The Dangers of Part Worn Tyres

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When buying replacement tyres for a car, some motorists may be tempted to save some money by buying part-worn tyres. These are usually cheaper than a new set and for a part worn tyre to be sold in the UK it needs to pass a number of guidelines to ensure the safety of the driver.

However, in a study conducted by TyreSafe and AutoExpress in 2012, 98% of the tyres tested would not have passed these regulations. With 4 million part worn tyres sold in the UK every year, this presents the potential for serious consequences both for the drivers of the vehicles and possibly for other road users as well.  

Alternative to part worn tyres

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What are part worn tyres?

Part worn tyres have previously been fitted to another vehicle, removed (for whatever reason) and are now being sold second hand. These tyres can come from a number of sources, such as a car that has been written-off, but the tyres are still in usable condition- however many part worn tyres are imported from Germany, where the minimum legal tread depth is 3mm- almost twice the required depth as in the UK.

Regardless of the source, unless you have a comprehensive history of the tyre’s usage it’s impossible to know exactly what you are buying and how the tyre has been used.

The sale and use of part worn tyres is not illegal in the UK, but the tyres do need to meet a number of criteria to be legally sold to a member of the public. 

Buying part worn tyres

For the most part, people buy a part worn tyre because they tend to be cheaper than their newer counterparts. However, when a part worn tyre only needs to legally have a tread depth of 2mm (as opposed to a new tyre, which generally has a tread depth of around 8mm) and the minimum legal requirement for road use is 1.6mm, users of part worn tyres are likely to find themselves needing to replace their tyres at a much faster rate, to the extent that buying new tyres may be more cost effective. 

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Legislation for part worn tyres

In accordance with the Motor Vehicle Tyres (Safety) Regulations 1994 (reg.7) part of the Consumer Protection Act, any part worn tyres sold must meet the following criteria:

  • All part worn tyres must be marked with “Part Worn” in clear lettering that is at least 4mm tall
  • Be free from any large cuts, bulges, lumps internally and externally. No plies or cords should be exposed
  • Part worn tyres which have not been retreaded must bear an “E” mark alongside the ‘”Part Worn” lettering
  • Part worn tyres that have been retreated must bear the relevant British Standards mark alongside the “Part Worn” lettering
  • The tyre’s original grooves must still be clearly visible in their entirely, and must be at least 2mm in depth across the entirety of the tyre’s circumference
  • Each tyre must pass an inflation test
  • Any damage from penetration must have been repaired in accordance with paragraphs 4-7 of BS AU 159


Under this legislation, a previously punctured tyre can be re-sold, provided that is has been repaired in accordance with British Standards, meaning that even a legally sold tyre may have sustained damage prior to sale.

Are part worn tyres safe? 

Every part worn tyre will vary, with each one having had a different past, so there is no single answer that explains whether they are safe or not. However, of the 50 tyres tested by TyreSafe and AutoExpress, they found that 34% of part worn tyres contain potentially dangerous forms of damage or non-compliance- with only one of the tyres tested containing the legally-required markings on the sidewall.

How to tell if a tyre is safe for road use

All tyres are subject to a number of requirements to be considered road-legal and failure to comply with these regulations will likely result in an MOT failure when your annual test is due. For a tyre to be declared fit for road use it needs to meet the following:

  • Damage to the wheel: a tyre needs to show no considerable signs of damage. Damage is defined as cracks, and bulges as they can be indicative of damage within the tyre itself.
  • Tread depth: in the UK a tyre needs to have a minimum tread depth of 1.6mm across the centre 3/4s of the tyre


Although not a legal requirement in the UK, many tyre manufacturers and safety campaigners recommend that tyres that are more than 5 years old should be replaced, as the rubber compound becomes more susceptible to cracking and breaking with age.