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Buying a Used Car? Check the Tires

There are a number of things that come to mind when shopping for a used car. For instance, how much will it cost? How high is the mileage? How does the car look? Markedly absent from that list is the subject of tires—the things that actually attach your vehicle to the road. Tires affect a vehicle’s braking, handling, comfort, and fuel economy. When buying a used car, it can pay dividends to take a closer look at the tires. This quick inspection can save you money in the long run and tell you a little bit more about the life that the vehicle has lived.

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Tires affect a vehicle’s braking, handling, comfort, and fuel economy. When buying a used car, it can pay dividends to take a closer look at the tires. This quick inspection can save you money in the long run and tell you a little bit more about the life that the vehicle has lived.

 

Tread Depth 

Check your tires for any obvious faults such as cracks or splits, but also check the tread depth. A minimum of 4-5 millimetres (5-6/32 of an inch) is recommended. The wear bars moulded into the tire tread indicate the absolute wear limit of 1.6 millimetres (2/32 of an inch) tread depth. That's not considered safe for winter conditions. An expert can confirm the reading for you using a tread depth gauge, or you can purchase one yourself. 

Québec remains the only Canadian province where passenger vehicles must have winter tires by law. However, Canadian consumers and retailers have known for many years that summer or all-season tires are inadequate for winter driving in most parts of Canada. Winter tires will give you more grip and shorter stopping distances in poor conditions due to the use of different rubber compunds better suited to colder driving conditions. Moreover, you don't need snow and ice to get the benefit: as long as the temperature remains below seven degrees Celsius, they're better than the equivalent summer tire. 

Also, check you've got the correct tire pressure. You can find the recommended Kilopascal (kPA) or pounds per square inch (PSI ) figure on the tire, in your owner's manual, vehicle door jam,or online. If it needs topping up, there's an air pump at most gas stations, or you can buy a portable compressor to keep at home. 

 

Uneven Wear 

As they accumulate mileage, tires wear and tread depth diminishes—that’s natural. What you don’t want to see is uneven wear across the surface of the tire, as this suggests the vehicle may have a mechanical problem or that it hasn’t been properly maintained. 

Tires don’t wear unevenly for no reason. Uneven tire wear can be the result of improper alignment, suspension or drivetrain problems, and may indicate that the previous owner neglected to rotate the tires. It’s best practice to rotate your tires every 8,000 to 12,000 kilometres or sooner if uneven wear begins to occur.  

There’s also the issue of inflation. Tires are designed to function at a certain pressure, given the weight of a vehicle. When you remove that pressure, the amount of weight a tire can effectively hold decreases. It heats up faster, wears out faster, and can compromise handling. Also, under-inflated tires tend to wear prematurely on the tread’s outer edges, while over-inflated tires develop wear on the tread’s centerline. Under-inflation also contributes more rolling resistance, which adversely affects fuel economy. According to Transport Canada, Operating a vehicle with just one tire underinflated by 56 kPa (8 psi) can reduce the life of the tire by 15,000 km and can increase the vehicle’s fuel consumption by 4 percent. 

 

Proper Size and Type 

When inspecting a used vehicle, make sure to check if all four tires are of the same type and size. Mismatched tires are a red flag regarding a vehicle’s history, and experts warn that mixing tire types jeopardizes a vehicle’s handling because of different compounds and tread patterns. 

Modern vehicles feature placards, either in the driver’s side doorjamb or on the door, display each vehicle’s standard tire size and pressure information. These numbers should be used to crosscheck the specifications written on a tire’s sidewall, which also includes load and speed ratings. If a tire is too small, it won’t properly hold the weight of the vehicle, and it presents a safety concern. Some car dealerships may go as far as replacing used tires with new ones. While this increases a vehicle’s perceived value, dishonest sellers may do this to disguise a car’s faults. 

 

Tire Age and Condition 

Older tires may exhibit hairline cracks or bulges in the sidewall and tread as a result of UV, sunlight, and environmental exposure like extreme heat or cold. If you see these telltale signs, as well as patches or cuts, that car is going to need some new rubber.  

Transport Canada suggests drivers check the owner’s manual regarding replacement recommendations, and refers to automakers and tire manufacturers for their own guidance. Automakers generally suggest replacement after six years of use on a vehicle, and tire manufacturers draw the line at 10 years of age. Why the difference? Tires may sit in a retailer’s warehouse for a year or two after manufacture before being fitted to a vehicle. 

 

Look up the date 

To determine the exact age of a tire, look on its sidewall for a code beginning with "DOT." The last four digits of this sequence represent the week of manufacture followed by the year. For instance, "0719" would mean the seventh week of 2019. Tires manufactured before 2000 use a three-digit code, two digits signifying the week and the last representing the year within a decade. 

It's best to err on the side of caution when looking at tires that exceed the six-year figure on a used car. And don't forget to check the spare too. Over time, spare tires can be "baked" in hot trunks or exposed to the elements underneath a vehicle. 

While important and indicative of a car's previous history, tires represent one piece of a larger used vehicle puzzle. Regular engine, transmission, and brake maintenance are among the many other key components of a well-rounded used car. As always, it pays to research a used car's background with a vehicle history report and have it inspected by a trusted mechanic. 

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