When Andy Moore left for a vacation in the family van, his father thought that he was sending his son off in a safe vehicle. The tires on the van had only 31,000 miles on them, and the tread looked good. They had passed inspection in Pennsylvania, but they were actually old tires and much more dangerous than they appeared. As Andy and a friend were driving in Canada, the tread on one of the tires separated, causing the van to go out of control and killing Andy and his friend.Andy’s father bought the tires in 1997, and the crash happened in 2002. What he didn’t know in 1997 was that his “new” tires were already more than 4 years old. He learned that fact only after his son’s death. He’s also learned that the sale of old tires marketed as new is a common practice in the United States, even though European and Asian authorities have been working hard to alert consumers to the danger of major personal injuries and death caused by old tires.

Like many drivers, Andy’s father believed that tread depth is the only factor that determines a tire’s safety. Now he knows that age can be just as much of a danger as wear.

And it’s not just tire dealers who are selling old tires. In Pennsylvania, a man purchased a new Pontiac Vibe, a 2006 model, in October, 2005. When he became aware of the potential problems with old tires, he checked his and was frightened when he saw the code “1001” on them. That meant that they had been manufactured in March, 2001. The tires on his new car were almost 5 years old when he got the car and more than 8 years old when he disposed of them.

He took his car to a Sears dealer and asked about the age of the “new” tires that were supposed to go on his car. The dealer said that they were made in 2006, so the man wisely insisted on legitimately new tires, instead of ones that were already 3 years old.

Old tires are not an obvious danger. Tires deteriorate whether they’re on a car or on a shelf. Why old tires are available for sale is a question whose only possible answer is sloppy inventory management. The logical method for a car manufacturer or a tire dealer to use to manage its tire stock is the inventory system called FIFO – First In, First Out. Under that system, the stock rotates regularly, and no tires will sit on shelves for years. When manufacturers and dealers don’t rotate their stock regularly, they expose their customers to serious injuries and death.

Owners of classic cars that sit in garages most of the time often learn painful lessons about old tires that look fine. Even though the tires on these old cars rarely roll, they still deteriorate, and the owners’ stories show that old tires are often dangerous, regardless of how good they look and how few miles they have on them.

One reason why consumers have been in danger from old tires is that telling the age of a tire is not easy. Tires do have a date of manufacture stamped on them, but it’s a mark that no one will ever understand without having someone explain it. The mark could just as easily say, “Manufactured October 2008”, but tire manufacturers prefer the current system because consumers don’t understand it.

Sean Kane of Safety Research & Strategies has been fighting for better warnings about the dangers of old tires and especially old tires sold as new, and he sees the passage of California AB 496 as a valuable step in consumer safety. As he points out, scientists have been aware of the dangers of aging tires for decades, and preventative practices in Europe, so tire manufacturers have clearly been ignoring their obligations by ignoring the sale of old tires.

For your own protection, check the age of your tires, and if you have been involved in a crash because of old or defective tires,  before you contact me save the tire and go back to the scene of the crash and have a team watch for traffic while others collect the remnants.  That evidence will be needed to analyze the failure and to prove to the manufacturer that the failure was not due to a road hazard, which is the main defense offered by tire companies in every case.

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Richard Alexander