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Buying a Used Car: Are Mismatched Tires OK?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro March 2014

If you're interested in buying a used car, one of the most important things to do before any test drive is to check the car's tires. Are they mounted properly? Do they have any tread left? Both are major questions to consider before signing the papers. Another tire-related issue you might want to know about is whether the tires match, or in other words, whether each tire comes from the same manufacturer and shows about the same tread. A set of tires from different manufacturers, or with different tread depths, is said to be mismatched. But are mismatched tires a bad thing? Here's the answer.

Reasons for Mismatched Tires

In general, the main reason for mismatched tires is uneven wear. In many front-wheel-drive cars, for example, the front tires are likely to wear out before the rear tires, and that may mean that drivers elect to replace only the front tires rather than all four when the time comes for new tires.

Another reason for mismatched tires could be that one tire suffered a puncture at some point and the driver elected to replace only that tire rather than buy a completely new set. That's understandable, given the cost of a set of tires.

Beyond wear, there are other reasons for mismatched tires, including the possibility that a driver may not be able to afford an entirely new set and is instead trying to replace tires one at a time based on which one is the most worn out. Drivers or dealers also might replace worn tires with tires from less expensive brands, which could cause a mismatched set.

OK Or Not OK?

In general, you want to replace all four tires at the same time, and you want to make sure any car that you buy has four tires from the same manufacturer with approximately the same amount of wear. The main reason is that uneven tires or tires with different wear patterns might change a car's handling, especially in bad weather.

But the truth is that this ideal situation simply won't always be the case. Given that you're interested in buying a used car, you'll have to come to terms with the reality that some cars won't be perfect, and mismatched tires are a good example of a situation where a car just isn't quite perfect. In most cases, and for most people, it's not a good enough reason to pass on a car.

After all, accidents happen, and that includes the occasional flat tire. In that circumstance, is it reasonable to expect a replacement of all four tires? We'd have a hard time asking a driver to spend that kind of money because of an errant nail or screw going through one single tire.

When Mismatched Tires Are Bad News

Still, there are times when we'd shy away from a car with mismatched tires. One example of this is a car that has three, or worse, all four tires showing different tread depths or hailing from different manufacturers. This could be a sign of a driver cutting costs, and such excessive cost-cutting may have taken place elsewhere on the car.

We'd also shy away from cars that have severely mismatched tires. An example is a car with totally new tires on two wheels and bald tires on the other two, or a car with winter tires on two wheels and performance tires on the other two.

In general, however, we wouldn't let mismatched tires stand between us and the car of our dreams. After all, just remember that you can always change the tires later if you're a stickler for having a perfect set with equal tread.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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Buying a Used Car: Are Mismatched Tires OK? - Autotrader