Used tire sales are a thorn in the side of Europe!

May 22, 2013

They have been a major problem within the European tire industry for years now and even with the many technological innovations in tire manufacturing and tighter legislation such as tire labeling that have taken place over the years they simply will not go away.

What am I talking about, you might ask? Well, I am referring to part-worn tires, which for some misguided reason some drivers still believe are a way of saving money when they need to fit tires to their vehicle.

It’s true that some part-worn tire dealers do conform to the rules and inspect and label their tires correctly, however, recent independent surveys suggest that there are still a majority number of used tire dealers who simply ignore the legislation requirements and sell part-worns — irrespective of their condition — in order to “earn a fast buck” at every opportunity.

Throughout Europe the problem is a serious one because national statistics indicate that the number of road accidents due to tire malfunction continues to increase. However, the situation appears to be even more critical in the UK where as many as six million part-worn tires are imported each year and become part of the second-hand market. What is even more surprising is the origin of these part-worn tires, with the majority being sourced from Germany and other European nations.

With Northern Europe experiencing considerably harsher winter conditions than the UK, European drivers tend to “sell on” their tires as they change from summer to winter tires and back again (that is to say, it is common practice for the dealer to buy back those summer tires which are then passed on for export as part-worns). When you consider that the importation of around six million part-worn tires represents between 15% and 20% of the UK’s car tire replacement market, it is easy to understand why the industry is so concerned as it is taking a huge chunk out of the potential sales and profits.

Another concerning problem lies in the fact that many part-worn tire dealers are happy to carry out their own supposed “repairs” to part-worn tires with disastrous results. Not so long ago a driver called into a branch of a leading fast fit specialist and asked if they would check over a tire he had recently bought from a part-worn tire dealer which was making a noise. On inspection the tire was found to have a serious vibration problem caused by a sizeable hole in the tire having been “plugged.”

Although cultural reasons partly explain the popularity of part-worns, there is another major obstacle which is that at the moment it is not actually illegal to sell part-worn tires provided they and the seller comply in full with the appointed regulations. These include having at least 2 mm of tread across the full breath of the tire, having an “’E” mark and the words Part Worn clearly engraved on the sidewall as well as showing the relevant Standard Mark. Unfortunately, a good percentage of second-hand tire dealers simply ignore these regulations and sell these tires in any condition that they are able to get away with.

At the moment the complete banning of part-worn tires in Europe would require a change in legislation which as we all know is a long, painful and in some cases fruitless campaign. It is also interesting to note that some tire retail companies have started to take their own action by punching a hole in the sidewall of part-worn tires that are due to be scrapped, therefore preventing them from re-entering the supply chain. The process is fast becoming known as “tire disablement” which you would think was a simple yet effective course of action.

Sadly you would be wrong as this practice is raising concerns from various official quarters for two reasons. First, some consider it would be “taking value out of the supply chain,” and secondly it might actually be illegal as it is contrary to the established waste hierarchy of reduce, re-use and recycle.

So, at the moment the issue seems to be going around in confused circles with many people in the industry in Europe genuinely believing that it may never be possible to totally eradicate the sale of part-worn tires.    ■

John Stone has been working within the global tire industry for the past 20 years. In 2004 he launched his own company, Sapphire Media Services, as a business media consultant with clients around the globe. Stone also writes for tire and automotive-related publications in Europe, South Africa and Asia.

For more from John Stone's European Notebook, see:

An electric future for tires in Europe

An unconvincing reception for tire labeling in Europe

Getting a safe grip on the European winter