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I'm planning on buying used winter tires. How do I know if the tires are good? What do I look for? Where can I get good used winter tires? – Liezl

Tread carefully when looking for used tires. What looks like a wheel deal could be hiding a hard-living past, says Consumer Reports.

"We officially don't recommend used tires and the basic reason is because you don't know what you're getting," says Gene Petersen, CR's head of tire testing. "There's no way to see the internal structure of the tire."

When does used mean abused? If the tire had been driven while overloaded, for long stretches without enough air, or at breakneck speeds, the tire's structure could be weakened and it could blow out on you, Petersen says. Plus, the tire may have been damaged when it was taken off.

"These are all things you can't necessarily see by looking at the tire," Petersen says. "It's better to just bite the bullet and buy new tires."

But buying new isn't in everyone's budget, says Ralph Warner, with the Rubber Association of Canada, which represents new tire manufacturers and importers.

"As long as the tires are the proper fit, if there's life and value left in the tire it's better than scrapping it," Warner says. "A lot of people are getting a set of four dedicated rims for winter tires, so the tires might have a lot of life left."

Plus, if you're nearing the end of your lease or plan to trade in your car, you may only need tires that will deliver a year or two of use, so new tires may not make sense, he says.

When looking for any tire, make sure you're looking for tires that will fit your car.

"Look at the sticker on the post on the driver's side for the correct size," Warner says.

To find out what specific tires you should be looking for, research the tires as if you were buying new, says Stephen Leroux, professor of transportation at Centennial College.

Look at review sites and customer feedback online or ask at tire stores for a good new tire fit for your car, where you'll be driving and your budget. Then look for those tires, or an older version of them, used.

A tire dealer that sells used tires (look under used tires in the Yellow Pages) may be a safer bet than Kijiji, Craigslist or eBay. If you buy online, inspect the tires carefully -- since there's no warranty and you'll be stuck with whatever you buy, Leroux says.

"My preference would be to install new," says Leroux. "If buying used, I would tend to look for tires already installed on rims that match the vehicle I wish to put them on."

That's because rims make it easier to put on and remove the tires, Leroux says.

Tires stored on rims with partial inflation won't get distorted over time, so there's a better chance those used tires kept their shape.

Buying the newest tires you can is a good idea, says CR's Petersen. That's because rubber breaks down and gets brittle over time.

"Think of when you find an old elastic band in the back of your desk and it just breaks instead of stretching," he says. "That happens with tires."

You can tell when the tire was manufactured by looking at the last four digits of serial number on the tire. The first two are the week it was made and the last two are the year, Petersen says.

Look carefully at used tires before buying them, Leroux says. Don't get tires with scrapes or cuts on the outside or, if you can see the insides, with patches.

"I would suggest inspecting the tire side walls and bead areas for any signs of cracking or scuffing damage," says Leroux. "This may indicate that care was not taken when storing the tires. Perhaps the previous owner stacked some items on the tires."

And, make sure they have enough tread. Tread is measured from the bottom of the groove. "In Canada, provincial and federal regulations say tires have to have at least a 2 mm tread depth," says Raymond Marchand, general manager of the Canada Safety Council.

Marchand says used winter tires are better than no winter tires at all, as long as they have sufficient tread, and have no cuts, scrapes or patches.

And, you should replace all four at once and make sure the tires have the symbol of the mountain with the snowflake, which shows they're designed for use in severe snow.

"I hadn't planned on buying used, but I ended up buying used tires for my wife's Odyssey," Marchand says. "I was at Honda dealership asking about tires and another customer was selling his tires because he was moving to Paris."

"You can find deals but you have to be careful."

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