I doubt there are many drivers who would knowingly buy tires to put on their vehicles that are five or six years old, but knowingly or not, it happens frequently. I also doubt that many of us are aware just how old our “new” tires might be, and the older a tire is, the more dangerous it becomes.
Most drivers know they should watch for excessive tread wear on their tires, but they're unaware the age of the tire itself is also a risk factor. Unscrupulous dealers sometimes sell consumers tires that look new but have been sitting on a tire rack for years. Drivers who don't use a particular vehicle very often, such as a second car or truck, may think minimal wear on its tires means they can delay purchasing new ones.
In fact, as all tires age they become more prone to losing their tread suddenly and causing an accident. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), when tires are older than six years, the chances of a sudden "tread separation" start to climb. Car companies and tire companies have sent bulletins to dealers saying that tires older than six to ten years should be replaced.
Unfortunately, despite warnings and bulletins, old “new” tires are placed on vehicles far too frequently, and the result can lead to a horrific accident, as a current case of mine illustrates.
On October 10, 2010, my client was a passenger in her husband’s 2001 Ford F350 as they drove on a busy interstate. Suddenly, the tread separated on the front left tire on the truck, causing the vehicle to become uncontrollable and strike another car before finally overturning onto its roof as it came to rest in a ditch at the side of the road. The driver was killed in the crash and his wife sustained serious injuries.
We were able to determine the tire that caused the accident was over eight years old – yet it had a minimal amount of road wear. As we looked into this closer we discovered the tire was in fact the spare, and it had been mounted on the vehicle fairly recently. It had the appearance of being new, but was really quite old.
Our complaint names both the tire manufacturer and the dealership that serviced and inspected the vehicle; due to the negligence of these two companies, the tire separated from its tread and caused the car to flip into a ditch. My client was badly hurt, and was unable to aid her husband, who lay beside her, fatally injured.
This incident could have easily been avoided had the manufacturer and the dealership done their jobs properly and informed their customers of the potential risks of using older tires as well as the failure to catch and alert consumers to obvious defects.
Fortunately, you don't have to depend on a professional to determine the age of your tires. The answer is right in front of you, written on the side of the tire itself.
Every tire has a Tire Identification Number — a serial number — inscribed on its sidewall. On tires manufactured after 2006, the number is written on the sidewall that faces out and is easily visible. On tires manufactured in 2006 and earlier, the number is inscribed on the inside sidewall, meaning that you would have to crawl under your car to read the digits.
The identification number starts with a serial number but then ends with a four digit batch code. Those four numbers tell you the age of the tire. The first two numbers are the week of the year in which the tire was made; the last two numbers are the year. A tire made in the 47th week of 2008 – meaning November 2008 – would have a serial number ending in 4708.
If the tire's number ends in only three digits, that means it was manufactured prior to 2000. A tire made in the 47th week of 1998 would end in 478. A tire with only three digits at the end of its Tire Identification Number is a tire that should immediately be replaced.