Earn Extra Money By Recycling Used Tires

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PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
Bob Stevenson sorts 14-inch tires from 15 inchers .

You really can earn over $100 a day recycling old tires in
almost any populated section of North America,” says
Washington State’s Bob Stevenson. “I’ve been doing it for
years in a number of different cities as far east as
Lansing, Michigan and as far north as Saskatoon,
Saskatchewan. And, contrary to what you probably believe,
you don’t need a truck to get into this business,
the work is not heavy, and there are plenty of old
tires lying around just waiting for you to pick them up!”

I’ve gotten so many good, practical ideas from MOTHER that
I now feel it only fair to tell other readers about my own
part-time moneymaker. I pick up old tires for free … and then sell almost all that I collect for anywhere from
$1 to $40 each! What’s more, I’ve been doing this since
I was in high school, I’ve worked this little side business
in a number of cities around the U.S. and Canada as I’ve
gone to college and been transferred by the Air Force, and
I believe that nearly anyone can do as well as or better
than I’ve done with this grassroots enterprise. It’s an
especially good venture for a back-to-the-land husband and
wife team.

The Business

Quite simply, my part-time enterprise consists of nothing
but collecting castoff, used tires from gas stations and
tire dealers and then selling them to retreading shops.
That may sound too simple to you … but the idea works
for me, it works for hundreds of other people all over the
U.S. and Canada, and I don’t think you’ll find it too
difficult to make it work for you.

Pull out the telephone book (or books) for your town,
nearest city, and/or other metropolitan centers in your
area and make a list of the names and addresses printed
under “Tire Retreading” in the Yellow Pages. Then call
around to find out which recapping shop within easy driving
distance will pay you the most for the tires you collect. I
average $1 to $1.50 for every good passenger tire casing
I sell and up to $40 (that’s forty dollars!) or
more for large truck tire casings.

While you’re on the phone, ask each shop you talk to if it
has any restrictions on the type or number of tires you
bring in. Some retreaders, for instance, won’t take
steelbelted radials … others simply aren’t set up to
handle some sizes of casings … and still other recappers
have a definitely limited capacity. (Still, there always
seems to be at least one shop in every area that will buy
all the tires you can collect. I recently asked a spokesman
for one of these companies if his firm would be interested
in 1,000 tires and he said, “Bring ’em right in!”)

Season for Selling Tires

Late summer and early fall is the busiest time of the year
for retreaders. This is the season when they begin working
on their winter “snow-caps” and
during — say —  August, September, and October, many
shops stockpile used casings for this coming business. You
may even find that some recappers will pay you a little
more per tire during this period.

How to College Casings

This is the part that’s easier than it sounds. There’s
hardly a gas station in the country, which sells tires,
that doesn’t have at least 10 and sometimes 50 or more old
casings stacked up out back somewhere with the trash.
Frequently, the owners and managers of service stations
have to pay a premium to have these discarded rubber
carcasses hauled away.

And that’s where you come in. Just go around to the
stations, garages, and tire dealers in your area and tell
them you’ll tote their old tires away for free. And that
should be all you have to do to line up as many of the
casings as you want to handle!

To date — and I’ve been doing this for years — I
haven’t had a single gas station owner or tire dealer
refuse to let me have his old carcasses. In fact, the
closest I’ve ever come to being turned down was once when I
told a station manager what I was going to do with the
casings (I always tell the truth when asked), and he said
he just believed he’d haul the old tires to the retreader
himself. But then, as I was leaving, he called me back and
said, “On second thought, I can’t be bothered. Take them on
in.”

So remember: You’re performing a valuable service when you
haul away for free the discards that service stations and
tire dealers would otherwise have to spend good money to
dispose of. Never, never pay for the tires you
collect. There’s no need to. Tens of thousands of casings
are cluttering up thousands of garages all over your state
right now. The people who have these carcasses are anxious
to get rid of them. In the few cases when I’ve been asked
if I intended to buy the discards I wanted to haul away,
I’ve always said “no” … and I’ve ended up being given the
old tires anyway.

What to Look for

As a matter of fact, if
anyone nixes your picking up a particular assortment of
runout tires from a service station … it’ll probably be
you. The government has recently tightened its safety
standards for recaps and, if you’re smart, you won’t want
to waste your time collecting and hauling casings that
retread shops can’t use. Basically, there are four things
you should keep an eye peeled for as you inspect a garage’s
discards:

  1. A tire’s bead (the part that mounts directly on a
    wheel’s rim) must have no cuts, tears, or excessive
    wear.
  2. There can be no holes in the casing … not even a
    small puncture that has been repaired with patches or
    rubber plugs.
  3. There must be no tire cords (the string-like threads or
    bands embedded in the rubber) showing.
  4. Small surface cracks are usually OK, but there can be
    no deep cracks in a carcass’s sidewalls. 

These may sound like fairly high standards for a castoff
tire, but you’ll probably find that most of the discards
you inspect will measure up (after all, they were providing
satisfactory service right up until the time they were
replaced). If you’re in any way unsure of your ability to
spot a good, retreadable casing … just drop by the
recapping shop you’ll be working with and have one of the
inspectors there give you a quick lesson in what to look
for.

Tote Those Tires

Obviously, the more tires you haul to your retreader at
once, the less trips you’ll have to make. This cuts down on
gas, oil, and other overhead costs … drastically shaves
the amount of time it takes to move casings from your
sources to the recapper … and, in general, increases
the profitability of your operation.

There’s no need, though, to plunge into this business by
rushing out and buying the biggest truck with the biggest
built-up bed you can find. You can quite adequately test
the potential of a tire salvaging enterprise with just
about any vehicle that will carry five or more old
carcasses.

When I started all I had was a station wagon and, by tying
a few casings on its roof rack, I could load it
with — at most — 15 or 20 discards.
Later — after we’d sold the wagon — we rented a
trailer for about $6 a day, pulled it around with a
Volkswagen, and just collected tires on Saturdays. And
still later, we bought an old 1954 half-ton truck for $250,
built an extended rack on its bed, and found the homebrewed
rig to be just right for our part-time operation. We’ve
never deemed it necessary to go to the built-up two-ton and
even bigger trucks that some full-time casing recyclers
use.

Collect Your Money

Now all you have to do is take your tires to the retreader
and collect your money. If the shop isn’t too busy and you
don’t have too many of the casings, an inspector will often
check over the carcasses while you wait. Frequently,
though, you’ll be issued a receipt and told to drop by or
phone later to find out how many of the tires were
accepted.

Don’t be too discouraged with the results of the first few
loads you haul in. In spite of how well you think you’ve
inspected the casings, it’s a good bet that a fourth to a
third of them will be rejected. Relax. As you gain
experience, you’ll be able to reduce your percentage of dis
cards until virtually every carcass you deliver will be a
“good one.”

Some capping shops will pay you directly in cash, others
will issue an immediate check, and still others (usually
the ones that are a branch of a bigger operation) will mail
your check to you (sometimes from another office).

An important tip: Keep track of your expenses. Although
your income is taxable, you can deduct all the gas, oil,
etc., bills that you run up while scouting out, collecting,
and hauling the tires you handle. Keep a record of the
miles you drive as well as any receipts that might be
helpful at tax time.

Additional Tips and Hints

  • You’ll find you can pack more tires into your truck or
    trailer if you “herringbone” stack them as shown in one of
    the illustrations that accompany this article.
  • Tell your retread shop you don’t want any of the casings
    back that aren’t accepted. This’ll save you the expense of
    hauling them to the dump.
  • You can always collect a few of the carcasses on your way
    home from work, while running an errand to the store, etc.
    You don’t have to make a special trip to get them.
  • If you live far out in the country or a long way from your
    recapping shop, it may well be worth your while to go into
    town once a week or so and spend the whole day on your tire
    recycling operation.
  • Once you really get into the swing of this business, you
    can even set up your own regular collection route. Just
    make arrangements with a number of service stations to pick
    up their old casings every week or two (plan your schedule,
    of course, so that it’s most convenient for everyone
    involved).
  • If you have the storage space, you’ll probably be dollars
    ahead in the long run if you stockpile the discards you
    collect through the spring and summer … and then sell
    them all in the fall, when demand for the casings is
    highest.
  • Whenever you’ve collected enough old tires to make it
    worthwhile, you may be able to talk a retreader into
    sending a truck to your place to pick up a whole load of
    the carcasses at his expense.
  • You’ll be amazed at how good some of the discarded tires
    you handle will be … many are hardly worn at all and
    still have thousands of miles of service left in them.
    There’s nothing wrong with carefully inspecting some of
    them, saving them out, and using them on your own vehicles.
    Then, when they really are worn out, you can sell them to
    your recapped.

In Closing …

I’ve been collecting old tires from service stations and
recycling them to retreading shops for a long time now and
I keep on doing it because I’ve never found — for me,
at least — an easier or a better way to make good money
on a part-time basis.

I like the idea of being able to work this little
enterprise on an “any time and for as long as I want”
basis. I also like the fact that I can net $100 a day or
more nearly any time I choose to operate my part-time
business. (That’s based on collecting only 100 recappable
tires in a day … and, believe it or not, my brother and I
once picked up over 360 good casings in just somewhat more
than two hours! Once you’re organized, you should find 100
a day a snap.)

And, finally, I like the fact that I can work my little
entrepreneurial venture by myself any time I want … or,
if I feel like it, with someone else. As I’ve just
mentioned, I’ve operated the business with my brother at
some times and, at others, with my wife. And, as I stated
at the beginning of this article, I feel that this is an
especially good little moneymaker for a back-to-the-land
husband and wife team.

And that pretty well describes my lady and me right now.
We’ve set our goal (a move to the country) and our tire
recycling business is helping us realize it. And, maybe,
that’s the part I like best of all about our
mini-enterprise: We’re building a better life for
ourselves by solving a “pollution” problem for service
stations while recycling and helping to stretch the
useful life of tiresthat would otherwise be burned or
thrown in the dump. We feel good about every aspect of our
business.

But What Do You Do With Casings That Can’t Be
Recapped?

Years ago, a Kansas wheat farmer named L.F. Schumacher
began to draw big royalties from the gas and oil leases he
sold on his land. And with some of that money, he set up an
office in Meade, Kansas. And in front of tht office, he had
a cocoa mat for people to wipe their feet on.

Well sir, one night somebody stole that mat. So ole L.F.
thought about that for a few days and then he bolted a
knife to one of his tractors and he pulled an old tire
around past that knife and — slick as a
whistle — sliced the tire into two strips. And that
worked so well that L.F. experimented some more and, within
a few months, he’d applied for a patent on a machine that
nearly anybody could use to slice old tires into long
strips and then assemble those strips into floor mats.

One thing led to another after that, as always happen when
somone comes up with a really worthwhile new idea, and
Schuhmacher moved to Chicago and set up a firm called
S.& S. Patents, Inc. And, according to some 1968
letters that L.F. wrote to one of MOTHER’s editors, more
than 1,700 little shops had been set up at that time to use
S. & S. equipment to turn old worn-out tires into shop,
atheletic, and horse trailer mats. A great many of these
little enterprises were netting $5,000 to $6,000 a month
for private operators. And the rest of the recycling
mini-factories were providing useful jobs for the
disadvantaged at sheltered workshops, missions, halfway
houses, and other such public service institutions.

We had fond hopes of giving a big, fat, free plug to S.
& S. Patents, Inc., in this space because we like the
idea of recycling even unrecappable tires into useful items
(especially if there’s the chance that MOTHER’s readers
might be able to get in on the action and have yet another
shot at setting up even more little businesses that might
finance even more moves to the self-reliant way of life).

But, for the past three or four years, we simply haven’t
been able to track S. & S. Patents, Inc., down
anywhere. The company doesn’t seem to be at its old Chicago
address, its old phone number has been given to a private
family, and — in general — S. & S. seems to
have evaporated without a trace. We’re guessing that L.F.
finally passed away and his company was either liquidated
or sold to someone else (and, if sold, moved to another
town).