12 Jul 2024
The voice of the independent garage sector

Part worn tyres: False economy

With many people on furlough, and the full financial impact of the pandemic still unclear, you could forgive people for wanting to make savings where possible. Keep that car for an extra year? Why not. Repair not replaces? We like that idea. Being prudent can only go so far though. For example, cutting corners when it comes to tyres is a bad idea, as when you reach a corner, you might fly off the road if your tyres are not up to the task. On this basis, part worn tyres would seem to be an especially bad idea.

TyreSafe is the charity dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of correct tyre maintenance and the dangers of defective and illegal tyres. We spoke to TyreSafe Manager Jason Simms, who said: “Part worn tyres are appealing to some retailers due to their ready availability from sources in both the UK and abroad. It’s also appealing as it’s far too easy to set up, leading to the growth of outlets at car washes and other ad hoc venues. The UK does have regulations on the sale of part worn tyres but Trading Standards and TyreSafe found 94% of the 278 retailers investigated did not conform to these rules and were ultimately trading illegally.

“While they may provide a potentially high profit margin for those retailers, the risks part worns represent could mean vehicle owners potentially pay the ultimate price. That’s not sensationalism. 63% of the inspected part worn tyres bought during those TyreSafe and Trading Standards investigations were unfit to return to the roads. It’s not tread depth or lack of it which is typically the problem. Instead, it’s the general condition of the tyre in three key areas.

“First, poor puncture repairs, which do not conform to BS AUG 159G. These are often string repairs, badly botched patch repairs and repairs to the sidewall. TyreSafe has even seen tyres ‘repaired’ with bubble-gum. Next, objects embedded in the tyres. Nails, screws, glass and shard of iron are the most common, but a mechanic’s socket has also been discovered among the less common objects. Lastly, tyre age. The oldest tyre seen to date was 29 years old. One-in-five inspected was over 10 years old. Some have vulcanised to such a degree, they do not bend. Please note, all these faults have been recorded officially and witnessed on investigations.

“Clearly, these issues represent a clear danger to the purchaser and some retailers have been proven to be supplying them without any consideration for the danger to motorists. However, they are in the minority but it is still worrying that the remainder are selling a safety critical component with little no understanding of the product’s technology and complexity.”

Jason added: “TyreSafe is campaigning to reduce the supply of dangerous part worns to the general public and to urge retailers to ensure they are trained tot least a basic level of competency. Deciding whether a tyre passes the regulatory requirements falls to the retailer. TyreSafe urges anyone selling part worns tyres to ask themselves if they really do have the skills required to assess this most important, safety critical component.” To find out more, visit www.tyresafe.org

Main concern
While organsisations like TyreSafe are dedicated to this topic, what working mechanics see in their regular working days can also be eye-opening. A reader contacted us about their concerns, based on what they are seeing in the area they work in: “I work in and around West Yorkshire as a breakdown mechanic. In Bradford, there are very many outlets selling part worn tyres, mainly as cash sales. I believe they are purchased in a mixed container load, and are coming from countries with stricter regulations. I expect lots of part worn tyres are shipped from places like Dubai where the tyres cannot be more than five years old. When looking at some of these tyres recently, there was no mention of the manufacture dates. I’ve never seen a tyre marked as ‘part worn’ like they should be either.

“When fitted, I see summer and winter tyres are mixed across the same axle. Mixing summer and winter tread patterns across the same axle at the same time should be a MOT fail, particularly where the winter tyre pattern is a harsh type. Surely the likes of VOSA could test the impact of tyre mismatch? The good part of the tyres that wore in line with the cost has already down to the last few millimetres. They do not provide cost effective wear. They will also be less safe. I don’t see part worn tyres as an environmental benefit. I think there is a massive lack of tyre disposal sites. If they weren’t imported then they would be an environmental consideration here in the UK. Look at the recent tyre fire in Bradford. It burned for a week and closed schools and businesses.”

Our reader continued: “My main concern is where are these shipping containers of used tyres coming from. if you purchased four tyres then your engine blew up then it makes sense selling the tyres if the car is now scrap. You know the history of the tyres and the DOT code will confirm they are new. However, importing five-year-old tyres from abroad, with say four millimetres tread is completely different. They will soon be at the end of their life and need recycling or deposing of. There are many budget new tyres available for around £45 to £85. I just don’t see the need for so many garages selling part worn for £20 cash. I’ve no idea what ‘marking’ a tyre as part worn means. I can only assume the invoice but I doubt these establishments are providing invoices.”

Our reader added: “In my job roadside, I see terrible tyres; Bald mixed tread types, variances in speed rating, different sizes front and rear where manufacturers didn’t specify this. It would be interesting to know the laws/rules in other countries and why the tyres end up here.”

Our reader was so concerned that he contacted the Department for Transport (DfT) on the issue of part worn tyres being sold. Their reply stated: “A ‘part worn’ tyre is a tyre that, when fitted to a motor vehicle, is not new. This can cover a wide range of situations. A new high-quality tyre is effectively classed as part worn once fitted to a vehicle, even though it may have no wear or damage. Equally, tyres which may have at least 2mm of tread remaining across the full breadth of tread and round the entire outer circumference of the tyre, may be legal for sale as part worn tyres. Part worn tyres can offer environmental advantages through better utilisation of full life cycle of a tyre and reduced emissions related to tyre production.

“There are regulations in place to provide minimum standards for the supply and sale of part worn tyres. These are provided by the Motor Vehicle Tyre (Safety) Regulations 1994, as amended, and enforced by local authority trading standards officers. The requirements include, but are not limited to; having a minimum tread depth limit of 2mm, no cut more than 25 millimetres, minimum standard for tyre structure and general condition, and provisions for the correct marking of each tyre to show the words ‘PART WORN’. The Department is unaware of any current deficiencies with this legislation and, therefore, there are no plans to review it at this time. Additionally, there are requirements under the General Product Safety Regulations 2005, which places obligation on distributors to act with due care with respect to the applicable safety requirements of the product that they sell.”

You can view these regulations via https://www.legislation.gov.uk/

Biggest problem
This seemed like a bit of a cop-out to us, so we also spoke to the National Tyre Distributors Association (NTDA) on the topic. Chief Executive Stefan Hay had this to say: “Essentially, selling part worn tyres remains legal and there is, despite the NTDA’s tireless efforts for decades, a roaring trade still in existence across the UK. However, under The Motor Vehicle Tyres (Safety) Regulations 1994 (reg.7.) which are part of the Consumer Protection Act, it is an offence for anyone to sell part worn tyres that do not meet the requirements of the regulation and this is where the biggest problem exists.

“Well documented evidence gathered by the NTDA, Trading Standards and TyreSafe during inspection activity carried out over many years across the whole of the UK, shows that the vast majority of part worn tyre dealers simply do not adhere to the regulation and furthermore our colleagues in Trading Standards simply do not have the resources to police these companies. We have found tyres for sale where the structural integrity is totally compromised, with large cuts, bulges, side wall cracking and other faults such as embedded nails and screws or exposed plies and cords. The tyres very rarely have passed an inflation test prior to sale and often have less than the legally required 2mm of tread. They are not stored correctly and the legally required ‘PART WORN’ marking which must be permanently and legibly applied in letters at least 4mm high is invariably missing. Many of the tyres for sale range from 12-16 years old and the people fitting them are not always qualified tyre technicians.

“Also, let’s not forget where such tyres are coming from. They are often tyres that have been removed from a vehicle because the driver of that vehicle believed that they needed replacing, or tyres removed from a scrapped vehicle that may have been involved in an accident and then we have the winter tyres, not really suitable or designed for general all weather motoring, imported by the container load from Germany etc.

Responsible recycler
Stefan continued: “The NTDA still believes that in the absence of effective enforcement of dodgy part worn dealers, there should be a ban on the sale of such dangerous part worn tyres. As a minimum, there should be a nationally recognised, and endorsed inspection and audit scheme such as that proposed several years ago by the Tyre Recovery Association (TRA).

“On the subject of the TRA, another way to combat the cowboy element of the part worn tyre trade is for legitimate tyre retailers and distributors to ensure they only use TRA members that have been audited under the Responsible Recycler Scheme and have the necessary Environment Agency, or in Scotland SEPA, permits in place. Otherwise retailers may be complicit in feeding what should be end-of-life tyres ready for reprocessing, back into the marker as part worn tyres. We have numerous examples of white-van-man collecting end-of-life tyres from retailers, sorting through them to find the best ones to sell as part worns and fly-tipping the rest in lay-bys, car parks or even nature reserves.

Stefan added: “Our NTDA Members Don’t Sell Part Worn Tyres Campaign has been highly successful in highlighting the dangers of part worns, and the Ban Part Worn Tyres campaign launched by our member John Stone of Stone Tyres in St. Helens which we backed also had a massive impact.”

For more information, go to www.ntda.co.uk

Final thoughts
As the summer holidays begin, many garages will be looking to generate revenue by offering pre-holiday checks. With international travel still a very shaky bet, many people in the UK may be looking to head out on four wheels in July and August.

When they do come in, tyres will be a major area for attention. If you do point out to a customer that their tyres seem a bit low on tread, or there are other problem areas, if you are then told that these tyres were recent purchases, and they knew they were putting on part worn tyres, point them in the direction of the TyreSafe website, or towards the NTDA’s work on the part worn problem. More directly, see if you can talk them into getting some proper tyres as soon as possible. Even if you send them up the road so someone else is selling the tyres to them, you might just save their life. In short, take care of your customers, and their tyres.