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What Are Retread Tires? Are Retreads Safe?

By Tire Agent Staff

June 09, 2022

new tires in a rack at a store.jpeg

  • What does retreaded tires mean?
  • Are retread tires any good?
  • Why are retread tires dangerous?
  • Do they still even make retread tires?

If you are above a certain age, you might remember when retreading tires was pretty common. According to "A History of Retreading" by Tire Business, retreading peaked in the U.S. in the mid 20th century, when there were more than 12,300 tire retreaders. By the end of the 1980s, the number dropped to 2,100, and by 2005, there were fewer than 850. Today, retreads on passenger tires are very rare, mainly because of safety issues and because cheaper tire brands have entered the market, offering lower priced but safer options on new tires.

In the 2020s, when you see or hear about retreads, it's typically in the commercial tire business and very rare in the passenger tire industry. Commercial tires are expensive – due to their construction and size. They've got to support thousands of pounds and safely carry their drivers over long distances. 

If you're looking for a quick answer to the question "are retread tires safe," we'll save you time: No. If you're looking to cut automotive expenses, don't skimp on tires. Do not buy used tires or retreads.

What Are Retread Tires and Tire Recapping?

Tire retreading is when the remaining layer of old tread on a worn-out tire is removed, and new tread is applied to make the tire usable again. It's also called tire recapping. 

During the retreading or recapping process, tire recappers apply new tread to the tire's carcass, which is the layer above the inner liner that consists of textile fiber cords bonded into the rubber. This significantly determines the tire's strength and helps it to withstand pressure.

When you hear someone refer to virgin tire casing, it means a casing that's never been retreaded.

Retreading was routine in the days of bias tires when automobile tires only lasted 10,000 to 20,000 miles. But those days are long gone. Now, passenger vehicle tires are made to last longer. If properly maintained, radial tires can last 70,000 to 80,000 miles or more, according to Consumer Reports.


Retreading Commercial Vehicle Tires

Retreading tires is more common with commercial vehicles than with passenger vehicles. According to a report called "Retread Tires in the U.S. and Canada," the authors estimate that 44% of commercial tires are retreads.  

Think about it. Tires for semi-trucks are much bigger than what you find on passenger cars, so it might seem to make sense to retread those beasts instead of buying new ones every few years. Yes, fleet and commercial vehicle owners might save money up front with retread tires, but that upfront cost savings could cost them in the long run.

If a commercial driver experiences a blowout on the road, they have additional costs to cover towing or roadside assistance, which is much more expensive for commercial vehicles than for passenger vehicles. In addition to repair and replacement costs, commercial drivers lose revenue while their vehicles are disabled. A blown-out tire could cause an accident. Damaged cargo or freight is another risk of putting retread tires and used tires on a commercial vehicle. 

Bottom line: Should you put retreads on commercial vehicles? No. Penny wise and pound foolish is no way to operate on the road. Time is money for commercial vehicles. It's more cost-effective to invest in reliable tires that will keep drivers, passengers and cargo safe.

Whether you're the proprietor of a trucking company or a regular Joe looking to get new tires for your ride, Tire Agent can help spread the cost of replacement tires over several months with its buy now, pay later plans. Tap or click here for more details on Tire Agent's financing options for tires and wheels.

Pros and Cons of Retreads vs New Tires

Benefits of new tires: 

  • New tires are safer, quieter and last longer.
  • New tires are less likely to separate and blow out.
  • "Virgin" tires better for fuel efficiency.
  • Although the quality of retread tires has improved, the dangers of retread tires are greater than the dangers of new tires. 

Benefits of retread tires (AKA recap tires):

  • They're cheaper.
  • Retreads may be better for the environment, although this has been a subject of debate.

One of the arguments we often hear in favor of retreading tires involves environmental reasons. In 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that 1.2 million tons of tires were disposed of in landfills. That's a lot!

But with tire technology constantly advancing, passenger vehicle tires last much longer than back in the day. Instead of only getting 10,000 to 20,000 miles out of your tires, now you can get closer to 80,000 miles when you take good care of your them. By making tires last longer, you'll replace them less often, and, therefore, need to dispose of them less often.

The same EPA report stated that 2.6 million tons of tires were recycled, and 2.7 million tons were disposed of with combustion with energy recovery, which is converting waste materials into usable energy (read about more on the EPA website).

Are Retreads Legal?

Retread tires are legal as long as they comply with government regulations.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), "Standard No. 117 (the retreaded passenger car tire safety standard) includes a requirement that all passenger car tire casings to be retreaded must include the symbol 'DOT.'"

It is illegal to sell or import into the U.S. any passenger car tire casings that aren't marked with the symbol "DOT." But those safety standards are not enforced for retreated truck tires. That's another reason it's more common to find retread tires for commercial vehicles.

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