Tire Safety: What You Don’t Know May Hurt You

Tires are the first thing that meets the roadway as we drive. Many of us have been taught of how to check a tire for tread wear (if you can see the top of Lincoln’s head on that penny, to get new tires), or for air pressure, but many don’t know that there is another measure of a tire’s useful life: age.

Did you know that every tire sold in the U.S. has a Department of Transportation stamp that indicates the month and year the tire was manufactured? It looks like this:


This 4-digit code, 4202, shows the week of the year the tire was manufactured. In this photo, the number indicates that the tire was made in the 42nd week, or approximately the end of October, of 2002. If you see a DOT date stamp with only 3 numbers, your tire was manufactured some time before 2000.

Even if you don’t drive very often, the age of a tire is still important. Think about the last time you put a rubber band in a drawer and forgot about it. When you pulled it out some months later, even though you had never used it, the rubber had lost its ability to stretch, and it may have even cracked or broken. Tires are rubber, too, and the degradation that occurs over time in a tire is no different than a rubber band.

The information about tire aging and safety has been an “open secret” within the tire industry for years. In a 2008 ABC News 20/20 investigation, Brian Ross reported that more than 100 deaths in the U.S. could be attributed to aged tires.

Recently, tire manufacturers have sent bulletins indicating that even if a tire that appears to have appropriate tread depth it should be replaced after 10 years from the date of manufacture. In addition, many vehicle manufacturers, including Ford, suggest replacing tires after 6 years. Check your vehicle’s Owner’s Manual for specific suggestions relating to your particular make and model of vehicle.

The threats that an aged tire pose are severe. A tire that has a tread separation does not behave in the same manner as a tire that has a blowout. In a tread separation event, the tire itself remains inflated, although the tread that provides the “grab” of the tire to the road breaks apart and eventually falls off. Here is what a tire that has a tread separation looks like:


Just imagine driving at highway speeds with one wheel that has completely lost traction — a vehicle that suffers this sort of failure is extremely difficult to control, even for experienced drivers with advanced notice. (Watch a video of testing done on a Ford Expedition in a tread separation event.)

This firm recently obtained a settlement for millions of dollars on behalf of a family whose father was killed as a result of a tire tread separation. A company selling tires that held itself out as tire experts had an opportunity to see those tires before the family used the vehicle on a cross-country trip, but the company kept the age of the tires a “secret.” Its employees never warned the family that two of their tires and their spare tire were all 14 years old! Instead of sharing information about those tires and allowing the customer to make his own decision, the company stayed quiet and the results were tragic.

Before you drive again, check the Department of Transportation date stamps on your existing tires, and if they are over 6 years old, make your own decision about safety. Also, be careful when you buy “new” tires — check the DOT date stamp, and make sure you are purchasing what you believe you are purchasing.

If you or your family and friends have suffered because of aged tires, we would invite you to call our office, or visit our website. Remember, what you don’t know can hurt you.



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