Are your new tires really 6-year old ticking time-bombs?

By Paul Michael on 30 July 2008 (Updated 2 August 2008) 42 comments
Photo: Jan_et

Check the tires on your car. How do they look? Plenty of tread, no bald spots, no wear and tear? If that’s the case, you’ve probably got a great set of tires with years of life left on them, right? Well, maybe not. Those tires could actually be ready to break apart at any moment.

I don’t like buying new tires. Right now, I’m shopping around for a good deal because the quote I got from my local tire store was close to $800. But I’m wary of "deals" on tires because they actually have a use-by date. Most people don’t know that. It’s not advertised and there's no law protecting us (more on that later). And worse still, the consequences of driving on old tires can be deadly. This is not just about getting the best tires for your money…it’s about getting SAFE tires.

In Europe and Asia, tire manufacturers inform customers about the dangers of old tires, and the very real dangers of driving on ‘new’ tires that are actually six years old, or even older. But here in Uncle Sam, we’re being kept in the dark. And that’s hardly surprising, because tires are a billion dollar business, and no company wants to destroy tires and see profits literally go up in smoke. They look new. They smell new. They are new, right?

Well, no. The rubber in the tires dries out over time. This can lead to cracking, greater stress on the tire’s infrastructure and “catastrophic failure.” When that happens, the tire can literally fall apart on you while you’re driving. The tread comes away from the tire quickly and violently. As you can imagine, this can be disastrous; even deadly.

So far, more than 100 deaths have been attributed to old tires, and there is currently a lawsuit against Bridgestone/Firestone for selling old tires as new. It’s alleged that these tires were responsible for a crash which left one man dead and a family without a father.

And yet despite all of this evidence, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has refused to impose a six-year shelf life on tires. All they have issued is a warning . Why? We could speculate, but money talks, and how many tire companies are ready to junk thousands of tires every month that could easily be sold as new?

A hidden camera report by ABC’s 20/20 , aired on May 9th, show revealed some shocking facts about so called ‘new tires’ currently on sale. Some tires were up to 12 years old, and were on sale at Sears, a reputable store. It makes you wander what stores without the big name and reputation will carry. You can watch the complete section below, this is 10 minutes of your time very well spent.

 

So, what can you do? First, check your tires.

Whether you’re shopping for new tires, riding on new tires, or have tires that are several years old, check the actual age of your tires asap. Knowing where to look and how to translate the code is simple enough, but it does vary depending on the age of your tires. The highlighted section below is the complete information I got from TireRack, the place where I buy my tires and a store that is very forthcoming about both tire age and longevity:

When it comes to determining the age of a tire, it is easy to identify when a tire was manufactured by reading its Tire Identification Number (often referred to as the tire’s serial number). Unlike vehicle identification numbers (VINs) and the serial numbers used on many other consumer goods (which identify one specific item), Tire Identification Numbers are really batch codes that identify the week and year the tire was produced.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requires that Tire Identification Numbers be a combination of the letters DOT, followed by ten, eleven or twelve letters and/or numbers that identify the manufacturing location, tire size and manufacturer's code, along with the week and year the tire was manufactured.

Tires Manufactured Since 2000
Since 2000, the week and year the tire was produced has been provided by the last four digits of the Tire Identification Number with the 2 digits being used to identify the week immediately preceding the 2 digits used to identify the year. Example of a tire manufactured since 2000 with the current Tire Identification Number format:

Tire pic one

e Tire Identification Number is required to be branded onto one sidewall of every tire, current regulations also require that DOT and the first digits of the Tire Identification Number must also be branded onto the opposite sidewall. Therefore, it is possible to see a Tire Identification Number that appears incomplete and requires looking at the tire’s other sidewall to find the entire Tire Identification Number:

tire 2

The use of a partial Tire Identification Number on the one sidewall (shown above) reduces the risk of injury to the mold technician that would have to install the weekly date code on the top sidewall portion of a hot tire mold.

Tires Manufactured Before 2000
The Tire Identification Number for tires produced prior to 2000 was based on the assumption that tires would not be in service for ten years. While they were required to provided the same information as today’s tires, the week and year the tire was produced was contained in the last three digits. The 2 digits used to identify the week a tire was manufactured immediately preceded a single digit used to identify the year. Rxample of a tire manufactured before 2000 with the earlier Tire Identification Number format:

tire 3

While the previous Tire Identification Number format identified that a tire was built in the 8th year of a decade, there was no universal identifier that confirmed which decade (tires produced in the 1990s may have a small triangle following the Tire Identification Number to identify the decade).
And finally, hold on to your sales receipt. Most tire manufacturer's warranties cover their tires for four years from the date of purchase or five years from the week the tires were manufactured. So if you purchase new tires that were manufactured exactly two years ago they will be covered for a total of six years (four years from the date of purchase) as long as you have your receipt. If you lose your receipt, your tires' warranty coverage will end five years from the week the tire was produced (resulting in the tire manufacturer's warranty coverage ending only three years from the date of purchase in this example).

For more information, you can also go to ABC here .

So, you have old tires. What next?

If you’re the OCD frugal shopper I am, you’ll have kept all of your receipts from the past few years for your major purchases (and I consider tires to be one of these). Most of us hang on to these receipts because tires come with a warranty, anywhere from 20k to 65k miles.

Contact the store, garage or website that sold you the tires and explain the situation. If your current tires have had plenty of use, you may still be entitled to at least a discount on a replacement set of tires. If you’re a good haggler, you may get a new set free of charge. And if you have just bought your tires, you should absolutely demand a replacement set that were manufactured recently.

I’ll be examining my new tires closely when the arrive from TireRack. I like a deal, but not at the expense of my safety. If the tires are older than 6 years (and I’m hoping they’re much newer than that) I’ll demand free replacements. You should too. Old tires being sold as new are not just an oversight. They’re a deadly deception. Drive safe folks.

UPDATE: My tires arrived today from TireRack, they shipped in just two days and each tire was manufactured within the last 5 months. I can heartily recommend TireRack not just as a way to save money on brand-name tires, but as a reliable source of brand new tires. They'll be getting my business again. 

 

Additional photo credit: Tire Rack
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Guest's picture

I actually had a tire blow out on me one day after buying a used car due to the dry-rot that you describe. In my particular situation, the tires were already on the car; and were not ones that I had just purchased as replacements. If you take a look at old tires, you can learn to spot the tell-tale cracking associated with dry-rot.

Randy@FiscalZen

Guest's picture
JD

I'd never heard this, should definitely be spread so I put it up on Digg:

Digg here

Guest's picture
Guest

But it made me take a look at the tires that we bought from Sears. The dates were all fine, but we noticed that one of the tires didn't look like the other three! We paid a good price for 4 tires, and wondered if we got one cheap tire. My husband called them, and they told us to bring the car in. They replaced the odd tire to match the rest. (And the date was good too.) Thanks for the warning.

Guest's picture
Guest

Someone can help me??...just purchased BF Goodrich Long Terrain Radials...saw the tire age story...checked the tires...found this... DOT AP 72 FB 21

Can someone explain this to me...because it's not close to the stuff described in the articles...

Paul Michael's picture

Hi guest,  I have checked multiple sources and can still only find two ways to determine tire age, based on the following:

  • For tires manufactured in 2000 and after, the first two numbers identify the week (from 01 to 52) and the last two numbers identify the year.
  • For tires made in 1999 and before, there are three numbers. The first two numbers indicate the week, the last number indicates the year, for example, the code 105 would indicate the tire was made in March 1995.
    Source: Detroit News research

 

Guest's picture
Guest

Have email into BF GOODRICH with the infor...will pass along answer when avaiabale

Guest's picture
Tom

Guest,

  If you look on the other side of the tire you'll find the age.  On another note, it has never been proven that old tires will blow out.  Also, there is a huge difference in a tire that has been sitting in a controlled enviroment like a tire shop to a tire that is on a vehicle in the weather.  People are putting too much thought into tire age.  If you're really concerned see your local tire dealer.  If you don't trust them, then you should find another store.

Guest's picture
Astreil

I also have BF Goodrich tires with an odd looking number;

DOT TBHVFTU31

I plan to research this further, but my tires do have some dry rot.

Guest's picture

Great educational post. I had no idea. I will reference from my blog. I bought tires one week ago, so I ran right out to check them. The first three were manufactured in 2008 (albeit, different weeks). The fourth actually looked like the date part of the code had been MELTED away as it was not there and the rubber was a slightly darker color. I kid you not. I'm taking it back to Belle Tire tomorrow and demanding a replacement.

Guest's picture
Peter

In Europe, by law, tires that are older than 36 months cannot be sold as first quality and have to be marked as such. I don't know if it's legal to sold older ones but this requirement is still an effective way to keep tire companies and distributors from selling older tirer. It's amazing that anyone is trying to sell stuff that's 12 y.o.!

Paul Michael's picture

...the power of the dollar (I would say mighty dollar, but it's hardly that anymore. Last I heard, pesos will be giving us a run for our money soon.)

Guest's picture
Anonymous

I have 6yr-old tires on my 6yr-old truck. I only drive ~5K miles/year. So there's plenty of mileage left. If I store the vehicle in a carport, how long is safe? Is NoCracking an indication they are still safe to drive on?

Guest's picture
Guest

I definitely agree on your Tire Rack recommendation. I work for a tire manufacturer and we use Tirerack.com for our employee purchase program. The guys I've spoken to on the phone there really know their stuff - plus the shipping is incredibly fast.

On tire safety, the manufacture date is really valuable information. I'm sure I don't have to add that folks, while you are down there checking the manufacture date, you should also be examining your tires for tread depth, uneven wear, and inflation. Tires are so important (come on, they hold your car to the road) but so many people aren't driving on safe tires. I notice this even in our employee parking lot!

Guest's picture
Guest

I have had 4 Michelins come apart in a week, one was the spare and never on the road but all 6 years old and had less than 10k miles on them, they came on a used vehicle. I called Michlen and they said tough, they are only warranted for 5 years. I had a Firestone blow up and a Goodyear loose the tread, all in the last 20 years.

When I was younger I never had a tire come apart except recaps, and we ran them until the belts showed. I asked my father who is 86 and he never heard of any comming apart before 25 years ago. There used to be Nylon belts in them and now they are steel. They must have changed the formula because of the steel because they used to rust inside the tire when they first came out.
Now I buy the lowest tread ware warranty I can find, usually the cheapest tires, making sure they are less than 6 months old and just replace them every 5 years. I have not worn out the tread before the 5 years. However I work at home and the others are on the motor home. I never drive over 10k per year on either. Usually 5-7k.

Guest's picture
Guest

Regarding the tires that "fall apart"...

A year or two back, a Chinese mfg. of tires forgot one of the critical elements that held the tire together. From Rubber News:

"The NHTSA-ordered recall of 450,000 light truck tires made by China's Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co. Ltd. has the potential to stall the growth of that nation as an exporter of tires to the U.S. This is a very poor time in history for a Chinese tire maker to have its quality standards, even its response to a problem, questioned.

The issue concerns several tire brands sold in the U.S., many of them brought in by importer Foreign Tire Sales Inc. of Union, N.J. That company told NHTSA the tires were made without or with insufficient gum strips between the belts to prevent belt separation."

Here's a list of the DOT codes that tell you exactly where the tire was made: http://www.gigasize.com/get.php?d=tybbznpq2wf

Sorry about the TXT doc., but I work for a Tire industry equipment maker and can't have any info leak out, especially since we paid for a list of these codes.

Guest's picture
Suz

Thank you so much for the informative and new information on how to check my tires effectively. Mine are in good condition *few!* but I didn't know all the different ways of checking them, I always had just been looking at the tread.

-Suz

Guest's picture
Sweets

Thank you so much for this post -- you probably saved some lives with this information!

I stopped watching those 20/20 type shows years ago because I got sick of their scare-mongering stories and their focus on sensationalism and violence. If I hadn't seen this post here, I would've never known about this serious issue. I've forwarded this to everyone I know.

Take care.

Paul Michael's picture

Not being selfish here, I would really like this post to get more attention for that very reason. It's probably the most important story I've ever covered.

Guest's picture
leigh

i just learned that the tires i purchased last spring were made in 2002! i'm furious, and i fully intend to call michelin on monday and demand a discount on my replacements. i will bring up the lawsuits against firestone if they try to feed me some line.

they were five years old already when i bought them, now they're past the 6 years line and practically worn out. i don't trust them as far as i can throw them. this is ridiculous!

there's also a valve stem recall on valves installed from late 06-mid 07. i have had 3 flat tires in the past 2 weeks thanks to that too. not a good car month.

Guest's picture
Tim

The reason why the tires are failing after 6 years is because they are made with synthetic rubber not with natural rubber like they used to be made with.The natural rubber plantations were in areas of the world that had social and economical upheaval so of course the petroleum industry jumped in to fill the void with synthetic rubber.

Only problem with synthetic rubber is it begins to breaks down when it is exposed to UV light which is sun light. Also frequent heat changes from driving and then stopping.

Friction cause the tires to heat up,the air inside expands causing the rubber to expand.Then you stop,the air cools off and the tire contracts.
Then add in places that have variable weather conditions.This all effects synthetic rubber tires.

Ask a old person if they ever had these problems and they say no.They drove with natural rubber tires back them.

Want to see what the suns UV light does to a petroleum product?
Look at freshly paved asphalt.It is nice and black.Later on you will notice it starts to turn a gray color.

The suns UV light is breaking down the liquid petroleum asphalt binder that holds the rock and sand together.If you ever come upon a place where they have cut a section of asphalt out of a roadway ,look at the side you will see that inside where the suns UV hasn't penetrated it is still black.

That is what the sun is doing to your synthetic rubber tire.

Guest's picture
Becca

I just bought 4 new tires, it was buy 3 get one free, the tire identification numbers are the same on 3 of them, but the other number is older, did they give me an older tire because it was free? Thanks :)

Paul Michael's picture

Usually these BOGO-type promotions are there to boost tire sales on certain brands and select sizes/styles. The fact that one is older may just be coincidence, but if you're concerned, take the car in and ask that the older tire be replaced with a new one. If it's only a little older, I doubt they'll bother. If it's several years older, you should make a stink.

Guest's picture
robin

My friend at work has bought a old Bronco this spring. After reading the story she found that her tires were made on the 24th week of 03. Money is really too tight right now to replace them. I still worry about her. She is going to try to replace them after tax time. I hope they stay on that long.
Great article!

Guest's picture
Guest

I bought tires last night and I went to look two had 4606 and two had 4705. Any cause for concern?

Guest's picture
Guest

Hello,

Can someone tell me if the new Cooper tires we just purchased two years ago are bad? The number on one of them read dot w56v 38b 0108 322. I am not sure how many numbers there is suppose to be, but the "0108" and "322" are in a small rectangular box. Thanks for your help.

Guest's picture
Guest

I am sorry but they are Firestone. The Cooper tires are on the other car.

Guest's picture
Guest

hello I am trying to find out how old my tires are, i thought i got a deal but I am not sure if I was hussled. hey are Antyre hs 233, dot oj25kw1. Can anyone help please.

Guest's picture
Guest

The video shown vulcanized tires on the highway. It is not quiet convincing.

Guest's picture
Guest

I just bought 4 'new' nokian winter tires from kaltire today, they put them in plastic bags and in the back of my truck because i dont need them installed yet for another few weeks. i took them out as i got home and noticed they were a bit dirty looking for new tires. they didnt even have new stickers on them or those little rubber nipple things poking out on the tread... so i looked up info on the dates as shown on this webpage. and two of them are from 2008, one from 2006, and one from 2005! i paid full price. theyll be hearing from me tomorrow thats for sure. thanks for the info!

Guest's picture
Stella

Thank you for this article! My daughter bought a used car in great condition. The tires looked brand new as well. She bought it from a little old lady that rarely drove it. After her second blow out, we thought she must have run over something the first time, I remembered this story. Her tires were over 5 years old and this was an eye opener! I plan to pass this info on to as many people as possible.

Guest's picture
Guest

Just purchased new tires for my RV.....Sumitomo HTR T14....only numbers I see are P205/55R16. They are steel belted tubeless tires made in Japan DOT V48K. Why am I not seeing the year manufactured?!

Guest's picture
Guest22

You people are nuts. I have been in the tire biz for years. 6 year old tires are not unsafe, unless you are getting large cracks in the SIDEWALL of the tire. Most accidents are caused by underinflation. You can keep tires on the shelf INSIDE for 10 years. Wanna know what is death to tires? The SUN. Or letting the vehicle sit for 2 years without moving it. Bottom line if your tires are not cracked in the sidewalls, and they dont have any "bubbles" , they are probably ok. You can buy a brand new, 1 month old tire, and it will blow out, and that six year old one next to it is fine. I see it all the time. And tread separations? EXtemely RARE. Even retreads nowadays, -technology has come a long way.

Guest's picture
Guest

I had brand new tire 7 years old. After 2 or 3 month on 160kmh front one was exploded, car roll over 6 times, 2 people dead. Insurance refused pay, my car was absolutely destroyed . Now, when tire 6 years old, I change them.

Guest's picture
Brandon

My tires are definitely time bombs, but they seem to explode like every 3 to 6 months. Lame!

Guest's picture
Bill

A tire would have to be downright ancient before it 'fell' apart. Even then it would likely hold it's structure because of the steel belts. There is nothing wrong with using an old tire that is in good shape. I would highly recommend however that if you don't know what your looking for to take it to someone who does.

New tires can and do fail without warning from time to time as do used. The best thing to do is keep them properly inflated and make sure there are no cracks in the sidewalls or tread.

Guest's picture

when should i refuse new tires? How old should new tires be? I have tried googling and not sure when one should refuse new tires..ex. if tire store tries to put new tires on that are over a year old...or under a year?ty

Guest's picture
Guest

Refuse tires if more than 6 months past manuf. date - reason being that most tire manuf. will not warranty tire more than 5 years old. JR

Guest's picture
Guest

I checked my tires bought in Dec 08, from Americas Tires and the code was 3607. So it would appear they sold me tires already 15 months old. I'll watch closer next time

Guest's picture
peter

I have been driving cars for over 50 years,I have driven on all continents , with the exception of Antartica. Fortunately I have never experienced a rapid tyre deflation whilst driving. Numerous slow leaks due to foreign objects penetrating the tyre tread have never caused a loss of control of my vehicle.The biggest problem with any tyre regardless of make or age is under inflation .
Check your tyre pressure regularly and you will not have problems, rental companies are notorious for neglecting to carry out this basic safety check on vehicles in their fleets.

Guest's picture
Travis

Here is some good advice for new tires. When you can, buy a whole set. Don't trash the old tires. Keep your good ones. I had good tires except for one, it was plugged too close to side wall, so I eventually bought a new tire set and kept the other three good ones. One blew on my new set today. Now I am down to two spares to mount. It will save you money in a long run. Tires aren't cheap these days.

Guest's picture
Guest

Just bought a couple of Michelin Pilot Sports for my Porsche. The code indicates they are over two years old. Tire Rack says this is not a problem.

Guest's picture
Guest

Having a six year time limit on tires would mean vastly more tires sold not the opposite. You conspiracy suggestions don't hold up at all to me.