Car Advice

Are part-worn, used, or second-hand tyres safe?

Part-worn, used or second-hand tyres are less of an issue in Australia than in Europe but plenty of places here still advertise them. So, are part-worn tyres safe?

In Australia, it isn’t illegal to sell part-worn, used or second-hand tyres and a quick Google search of those terms will throw up plenty of tyre shops selling part-worn rubber. But is it safe to try and save money by buying a set of tyres someone else has swapped out or that have come from a wrecked vehicle?

What’s the law say?

Not much. Tyres in Australia need to have at least 1.5mm (1.6mm is often quoted in publications, but 1.5mm is listed by roads authorities in this country – new tyres have between 6-8mm of tread depth) of tread across the tyre to be considered roadworthy; unless they have wear indicators set at a higher level in which case that higher wear level applies. Unless a tyre has been specified as suitable for re-cutting or re-grooving, it can’t be.

Before a tyre can be sold in Australia it must meet ADR23 guidelines but this doesn’t detail the use of second-hand tyres. So, in a lot of cases this is buyer beware stuff. And while most road transport associations around the country will advise car owners to check the age of the tyres on their vehicle, or the age of the second-hand tyre they’re buying, they don’t suggest at what point the tyre should be rejected. And that’s because it depends on so many things, like what part of the country the tyres come from (somewhere hot or cold), how long have they been sitting around for, have they been stacked somewhere out in the elements, and so on. See, tyres are not like wine in any way shape or form. They get worse with age.

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While in some countries there’s a requirement that the second-hand tyre should be clearly labelled as part-worn, there’s no such requirement in Australia.

Why would you buy a part-worn tyre?

Here in Australia it’s almost impossible to make a case for buying second-hand, part-worn or used tyres. Tyres are becoming cheaper, especially since the arrival of tyres from ‘new’ Asian brands forcing premium brands to introduce budget-friendly rubber.

But then, it’s worth remembering that if you buy a second-hand car then you’re buying part-worn, used and second-hand tyres (whatever you want to call them). And, unless you know the back-story of the vehicle and its tyres, and even if you do, and you don’t swap them out if they look a little rough or are old but still have plenty of tread left, then you’re risking the safety of you, your family or someone else’s. Simple.

In Europe, Germany is one of the largest suppliers of part-worn tyres but that’s because it has one of the strictest requirements when it comes to worn tyres. For instance, instead of the 1.5mm of tread Australian authorities specify, German authorities require a minimum of 3mm of tread coverage.

Buying used German tyres means you’re likely buying a tyre that’ll last for a few thousand clicks and will be cheaper than a set of new tyres meaning you could probably buy a more premium tyre. But none of this is relevant for Australia, it’s just background to show how different markets do things differently.

Some will argue that budget is the main reason for buying a set of used tyres. But this is likely a false economy, see, used tyres won’t last as long as new tyres and so you’ll end up replacing them more often and spend more in the long run.

More than that, you’re buying something with a reduced safety profile and that really does make no sense at all. See, with less tread across your tyre’s face and shoulders you’re reducing your car’s grip in both the dry and wet. A test between new and used tyres by the UK’s TyreSafe revealed drastically increased wet road braking distances from around 90km/h. The new tyre with 8mm of tread stopped in 25.9m while the used tyre with just 1.6mm of tread took 37.8m to stop.

So, should you buy a part-worn tyre?

While most sellers of part-worn tyres will tell you the things have been thoroughly inspected by experts, the truth is that the majority probably haven’t. In the UK, for instance, part-worn tyres being sold need to have passed a barrage of tests, like an inflation test, have their structural integrity assessed, carry a minimum of 2mm of tread, and be marked as Part Worn. That’s not the case in Australia.

In fact, there is virtual silence on this issue in Australia with none of the checks on part-worn tyres that are required in other countries. That said, if you’re caught driving with tyres below the minimum tread depth then you can be issued with a defect notice which, depending on where you live can cost more than $100 per tyre and usually also a loss of one demerit point per defective tyre.

So, with none of the checks on part-worn tyres in this country that you get in others, the potential safety risk to you or someone else, and the financial cost too (part-worn tyres aren’t cheaper in the long run) it’s not worth buying a second-hand tyre.

So, I really shouldn’t buy a part-worn tyre?

Well, yes, that’s the general advice but there are some instances where buyers prefer to use a good-condition part-worn tyre, like at a skid pan day. Or on a trailer that doesn’t get driven a lot. But, if you do decide to fit part-worn tyres that make sure you understand the risks and that the tyres you’re buying still have a decent amount of meat on them, are in good condition (it’s buyer beware in this country) and that they’re not too old and that they’ve been stored out of direct sunlight.


Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober was born in the shadow of Mount Panorama in Bathurst and, so, it was inevitable he’d fall into work as a motoring writer. He began his motoring career in 2000 reviewing commercial vehicles, before becoming editor of Caravan & Motorhome magazine. He then moved to MOTOR Magazine before going freelance and contributing to Overlander 4WD, 4×4 Australia, TopGear Australia, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, The Australian, CARSguide, and many more.