How Old Are Your New Tires? The Dangers of Driving on Aging Tires

Sometimes the public hears about tire safety recalls, especially when it’s a major brand that affects hundreds or thousands of drivers. But an important consumer safety issue that gets far less attention is the problem of driving on aged tires -- including those that are sold as new, as well as spare tires. The problem is the rubber deteriorating from the inside out, which may happen more rapidly for vehicles driven and parked in the year-round Florida heat.

Fort Myers, Florida defective tire accident lawyers Jason and Debi Chalik have worked to raise public awareness about tire age and tire date coding -- a code which enables consumers to tell how old their "brand new" tires really are. Here, Florida Injury Attorney Debi Chalik offers some answers to consumer questions about tires.

Tires in tire shops look brand new. How do we know they aren't?

Attorney Debi Chalik: The general public is completely unaware of how to determine the age of tires on their cars, minivans, pickup trucks, and SUVs. The problem is tires may look brand new and have never touched the pavement, but the rubber is actually deteriorating from the inside out. When an aged tire fails, there is usually no warning. Often there is a tread separation where the tire literally falls apart. The driver loses control of the vehicle, and a catastrophic crash such as a rollover accident occurs. Injuries in these types of tire failure crashes can include brain and spine injuries. Sadly, these crashes are sometimes fatal.

What is a tire date code and what does it tell consumers about their tires?

DC: The tire date code or DOT code (U.S. DOT Tire Identification Number issued by the Dept. of Transportation) indicates the week and year the tire was manufactured. It appears on the outer wall of the tire, and it's either three or four digits long. So for example, a tire stamped with "1205" means it was made in the 12th week of 2005.

Do tires have safety expiration dates, after which they are pulled from shelves?

DC: Unfortunately, no. Southwest Florida drivers may be surprised to learn that at this time, there is no law restricting the age of tires sold in tire shops and put on motor vehicles -- including the original spare tire that came with the car. Tires in Florida are inspected for tread wear, but there is no "expiration date" for how long tires may remain on store shelves. So some tires in tire stores may be as much as 8 or 10 years old, and yet they are being sold as "new." And there are no laws in place to prevent a tire store or auto repair shop from moving the spare tire onto the vehicle. We believe that any tire -- including the spare tire -- that is older than 6 years old should not be used to drive on.

What is the danger of driving on a spare tire that's never been used?

DC: Just because a full-sized spare is stored unused, in the vehicle trunk or in an outside spare tire carrier, doesn't stop the rubber deterioration process. The spare may look brand new, and it may never have been driven upon, but the rubber is actually deteriorating from the inside out, due to heat and age. This is also true for the original equipment spares -- what we call "OE tires" -- that came with the vehicle.

Yet there is no law stopping an auto service center from rotating an old spare tire onto one of the driving wheels. We have two cases now where tire or auto repair shops put the original spare tires on our clients' vehicles -- spare tires that had been stored, unused for 10 years or more -- and those spare tires failed catastrophically. These old spare tires are a big source of serious auto accidents. The driving public in Florida is just not aware of this serious safety concern.

Why is tire age and rubber deterioration worse in Florida?

DC: One of the things that makes Southwest Florida a lovely place to live and visit is the year-round hot weather. But this heat wears on car tires, whether the tires are being driven upon or if they're stored in the trunk or an outside tire carrier. The heat adds to the degradation of the tire rubber at a quicker rate than in states that experience cold climates.

What happens when a tire fails without warning on a Florida highway?

DC: When the tire tread separates, the tire falls apart and you lose control of the vehicle. You have no power over your steering wheel. Often times the vehicle flips over; SUVs are especially vulnerable to this type of tire-related rollover accident. We are working with families whose loved ones have been in this type of accident, and the brain injuries are devastating. Families suffer greatly in these accidents, which could have been prevented.

Unfortunately, tire manufacturers have resisted the passing of a bill that would require an expiration date on tires, claiming that would be too much government regulation. We believe there should be balance -- and consumer safety is more important.

Who can be held responsible if a tire blowout or tread separation on an old tire leads to a serious motor vehicle accident in Florida?

DC: It's important for people who think a defective or aged tire may have caused a serious motor vehicle crash to contact an experienced Southwest Florida tire defect lawyer right away. Tires with a tread separation -- where the tread literally peels off of the tire -- should be inspected by tire industry experts to determine the age of the tire, and determine whether there is a manufacturing defect that contributed to the tire’s failure. The tire manufacturer, tire store, auto manufacturer, and auto repair shops may all be held responsible in Florida tire related car crashes, depending on the circumstances.

Experienced injury attorneys such as those in our firm have access to the tire industry experts and the resources required to help families pursue tire accident injury claims and lawsuits throughout the State of Florida. We hope to raise more awareness about the dangers of driving on aged tires -- and how tire date codes can show consumers how old their tires really are.

Related Florida Accident Attorney Resources:

Tire Date Coding & Safety webpage: Includes video of Florida Injury Attorney Debi Chalik speaking about defective tires and tire blowout accidents.

Q&A with Attorney Debi Chalik on Defective Tires: Learn how a tire defect, aged tire, tire blowout, tire tread separation, or other tire-related issue can lead to a car or SUV rollover crash.