Local 2 Investigates a Houston company selling tires that some say are putting your safety at risk.
Tire failure causes an estimated 11,000 crashes every year in the United States.
That's why Local 2 consumer expert Amy Davis is taking you undercover to expose why a good deal on tires can end very badly.
"Clearly I went in not knowing anything about cars and tires," Jetrice Gardner told Davis after she purchased two used tires from 713 Used Tires on the Southwest Freeway near Bellaire.
The company's website claims their used tires have a tread count ranging from 50 to 85 percent.
Tread count refers to how deep the tire tread is. New tires have a 100 percent tread count.
"One of the sales representatives told me 'Most tires have about 97 to 98 percent threading.' So I'm like 'Ok. It's a deal,'" said Gardner.
But the deal soured when Gardner got in her car.
"I noticed that as I'm driving, my car, every time I turn, it's making this weird noise," Gardner explained.
A check of her tires by AAA-Certified technician Scott Miller revealed one of the tires she purchased was a 2003. The other was made in 1994.
They were weather-worn, cracked and, according to our expert, simply unsafe.
"I wouldn't put this tire on a vehicle," said Miller.
Out $103.40 and still in need of tires, Gardner worried she wasn't the first to fall for the sales pitch at 713 Used Tires.
"I think they've probably done this before," she said.
But would they do it again? We sent a producer wearing a hidden camera to find out.
"So what year are we talking for these tires?" asked the KPRC producer, wearing a hidden camera.
"Huh?" replied an employee selling her used tires.
"What year?" the producer asked again.
"Year?" the guy responded with a confused look on his face.
"For the tires. What year are we talking?"
"What do you mean?" asked the employee.
"Yeah, they're used… so what year are they?"
"The tires don't have a year," he finally said.
After much prodding, they told her the tires they picked for her van were made in 2000 and 2001.
"Sixty percent life," another salesman told her.
"Sixty percent life?" our producer responded.
"Yeah," he said.
"What does that mean?" she asked.
"It means that's how much tread," the employee answered.
But Miller said the tires our producer left with for just under $200 were not as advertised.
"They should be sent to the shredder and shredded," said Miller, after inspecting the four tires.
We checked Gardner's tires and the four we purchased from 713 Used Tires with a tread depth gauge. You can buy one for as little as $3 at any auto parts store.
Tires are recommended for replacement anytime the tread is less than 2/32nds of an inch deep. The gauge shows all 6 tires from 713 Used Tires were ready to be replaced.
We took our findings right back to the business. No one would talk with us on camera.
A manager who identified himself as Cory told us that the business gets its used tires from used tire wholesalers.
He later sent this statement by email: "Thank you for contacting us, we appreciate the work you do for consumers. In response to your email regarding the sell of used tires, we offer 3 grade levels of used tires: (Take offs) which are 90 to 95 percent, (grade A Tires) which are 60 to 80 percent tread life, and (grade B tires) which are 40 to 60 percent tread life, as well as new tires. Our customers can reject any tire if it does not meet their standards before they purchase any used tires from our company. We are the only company in the state of Texas that offers a FREE FLAT REPAIR FOR LIFE WHEN A CUSTOMER PURCHASES A TIRE FROM OUR COMPANY, WE STAND BEHIND OUR TIRES. Tires don’t have a sell by or expiration date. If tire manufactures would simply clearly state (A SELL BY OR EXPIRATION DATE ON ALL TIRES THEY MANUFACTURE) that would change the industry for the better to protect consumers overnight. I have personally seen tires being represented as new at many national new tire chains and they were in fact 4 to 5 years old but being sold as new.
We operate within the limits of the law regarding the sell of used tires. We offer refunds or exchanges on any tire that is not satisfactory. The customer in which the complaint was filed with you purchased two used tires and 2 days later came back demanding that we buy her two new tires from Discount tire, we offered to exchange her tires but she only wanted new ones from Discount Tire, it’s not fair that she originally purchased two used tires and then demanded that we buy her two new tires. We are here to give the consumer options. Some new tires cost well over $200.00 each; that same tire used could cost them $60 to $90, that’s a huge savings. RMA (Rubber Manufacturers Association) estimates that 30 million used tires are sold each year. The used tire industry is a huge industry and yes some changes can be made to better serve the consumer but it starts with the tire manufactures."
It's not illegal to sell or buy used tires. Texas law does require that all used tires have 2/32nds of an inch tread on them to be eligible for sale.
If you do buy used, look for the 4 digit code on the tire that will let you know when the tire was made. The first two digits are the week. The last two are the year.
Stay away from tires that show any cracking and tires that have previously been repaired, plugged or patched. Always ask to see the tires before a shop puts them on your car.
The used tire industry is largely unregulated in the United States. There's nothing stopping anyone from selling old tires out of their garage, so you really have to check the tires yourself.
Senate Bill 459 would have put more rules into place and made selling used tires with less tread than 2/32nds of an inch a penalty punishable by a fine. The bill passed the Texas Senate, but died in the House.