You may remember the accident that Paul Walker (one of the stars of Fast and Furious movie franchise) was in a few years ago? Unfortunately, Walker and the driver of the car were killed when their Porsche Carrera skidded off the road and burst into fire. Although speed was said to be a factor in the accident, the California Highway Patrol Investigative Group concluded that the tires’ age might have compromised the Carrera’s handling characteristics too. The facts: the tires were over 10 years old and they were mounted on this powerful modern sports car, a car that could easily push a brand new set of tires to the limit.
Tires deteriorate over time
Not many people know that automobiles tires can get too old to use and it has little to do with the depth of the tread that they have on them. While the tread condition may be one factor in their overall usability, the rubber compounds under the tread can degrade to the point where the tire is unsafe to drive on. It is entirely possible that this is the main reason that Paul Walker’s Porsche ended up in a horrible crash.
Is this new?
For most drivers, having old tires never becomes an issue because they “wear out” before they get too old to use. If you drive say 15,000 miles annually, the tires on your car will wear out in 3-4 years. This is long before the rubber compound of the tire gets too old. The problem comes when one drives less. Say you drive only 5,000 miles a year or have a car that you only drive occasionally, then aging tires could become an issue for you.
What happens to a tire when it gets old?
Have you ever taken a close look at an old rubber band? They develop cracks, especially when you stretch them out. Well, that’s essentially what happens to an old tire on your car; the rubber cracks. Sometimes you can see these cracks. They may be right on a tire’s sidewalls but sometimes the cracks are inside the tire too where you can’t see them.
How long do tires last?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has no specific guidelines on tire aging and defers to the advice of the tire manufacturers. Most manufacturers give a maximum life of approximately 5 years. However, some of the premium manufacturers say their tires last longer, depending on use and local conditions.
Local conditions? Well, NHTSA research has found that tires age more quickly in warmer climates. This is almost to be expected. People who live in warm states should keep this in mind when deciding whether they should retire a tire. Note that this applies to not only the four driving tires but the spare also. Just think about the conditions a spare lives in, basically they bake away in a metal oven on hot days.
How to determine a tire’s age
We asked our technical consultant at Roberts Chrysler of Meriden, CT, Tires made after 2000 have a four-digit DOT code on section of the sidewall close to the rim. The first two numbers represent the week in which the tire was made. The second two represent the year. Example: a tire with a DOT code of 1109 was made in the 11th week of 2009. Clearly, these DOT numbers weren’t designed with the consumer in mind. They were originally put on tires to make it easier for NHTSA to recall tires and keep track of their manufacturing date.
Don’t Buy Used
Tires are expensive, especially when you factor in the price of mounting and balancing. That’s why used tires become more attractive to consumers who are strapped for cash. But the purchase of used tires is very much a buyer-beware situation. And, just because a tire is unused doesn’t mean it’s new. Many times, consumers have purchased “new” tires at retail stores only to find out later that they were manufactured years earlier.
Of all your vehicle’s components, tires have the greatest effect on the way it handles and brakes. Your tires, therefore, play a critical role in the keeping you and your occupants safe and sound. So, if your local dealer recommends new tires at your five-year check-up, spend the money and don’t put it off. You or a family members life could depend on it.