We’re going to put this right at the top so there’s no equivocation: Do not buy used tires.
Sure, you can argue all day about how tires might have a lot of life left in them, or that people are throwing them away too soon, but we don’t see a reliable method of testing the safety of a used tire, other than a cursory visual inspection.
Tire manufacturers spend millions of dollars testing the safety of their products when they’re new. When they’ve been mounted on some random guy or gal’s car for 20,000 miles, you have no idea what kind of abuse they’ve been subjected to.
In our opinion, the best used tires are cheap, but safety-tested, new tires. Don’t buy Michelins or Pirellis if you’re trying to save money. Look for a tire with at least 40k miles warranty and that has been UTQG-rated. That’s the Uniform Tire Quality Grading, and look for a tire where the UTQG rating has a number of at least “500” and ends in “A A”).
Now you’re ready to find a deal. Check out these online tire stores, where you can punch in your car model (or tire size) and see prices:
Online tire prices are usually less than in store
Here’s our completely anecdotal experience with used tires:
In 1999, I bought a set of perfect Uniroyal Royal Seal tires from a swap meet. They were still wrapped in the original shipping plastic, and still had blue dye on the whitewalls. I had them mounted and they looked amazing. I paid about half what a new set of tires would’ve cost.
About a month after having them mounted, I merged onto 495 south in Westboro, Massachusetts, gave it the gas and made my way into the travel lane. I hit about 70 miles per hour and suddenly, the front end of the 4,500 pound station wagon I was driving felt like it was going to shake the car apart.
Seconds later, the right front tire exploded. At highway speed, that tire was nothing but a rubber flap, which tore a foot-long hole in the plastic inner fender well, ripped out the wiring for the turn signals, and tore the trim and mudguard off the wheel well.
A week later, the same exact thing happened in the northbound lane of 495, almost exactly across the highway from where the first tire exploded.
MORAL: Do not buy used tires.
Cost is a major consideration when purchasing a set of tires. They’re definitely not cheap, but they are an absolute necessity and a cost of owning a vehicle.
The only thing keeping you from skating across the highway in a driving rainstorm is the palm-sized patch of rubber that makes contact with the road. Say the difference in cost between used tires and new tires is $100 per tire (SPOILER ALERT: It’s not. It’s often a lot less than $100). If we trust the data about car shoppers, we know that you’ve spent somewhere between 13 and 15 hours searching for cars, you say you care about safety more than anything else, and you spent an average of about $35,000 on your last car.
Yet you’re willing to risk your safety and that of your family to save $400? Are you nuts?
The other thing to note is that some of the bigger “used tire” sites on the internet are just as often presenting you with options for new tires, only they’re from comically awful brands.
For example, we looked up a replacement tire for the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon on one of the more heavily visited used tire sites. It had no suggestions for used tires. All of the tires were new, which is weird, because the tires on the Gladiator are no different than those on the Wrangler, which has been around forever, and should have tons of used tire availability.
Here are the results we received:
Have you ever heard of any of these brands? Anybody know what the history is on a nice set of Leao Lions? Aren’t you brimming with confidence when you slap a set of Accelera Omikrons on your ride?
So who cares, right? You’re trying to save a few hard-earned bucks, why not buy a set of tires made on an assembly line that also makes whoopie cushions and plastic dog turds?
Because you’re not going to save any money in the long run, or the short run, frankly.
For less than $200 per tire, you can buy replacements from Sumitomo, Yokohama, Firestone and Kumho, recognized brands which stand behind their products and have a reputation for quality. The difference in price between a Greenmax Optimum Sport and a Sumitomo Encounter A/T is $42 per tire. That’s less than what you’re spending on lattes in a week.
And what about when it’s time to sell the car? This is a true fact: I have walked away from purchasing a used car because the seller had purchased a new set of these trash tires just before attempting to sell it to me. If this is an indication of the kind of quality maintenance the car has received in the past, I’m not interested in the car at all.
The hierarchy of what you should be mounting on your wheels is as follows:
Yes, since Sears and Montgomery Ward went out of business, there aren’t really any department store tires left any longer, but you get the picture. Used tires are bottom-rung, and not recommended at all.
If you’re absolutely determined to save that $42 per tire, buying the no-name tire is a better option than the used tire. Why? Many, many reasons:
The dangers and pitfalls of getting used tires should be fairly obvious. Tires are spinning around hundreds of thousands of times even in just a short trip. In the best of circumstances, temperatures can rise from a cool 35 degrees to well over 100 degrees in a matter of miles. They’re subjected to rain, snow, sleet, salt, and get blasted by UV rays 24 hours a day.
And that’s if the person behind the wheel is the most considerate driver on the road. You’ve seen people driving around. They’re hitting potholes, manhole covers, squeezing past curbs, running over road debris and peeling out at stoplights. Do you want to get that guy’s tires?
Of course the real danger is that the tire can fail at the least opportune moment and send you and your car hurtling into a guardrail at highway speed. In the moment before impact, are you still going to feel like a shrewd household financial genius for saving $42?
Here’s how to save money on tires produced by companies that you may have heard of:
Online tire prices are usually less than in store
No. Used tires are a massive compromise, and you’d be better off buying a cheaper new tire than something of completely unknown history.
Start by sorting the results for your tire size by cost, lowest to highest. Most tire results pages are going to come back showing you the most popular tires, which might be much more expensive than you’re willing to pay. Sorting by price gives you a more accurate picture of what a decent replacement tire is going to cost. Then start looking for rebates from the tire manufacturer.
In order of cost, lowest to highest: Don’t drive like a dope. Check your tire inflation every time you get fuel. Rotate your tires on the manufacturer’s schedule. Get a four-wheel alignment every time you replace your tires, and on the manufacturer’s schedule. Repair any damaged steering and suspension-related components immediately.
Ordering your tires online vs. the shop will save you money