if he only had a enough money for a cheap set no name Chinese new tyres, or a set of 6mm top brand partworns,from his local tyre tyre shop,what would he choose ?

If they were unsafe then majority of accidents in UK should of been caused by secondhand tyres, and if that was the case then the Gov would of bought out a law by now. Hey by the way I have been driving for over 18 years and I have most of the time put on used tyres and never yet had any problems. Depends where you go for your tyres as well!

Next time try comparing bigger sizes like 17" and upwards which are becoming more common and more expensive.
Comparing budget priced brands against premium part worn brands will never give you a true reflection on pounds saved!

Come on tyre safe less bias and more fairness.

The calculations of cost per mm of tread do not add up, if they are assuming 8mm new tread then how come 175/65 16 costs ~£5 when tyre cost is nearly £100? Someone can't add up!!

i use 185/55 r15
a brand new tire of average quality for my car is 70 with fitting and balancing. it has 8mm thread minus the 1.6 you cannot use leaves you with 6.4mm of usable thread.

6.4mm =£70-----= £10.94 per mm of thread

an average to GOOD quality tire part worn tire of the above size is £20 with fitting and balancing. mine have all had 5-6mm of thread on them, but we'll call it 5.5mm for argument sake. minus the 1.6mm you cannot use, you have 3.9mm of usable thread.

3.9mm = £20-----= £5.13 per mm of thread.

there are three ways you can evaluate this.

option 1: a part worn will cost you half the price when considering per mm of thread used to a new tire of EQUAL QUALITY

option 2: a brand new tire will cost you double the price when considering per mm used to a part worn tire of EQUAL QUALITY.

option 3. you can get three and a half part worn tires for the price of a new tire of EQUAL QUALITY. giving a total of 11.7mm of usable thread where a new tire only gives you 6.4mm

then there's the issue with quality control when buying part worn. how many you sucking up to this article buy second hand cars. (i'm guessing all of you, because is your rich enough to buy a new can then you wont be researching part worns to save a few pounds) Do you have the tires changed immediately, how about changing the brake pads, brake oil, while your at it the brake disk might be cracked. don't forget a new handbrake cable in case you park on a hill and it decides to snap when your else where. while your at it change the alloys because they might have a huge dent on the inside that could cause a blowout when your on the motorway when your driving your 15 children in the car.

your all willing to take these risks are you not.

watch a you tube video on how to examine a tire. then go and examine it before it is fitted. problem solved.

in conclusion, Mr auto express.........don't talk rubbish

im going out to buy a t-shirt that says part worns rule

9mm of tread mm actually better than new then i dont think so

hi guys. agree I bought used one cantinental for my van for 25 pound with tread more than 5mm , and always I could check it myself before fitting on. new one was at least ( budget) 60 quit. have done on it 10 000 miles before it gone to bin.
now Im thinking to open my own bussines. what would you say for tire with 8mm thread for average 40-60 punds each with 2 y warranty. Im not saying its dodgy or bad( good grip etc) not saying what is it to not sell my bussines to smbd.