Friday, January 23, 2015

The Used Tire Merchants

Call me a snob, naive, or ignorant, but I had no idea that the used tire market was so popular and—apparently—so big.

Used tires, anyone?
To me buying a used tire is akin to buying used shoes. I guess you can get a heck of a deal on a pair of nice-looking shoes, but I like mine to be brand new. And the same applies to my tires.

I recently had the chance to learn a little more about the used tire business by happenstance, and what I saw was both fascinating and worrisome at the same time.

Most everyone loves a bargain, and there's nothing wrong with that. But saving money on the wrong things, can be expensive. And when it comes to tires, it can cost you dearly.

We tend to take many things for granted, and I think that tires fall into that category. Like many, I've driven on tires that were unsafe just because of laziness, and as a way to postpone the expense of buying a new set.

By the way, I usually replace tires as a set, just like I do brake pads, shock absorbers, and more. I would only buy just one tire only under very special circumstances.

© Life Magazine/B.F.Goodrich
While I was growing up in the 1960s, my dad was an authorized B.F.Goodrich dealer, and besides the free pens, key fobs, ashtrays, and other tchotchkes, he always had tons of B.F.Goodrich scratchpads with the—at the time famous—"You're only as safe as your tires" slogan.

I guess that catchphrase got imprinted in my mind.

While driving around town, I would see these small shops, usually located in industrial-type parks or in run-down shopping plazas, offering used tires.

I never gave them a second thought.

But again, I recently had the chance to spend some time at one of these places, while they worked on a project car I had just acquired.

Ironically, the quality of the work was the equivalent of the used tires they offer to a mostly ignorant public. Shoddy!

Since I was there for mechanical work, I did not pay much attention to the used tire deals happening around me. That is until early one morning, as I waited for the mechanic to show up, a pickup truck unloaded a small load of used tires.

As I sipped my coffee, I saw one of the shop guys walk out with a paint rattle-can. He then proceeded to paint the tires. Or at least part of them.

I jokingly asked him if that was their way of "restoring" used tires, to which he replied they did this in case the "Volusia county popo" drove by.

I assume the WTF look on my face prompted him to explain that these tires were marked by other tire dealers, to be discarded. In other words, these are the tires a bona fide tire dealer would take off from a customer's vehicle in order to install new ones.

Every time I buy a set of new tires, I leave the old ones at the shop. And if memory serves, I think they charge me a "disposal fee." So, apparently, some tire dealers not only pocket those disposal fees, but also make a few extra bucks selling old, to-be-discarded tires.


I questioned the store owner about their practices and he gave me a very lengthy explanation as to why it was okay for them to do this, why Volusia county was wrong enforcing all these rules, blah, blah, blah.

He also shared with me how very profitable the used tire business is. And I guess it must be when he pays anywhere from $5 (and sometimes less) for tires than are then resold for anywhere from $20 to $45, sometimes even higher depending on how popular a tire size may be.

Photo courtesy of
I also asked him about the safety of these tires, and he told me that he personally inspects them (from the number of used tires in this shop alone, I question that statement), and that most of them are fine.

I looked at a couple of them and I could see that they had some life left on them, so I can see the business side.
The ethical angle is what I question.

But what about the used tires that are not safe for use?

He proudly told me that he stores them in his warehouse, then resells them for a couple of bucks a pop to used tire wholesale "dealers," who then take them to other even less conscious hole-in-the-wall shops, that sell them to hard up folks in need of cheap tires.

Oh, and let's not forget that, as he also told me, whenever he sells and mounts a used tire, he also gets the old one which gets added to the stash of—I guess we can call them—really used tires.

For the record, I have no problem with legitimate (read honest) shops selling used tires, as I believe that it is environmentally conscious to extract as much use and life of such products. I also feel that helping others keep their vehicles on the road, whether for transportation or work, is also important.

The thing that bothers me is that, apparently, all you need is an occupational license, a jack, and a few wrenches to open up shop, and—as in this case—you can police yourself.

Incidentally, I also asked the guy painting the tires if he knew how many used tire shops there are in Volusia county.

"300 or more," he said.