The Hidden Danger – New Old Tires

June 24, 2008

old tires disintegrateHave you ever gotten a great price on new tires and wondered how can this tire be new? Well the answer might be that you just purchased old but UNUSED tires. The problem is that tires, like any rubber product, degrade over time and could present a significant yet hidden safety risk regardless of tread depth.

The danger of old tires has been known since at least September 2003 when the British-based Tyre Industry Council issued an unprecedented warning that previously unused tires should not be sold if they were more than 6 years old, and that all tires should be replaced 10 years after their manufacture.

It is curious that European and Japanese automobile manufacturers warn of this danger but NOT U.S. tire manufacturers. For example the Volkswagen manual states “WARNING – old tires can fail in use, causing loss of vehicle control and personal injury. Replace tires after 6 years regardless of tread wear.”

If the U.S. tire industry is refusing to give you the same warnings that are given to car owners in Europe and Asia, how can you protect yourself?

The answer is that cryptic bunch of numbers on the tire sidewall. The last 4 numbers at the end of the 12-digit DOT serial number will tell you when you tire was manufactured. tire date codeBut you need to know the 4-digit code and until recently the DOT serial number was located on the inside of the tire requiring you to crwal under the car to read the number. Here’s the code — the first 2 numbers are the week of manufacture and the last 2 numbers are the year of manufacture. For example: 1404 means that the tire was made the 14th week of 2004, or mid-April of that year. If the last group of digits has only 3 numbers then your tire was made before 2000. “219” means the tire was made the 21st week of 1999.

Before you buy that next set of tires be sure to check the last 4 digits of the DOT serial number, and to be safe right now check any tires you currently have in service on your vehicle. If they are more than 6 years old, replacement may be in order. Aged tires can separate without warning and cause catastrophic results.

Yes it is curious that something as important as tire safety would require you to get on your hands and knees and know the secret code but until better regulations are in place this is the only way you can be sure that you and your family are safe riding on those tires.