Danger of aging tires, how to protect yourself - KCTV5

KCTV5 Investigates: Danger of aging tires, how to protect yourself

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Every tire comes stamped with a four digit Department of Transportation or DOT code. It’It's basically a “born on” date, showing the week and year the tire was manufactured. Every tire comes stamped with a four digit Department of Transportation or DOT code. It’It's basically a “born on” date, showing the week and year the tire was manufactured.
OLATHE, KS (KCTV) -

Driving on outdated tires could be deadly, and a KCTV5 News undercover investigation reveals that some tire shops may not warn you of the danger.

Every tire comes stamped with a four-digit Department of Transportation code. The "born on date" reveals the week and year each tire was manufactured. Safety experts warn that it can be deadly to ride on tires that are 6 or more years old.

Maria and Francisco Meraz had never heard of a DOT code until it was too late. The Imperial, CA, couple's 18-year-old son, Luis, died in a terrible crash blamed on tires that were more than a decade old.

"We think our kids are going to bury us, not us burying our kids," the grief-stricken mother said.

A recent high school graduate, the teen was splitting his time between work and college classes. Maria Meraz says her son loved cars and spending time with his large family.

"He'd be like ‘Mom! Mom! Look!'" Maria Meraz recalled. "I thought he was talking about a girl but he'd go ‘Mustang. Mustang.' He loved the classic (Ford) Mustang."

In August 2004, they surprised their son with a very special gift, his own 1968 Ford Mustang.

Weeks before the wreck, Luis Meraz bought brand new tires to put on his car. While they had never been used, those tires were actually 12 years old.

THE DANGER:

Attorney Gary Eto, of Torrance, CA, represented the Meraz family in a successful aging tire lawsuit after Luis Meraz's death.

"The obvious danger in this is, aged tires lead to tread separation," Eto said. "Tread separations lead to catastrophic accidents and rollovers."

Sean Kane is the founder and president of Safety Research and Strategies Inc., a consumer safety group specializing in motor vehicle issues. For close to a decade, his Massachusetts-based group has been researching and analyzing aging tire failures.

"If you take an old rubber band that's been sitting out for a long time, if you start to stretch it you'll start to see it crack," Kane said. "And you can't stretch it very often before it will break."

Kane says the same kind of deterioration seen in a rubber band will occur in rubber tires that are more than 6 years old.

"If you have an older tire, those stresses are going cause those cracks to occur at a much higher frequency and much quicker," Kane said.

Last year, Kane's group gave the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) its most recent statistics, attributing 252 incidents, 300 injuries and 23 deaths to the sudden failure of old tires.

"It's a hidden defect," Kane said.

The Rubber Manufacturers Association disagrees.

"Chronological age is just not a good indicator whether a tire will perform or not," stated Dan Zielinski, the association's vice president of public affairs.

Zielinski, whose association represents the tire industry, said there is no technical data to suggest tires will fail at a certain date.

"What consumers should be concerned about (is) how they use their tire, whether or not it's been properly maintained and how it's been stored," Zielinski said.

Perhaps the best piece of advice for drivers is to check the owner's manual for the vehicle.

General Motors just became the last U.S. car manufacturer to include a "tire age" recommendation of "6 years old" in the 2013 owner's manual. Foreign cars have included that warning for years.

THE TEST:

KCTV5 wanted to see if area tires shops pay attention to the age of tires, and whether they warn customers against installing old ones.

The station bought a pair of new, never used snow tires from an online East Coast tire shop.

According to the DOT code of 1503, they were made nearly 10 years ago in the 15th week of 2003.

A KCTV5 undercover producer visited four different auto shops on both sides of the state line to see if anyone would spot that date.

At each location, the producer asked that the two tires be mounted and balanced. She invited the workers to look at the tires to make sure they would work. Two out of the four places never mentioned a problem with the age of the tires.

At Tim's Tire Center in Olathe, a worker refused to install the tires but not because of their age. He said they were the wrong model.

Down the street at Rob's Auto Service, the manager came out to look at the tires and quickly agreed to do the job.

"Yeah, I can do this no problem," he said.

When the producer stopped in at Quest Auto Service on East Santa Fe in Olathe, the manager never brought up the age of the snow tires. He did stress that they should only be used on a temporary basis.

"Your van, that needs a thicker tire to hold the weight," the manager said. "These are temporary, these will work."

"OK," the producer replied. "We're not hauling anything, usually just pick up the mail."

"Yeah, these will be fine then."

An hour later, the producer drove off with the nearly 10-year-old tires installed on the van. She had to stop to get the tires removed before heading to the final business, Independence Firestone on Noland Road. This time an employee quickly spotted the old tires.

"Any idea where they got these from," the employee asked.

"I don't," the producer replied. "Is there a problem?"

"They are 9 years old, for starters," the employee said.

"Is that bad," the producer questioned.

"Yeah. Tires that are over 10 years old, 10 years old or older we can't even service," he replied.

"OK. It matters how old they are, not just how they look," the producer asked.

"Yeah. Rubber is going to deteriorate over time, whether they are new or not," he said.

While that employee clearly knew what to look for and immediately alerted the customer, you can't rely on the same thing happening at every tire shop. It's something Maria and Francisco Meraz regret not knowing.

"If we would have known, this information, knowing to check on the tires," Maria Meraz said. "If those tires had not been dried and old as they were, my son would still be alive now. He'd still have a life."

"They put money first instead of taking care of a life," Francisco Meraz said.

The shop that installed our nearly 10-year-old tires, Quest Auto Services, says they have a policy against installing tires that are more than 7 years old. The general manager said our pair slipped by them.

Rob's Auto, where we set up an appointment to have those same tires mounted, said it now has a new policy about installing tires, regardless of the remaining tread.

Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.)  All rights reserved.

  • KCTV5 Investigates: Danger of aging tires, how to protect yourselfMore>>

  • Statement from Rob's Auto Service

    Statement from Rob's Auto Service

    Tuesday, February 12 2013 1:07 PM EST2013-02-12 18:07:23 GMT
    This is an area of concern for consumers. Used tires can be mounted and balanced safely for everyday use, the concern does come from age and condition. Tires life can stretch as long as 10 years, howeverMore >
    This is an area of concern for consumers. Used tires can be mounted and balanced safely for everyday use, the concern does come from age and condition. Tires life can stretch as long as 10 years, howeverMore >
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