"Psst! Hey, you. Yes, you, behind the wheel. Listen, I can give you a good deal on a couple of used tires for that car of yours. How about it?"
To anyone who started driving in the 1950s or 1960s, before safety became a byword in the automobile business, the words "used" and "tire" just don't meld well. Visions of nearly depleted tread, scuffed sidewalls, and dangerously damaged rubber pop promptly to mind. So do recollections of blowouts at highway speed, likely accompanied by a sudden need to grasp the steering wheel as if it were a life raft, struggling to keep the car on course as it slows to a forlorn halt.
Even if we managed to escape the dreaded blowouts–which could easily occur in the dead of night, on a dark road–nearly every motorist of that less-safety-conscious era recalls the dismal sight of spotting a flat tire in the morning. Tires used to be a constant worry.
Young and impoverished drivers faced another challenge, if the flattened tire proved to be unrepairable: How to pay for a replacement. All too often, that replacement came not from a chain retail tire store with its rows of shiny new Goodyears and Firestones. No, if your wallet was close to empty, you started to scout the local gas stations or specialty tire shops, hoping to find an affordable tire that still had acceptable tread depth and lacked disturbing damage within its sidewall.
After a series of stressful experiences with blown tires, perhaps including a near miss or two, many of us vowed that when we became more financially secure, we'd never again have to entertain the possibility of purchasing a secondhand tire. Nothing but brand-new, name-brand rubber in the future, we vowed.
A recent announcement from Champtires.com, promoting their selection of 14,000 used tires, triggered instant recollection of all those vivid memories of worn-down rubber. Of course, that was long ago. Still, in this era of intensified emphasis on every aspect of auto safety, could used tires be a viable alternative? Aren't there some regulations, whether at the state or federal level, that would limit or impede the use of secondhand tires?
Apart from a requirement for specific tread depth, evidently not, according to Brad Rea, the head of Champtires. Employees inspect incoming tires, but no governmental agency is involved. "We try to find the highest tread remaining," Rea explained. In his view, "they are safe to be put back on the market."
Many used tires go to people who are returning leased vehicles at the end of the lease term, realizing that tires need replacement. Paying $50 or so for a used tire sounds better than, say, $200 for a new one, Rea advised. Used tires are especially "common in states like Texas," he advised, adding that there are plenty of used tire dealers around the country. "Our standards for the tires we buy are very high," he asserted. Champtires.com began two years ago in Pittsburgh, and recently expanded into Chicago.
Would we choose a used tire over a new one? Probably not, though the concept of recycling old ones is tempting. In this period of continued economic uncertainty, however, financially strapped drivers might not be as meticulous about potential safety concerns, provided that the price is right.