Are part worn tyres safe?

Author Name – Louise Helsby

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Due to COVID-19, we understand UK drivers may be tight for cash heading into winter. Protect yourself and your loved ones this winter and stay away from part worn tyres.

Updated: 30/10/2020

Do you know exactly what part worn tyres are?

Unsure? Well, as the name suggests, part worn tyres are – effectively – second-hand tyres. They’re partly worn down already because they’ve been used by someone else before you. As a result, part worn tyres don’t have anywhere near the tread depth of new tyres. If you are driving in the snow, then you are taking a huge risk with part worn tyres. In this article, we are going to explain to you the dangers of buying second-hand tyres that are worn down, and why you should instead switch to winter tyres for winter months.  

Why are there even part worn tyres available?

They exist because in Germany – where the vast majority of part worn tyres come from – most drivers change their tyres when they get down to just 3 mm of tread depth. The Germans do this – even though, as in Britain, the minimum legal tyre tread depth is 1.6mm – because they know that once the tread gets down to 3 mm they deteriorate very, very fast.

So – technically – part worn tyres are legal in the UK, but are they really safe? Read on to discover more...

Are part worn tyres safe?

Absolutely vital for driving in wet weather conditions, tyre treads were first invented by those clever engineers at Continental Tyres in 1904. Treads are the ‘grooves’ you can see in the rubber, and they’re designed to remove water from what’s known as the ‘contact patch’ between the tyre itself and the road. This allows drivers to brake, steer and accelerate. The tread depth is a lot deeper in winter tyres as there is a lot more water, ice and snow on the road that needs displacing. 

part worn tyres

When you buy a brand new set of tyres, the tread depth is 8 mm, but over time this wears down and as a result, tyres get worse at gripping the road. As you can imagine, in winter the grip on the road gets substantially worse, so by the time the tyre tread is down to 3 mm, they are – according to tyre experts – nearly 80% worn. That’s a massively increased loss of braking ability. Now consider this: many part worn tyres are sold with a tread depth of just 2mm…

Related: Tyre Safe

Reduced tyre tread affects your ability to successfully stop safely in the wet – you’ll end up travelling further after you hit the brakes if your tyres are too worn down, compared to if they aren’t. That’s why most experts, including the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, and the DVLA, recommend we should all change our tyres when they’re down to 3 mm. 3 mm… The trouble is – if you buy a set of part worn tyres – this is the point when they start their new life with you…

Tyre tread depth and wear comparison

  • 8mm of tread is 0% worn. Excellent!
  • 7mm of tread is approximately 15% worn. Very good.
  • 6mm of tread is around 30% worn. Good.
  • 5mm of tread is roughly 45-50% worn. Okay.
  • 4mm of tread is approximately 65% worn. Acceptable.
  • 3mm of tread is near 80% worn. Plan to replace.
  • 2mm of tread is 95% worn. Alarming!
  • 1.6mm of tread is now at its legal limit, but that’s no reason to use it. Replace immediately!
  • Under 1.6mm of tread is now illegal, and subject to a £2,500 fine and 3 points on your licence. Irresponsible and dangerous.

Most part worn tyres are illegal

It’s understandable why many people opt to purchase part worn tyres, after all they seem value for money, and they often solve a short term problem, like passing an MOT (though not always).

But – even over the medium term – the reality is that they’re a false economy. Why? Because once tyre treads are down to 3 mm, the rate of wear accelerates. Before you know it they’re down to 1.6 mm and then you’re at risk of getting on the wrong side of the law.

Remember, the penalties for driving with tyres below the minimum legal tread depth in the UK are up to £2,500 and three points PER TYRE.

If you are driving around in winter with illegal used tyres that are below the legal requirements for tread depth and cause a crash, this can also lead to legal penalties. This is another of the potential dangers of buying illegal tyres and can also lead to you putting yourself and other road users lifes at risk 

Why switch to winter tyres?

With the colder winter months looming over our heads, it is vital that you have winter tyres that are suitable for trading standards and can deal with harsher conditions. Drivers are urged to switch to winter tyres when the average temperature falls below 7 Degrees Celsius. This is not only to combat icy and snowy roads, where less traction is achieved but also to ensure that road safety is achieved.

Related: How do winter tyres work?

Some features that winter tyres have include -

Higher natural rubber composition to keep the tyre from freezing over and going hard. If the tyre is hard then this can affect grip with the road, resulting in loss of control when handling.

Sipes built into the tyre act as a waterway to disperse any water, ice or snow. This greatly reduces the risk of aquaplaning that itself is more of a risk in winter months.

A deeper tyre tread depth and pattern is installed into the tyre to provide a cavity for the snow to go into. This has a beneficial effect because instead of the tyre making contact with direct snow, the snow is pushed up into the cavity that allows the tyre to make more contact with the road.

Related: How to order winter tyres

The benefits of switching to winter tyres from summer tyres at the appropriate time is there for us all to see. If your summer tyres are worn and the tyre tread depth is at a minimum, this makes switching to winter tyres a lot more important as all of the faults with summer tyres being used in winter conditions are magnified if the summer tyres also have an illegal tread depth.

Related: Can You Use Winter Tyres In Summer?

Still unsure about part worn tyres? Talk to National Tyres and Autocare

The simple fact is, part worn tyres are best avoided. Period. Even if the retailer’s following the rules and fitting them correctly, the tyres themselves aren’t safe, and they certainly won’t last very long – they’ll only need replacing again.

Road safety – your safety – is such an important issue that it’s always best to talk to an expert. Speak to your local National Tyres and Autocare professional for experienced, impartial advice, and about high-quality fitting solutions. You can find your local branch here.

Updated: 30/10/2020

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