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Winter Driving Guide

How to find the best used tires online

Though it sounds unlikely, you can find a safe, quality used tire. Here’s how to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Published October 29, 2012

As I write this in the fall with not even a hint of snow in the air, I have found 2,294 ads for used winter tires on www.kijiji.ca and 1654 ads on www.craigslist.ca. Just wait for the first big freeze and then these ads will double. Some of these ads will be real genuine bargains sold by real people, but there will be lots of chaff mixed in with the wheat.

There will be lowball used tire dealers posing as private sales, sellers who will only deliver the tires, sellers with only a blocked cellphone number. So in the used tire market “caveat emptor” should be your motto while you look for the gold amid the pyrite, and you may just come away with a bargain.

Step one: Identify your fitment size and fact check some new prices. And research what brand works best for your driving conditions. Remember, tires are discounted from list prices by as much as 33 per cent; Michelin is the exception at 10-12 per cent. Now knock off another 25 per cent for used in good condition. That is your starting bargaining position. Make some phone calls and the hunt is afoot.

When inspecting the tires, start by making sure that they are all the same model, size and tread pattern. Sounds silly, but if it is a dealer they may have mixed up a bunch of tires on the back of the truck. Next, check the date codes.

These codes are marked on the side wall somewhere. It always starts with “DOT.” For example it will look like “DOT G6F1 675K 0810.” The first two letters are the tire manufacturer and the plant code. The third and fourth characters are the code for the size of tire. The fifth to eighth characters identify the tire brand more specifically. The rest of the numbers are what you want. The ninth and tenth numbers are the week the tire was made and the last two digits are the last number of the year. So in my example the tire was made during the eighth week of 2010.

If there is no DOT number, the tire was not legally manufactured for use in North America, walk away.

All four tires should have been made in the same year, if not, walk away. Winter tires are good up to a maximum of four to five winters. Do the math and the older they are, the cheaper they should be. Personally, I wouldn’t consider tires over three years old.

Next, check the tread. Bring a ruler. New tires usually have between 11 to 13 millimetres of tread depth in the valleys between tread blocks. The less tread they have, the worse they perform. I wouldn’t consider a tire under half-tread depth. Don’t just measure in one spot, measure at random around the tire and also in the middle of the tread and the inner and outer edges. The measurements should be very close in depth. And, get in there and wiggle the tread blocks, they should be flexible. Winter tires have to be soft.

Look at the tires’ edges. Are the tread block edges still sharp or are they worn down and rounded? If they are, forget this set. Sharp edges are needed for snow bite. Now whip out your mini-flashlight and shine it in the valleys between tread blocks. Look for cracks. Cracks indicate a tire on life support even if it has lots of tread. The rubber has been incorrectly stored or overheated.

While you are inspecting the tread, look for any plugs in the tire. They will present themselves as circles of rubber 5 to 8 millimetres in diameter. That means the tire was once flat and was fixed. That’s OK if (and this is critical) if it was plugged properly with a patch-plug. Look inside the tire where the plug is and there should be a corresponding patch on the inside of the tire. If there is not, walk away. And, while your head is inside the tire, take a sniff. If you smell any odour of heat or burning, walk away. The tire was run hot while it was flat. The tire is scrap.

While we are up close and personal with the tire, check the bead area. That is where the tire sits on the rim. Check the bead for any rips or tears. Often tires are damaged while being dismounted by someone who believes brute force makes the work go faster. Any cuts or rips and the tire is scrap.

Roll the tire along the floor and watch for any side wall bulges. Does the tire roll straight or does it wobble? Is the tread pattern running straight or does it seem to oscillate from side to side? If it does, the tire may have a belt separation. It is scrap. If you go look at a tire shop and you see a steel cargo container with the tires you are considering, keep right on walking. Winter tires cannot be stored in steel boxes in the sun. The life literally oozes out of them.

So grab that ruler and flashlight. Happy hunting.

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