Every tire comes stamped with a four-digit Department of Transportation code. The “born on date” reveals the week and year each tire was manufactured. Safety experts warn that it can be deadly to ride on tires that are 6 or more years old.
Maria and Francisco Meraz had never heard of a DOT code until it was too late. The Imperial, CA, couple’s 18-year-old son, Luis, died in a terrible crash blamed on tires that were more than a decade old.
Attorney Gary Eto, of Torrance, CA, represented the Meraz family in a successful aging tire lawsuit after Luis Meraz’s death. “The obvious danger in this is, aged tires lead to tread separation,” Eto said. “Tread separations lead to catastrophic accidents and rollovers.”
Sean Kane is the founder and president of Safety Research and Strategies Inc., a consumer safety group specializing in motor vehicle issues. For close to a decade, his Massachusetts-based group has been researching and analyzing aging tire failures.
“If you take an old rubber band that’s been sitting out for a long time, if you start to stretch it you’ll start to see it crack,” Kane said. “And you can’t stretch it very often before it will break.”
Kane says the same kind of deterioration seen in a rubber band will occur in rubber tires that are more than 6 years old.
“If you have an older tire, those stresses are going cause those cracks to occur at a much higher frequency and much quicker,” Kane said.
Last year, Kane’s group gave the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) its most recent statistics, attributing 252 incidents, 300 injuries and 23 deaths to the sudden failure of old tires.
“It’s a hidden defect,” Kane said.
The Rubber Manufacturers Association disagrees.
“Chronological age is just not a good indicator whether a tire will perform or not,” stated Dan Zielinski, the association’s vice president of public affairs.
Zielinski, whose association represents the tire industry, said there is no technical data to suggest tires will fail at a certain date.
“What consumers should be concerned about (is) how they use their tire, whether or not it’s been properly maintained and how it’s been stored,” Zielinski said.
Perhaps the best piece of advice for drivers is to check the owner’s manual for the vehicle.
General Motors just became the last U.S. car manufacturer to include a “tire age” recommendation of “6 years old” in the 2013 owner’s manual. Foreign cars have included that warning for years.