Rising rubber costs have set the used tire market rolling.
As the price of new tires has risen alongside increasing material costs, used tire retailers have gained popularity among customers not ready to drop hundreds of dollars on a new set of wheels.
"Especially in a bad economy, it kind of makes sense," said Dan Zielinski, a spokesman for the Washington-based Rubber Manufacturers Association. "A new set of tires is going to cost you several hundred dollars; there's no two ways about it. I don't think anyone enjoys the process of sinking a lot of money into their car."
High tire prices reflect the fact that natural rubber, petroleum and energy -- the primary components of tires -- have all spiked over the last few years, Kevin Rohlwing, senior vice president of training at the Bowie, Md.-based Tire Industry Association, said in a Monday email.
Natural rubber, which went for 75 cents a pound in 2009, soared to nearly $3 a pound last year, Rohlwing said. It has since fallen back to $2.28 a pound.
Tire dealers have felt the impact, as tire manufacturers have repeatedly upped their prices over the past three to four years, said Janine Calabro, co-owner of Calabro Tire and Auto Service in Upper St. Clair, Pa.
As prices have risen, Calabro has sold fewer tires, though she maintains the same dollar volume of sales. Customers have also taken to calling her store and asking for used tires, she said.
But Calabro, like many others in the tire business, neither carries used tires nor believes that they are reliable enough to be worth the savings.
"Anytime a tire has been used on another car and it's worn, it is not as strong as a new tire, obviously," she said.
Used tires are still a relatively small slice of the overall tire market. About 33 million used tires were in the market in 2009, according to the latest figures available from the Rubber Manufacturers Association, compared with about 220 million replacement tires sold new.
The risks associated with used tires include impact damage, improperly repaired punctures or uneven wear. Used tires often lack the full tread and traction of new ones, which can lead to longer stopping distances for vehicles.
"The real problem with used tires is that you don't know the history of the tire and it's prior use," Zielinski said. "Not knowing that, you're taking a big risk."