A trip to the tire dealer is almost as much fun as getting an oil change at a fast lube shop. The tire salesman walks around your vehicle shaking his head and then tells you you are in imminent danger of a blowout and assuredly need four new tires plus a spare if you value your health and wellbeing. Hundreds of dollars and several hours later, you drive off, feeling a dent in your wallet but much safer on the road with your new tire purchase.
Unfortunately for most drivers, we’ll show how tires that seem brand new off the rack can be far beyond their recommended shelf life and yet are being sold nonetheless. When these tires fail, it puts the driver, their occupants, and all the others sharing the road around them at significant risk.
Aging Vehicle Tires Being Sold Nationwide
Since the late 1990’s, lawmakers have been working to hold tire and vehicle manufacturers more accountable for issues associated with selling tires that are past their prime. Even with almost three decades in the spotlight, most drivers today simply aren’t aware of the magnitude of the problem.
One reason for this may be the rise in popularity with buying used tires.The used tire market is almost completely unregulated and shops may use less than savory methods to hide defects or blemishes to make a tire appear newer than it is. Another reason is with so many variables in driving like the distance travelled, the terrain, if proper maintenance is performed, etc., the window for tire replacement can vary significantly from vehicle-to-vehicle. Experts suggest a tire’s lifespan to generally be between 6 -10 years. If you are looking at putting new tires on your vehicle, pay close attention to the date of your tire. We’ll show you how to tell your tire’s age next.
How to Tell Tire Age
Next time you’re getting into your vehicle, look for the Department of Transportation (DOT) number somewhere on the face of the tire. This number acts as a sort of expiration date for the vehicle since it includes the week and year of the manufacture of the tire. You’ll want to focus on the last four digits present in the number as these indicate the time it came off the assembly line. As an example, a tire with a DOT number that ends in ‘5110’ means that tire was manufactured in the 51st week of the year 2010.
Checking Tire Tread Depth
The indicator most drivers have become familiar with is checking the tire’s tread depth. You may have even heard of the “quarter trick” – where you insert a quarter into your tire’s tread to get a rough measure of the tire wear. Putting a quarter inside your tread line, if you can see the top of George Washington’s head, the tire’s tread is too low and it’s time for a new tire. As a general rule, according to AAA, a tire’s tread depth should never fall below 1/16” and you should consider replacement when your tread hits 4/32”.
But what happens when you have a brand new or even slightly used tire with a great amount of tread. That tire’s good to go, right? In fact, that tire that has been sitting on the shelf may be far more dangerous than the tires you are replacing. That’s because of the tire’s materials and construction.
What Causes Rubber to Fail?
The rubber in the tire is subjected to years of a chemical reaction called oxidative degradation; an issue that has been well documented and is well known to tire manufacturers. Thermo-oxidative degradation and photo-oxidative degradation are two main players continuously bombarding the rubber in tires. This oxidative aging, akin to rust in metal, starts to break down the integrity of the rubber over time. Just think of when you have ever pulled out an old rubber band from a drawer and pulled it out only to see it crack and split. The same thing in principle is occurring with your vehicle’s tires.
When that tire has sat up for a number of years, the rubber can crack or split, causing further structural integrity decline as the tire’s metal bands become less solid and able to provide support. When these systems fail in your tire while traveling at highway speeds, the results can be absolutely catastrophic.
Understanding Tire Grading Systems
Tires for passenger vehicles are all graded on three distinct criteria required by the federal government. These criteria include the tire’s resistance to tread wear, its resistance to getting hot, and how much traction the tire provides for making the vehicle stop. This criteria is meant to help the consumer make more educated decisions when it comes to buying their tires; however many drivers may have never heard of these criteria and instead rely on the tire store sales staff to recommend the best tire.
Having just a little knowledge under your belt can help you select the best tire for how you plan on using it. Remember these three grades for tires:
- Resistance to Tread Wear Grading: a group of tires are tested against a control and then rated based on how they compare. The control tire starts at 100 and tires are then rated on how much better they perform in their resistance to tread wear. So, a 200-rating means that specific tire’s tread wear resistance performs twice that of the control tire’s. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, most tires fall in the 200-500 range. Giong with a higher rating means your tires are far more likely not to be able to resist tread wear.
- Resistance to Heat: being able to resist heat is crucial for toda’s tires going longer distances or carrying more weight. Heat can rapidly deteriorate a tire’s components so tire’s must include measure to resist building up too much heat. The rating system developed includes a “A” or best resistance to heat, “B” or relatively medium, and “C” for relatively lowest. According to the NHTSA, only 27% of tires sold today are an “A”.
- Traction Rating for Stopping Power: specially designed stopping tests help to measure how the tire’s traction aids in the vehicle being able to stop. Grades here go from the highest “AA”, then “A”, “B”, then “C” as the lowest rating. A tire rated “AA” means it has excellent traction for helping the vehicle stop, especially on wet pavement.
Another important measure to know is your vehicle’s gross vehicle weight rating or GVWR. GVWR is the maximum weight determined by the manufacturer that a vehicle can safely hold. This includes all of the components of the vehicle, fuel, passengers, and any cargo within the vehicle. Exceeding your GVWR puts strain on your vehicle’s vital components, like tires, axles, and the engine itself. Too much strain and the component can prematurely fail – a scary thought when you’re going 65mph on I-95.
How to Tell When You Need New Tires
The AAA recommends several different ways to tell when your tires need to be replaced. A few of these include:
- Checking the tread wear: use the quarter trick we outline above or take your tire into a shop to have the treads measured. Remember that at 4/32” of remaining tread, you should start considering replacement.
- Look for cracks or bubbles: just being exposed to UV radiation from the sun, the rubber will start to break down. Overtime and after incidents like rubbing the tire on a parking curb, bubbles or cracks can appear. Both of which are signs it’s time to replace the tire asap.
- Uneven tread wear: tires that wear unevenly can be over or under inflated or not properly rotated. AAA recommends getting a tire rotation every 3,000-5,000 miles for most cars. Keep a tire pressure gauge in your car and make sure your tire pressure matches the information provided by your manufacturer. Usually this is printed on your driver’s door panel or in your owner’s manual.
Taking a few proactive steps can help keep you and your occupants safer on the road. Specifications can vary from vehicle-to-vehicle, make sure you are familiar with the recommendations provided specifically from your vehicle’s manufacturer.
Auto Accident Attorneys that Know This Industry
Our team has been investigating and bringing to justice those responsible for our clients injuries, their damages, and the grief caused to families for more than 40 years now. That’s four decades of experience knowing ways that tire and vehicle manufacturers can bypass safety in the pursuit of profit. We hold these parties accountable, expertly managing every step of the legal process so you can hold your family and instead focus on healing. Contact our accident attorney and product liability team anytime, day or night to discuss all your options and chart a path forward.