The Danger of Old Tire Failure

Improperly Maintained or Past Their “Sell-By” Date Tires Pose a Significant Risk

There’s a reason why the saying, “When the rubber hits the road . . .,” is a euphemism for when something serious or significant is happening. Tires are the sole points of contact between a moving vehicle and the roadway surface, and their condition is crucial to safe motoring. And yet, many folks don’t pay much attention to their car’s tires beyond occasionally giving them a squirt of air if they look a little low or checking the tread depth when trying to remember just when those tires were put on the car. While there’s much more that we as car owners can do to pay attention to these key safety devices, more and more people are depending on professionals to help keep aging tires from turning into a potentially deadly old tire failure.

Tires Have a Shelf Life

While modern design and manufacturing processes produce car tires that are much safer and more resilient than in the past, tires still don’t last forever. And beyond the wear tires naturally accumulate with mileage, they also tend to very slowly break down over time due to cracking and oxidation that will happen even if they’re just sitting on a shelf rather than being used daily. While there are generally no laws requiring old tires to be replaced after a specific time due to age alone (rather than wear), most tire and auto manufacturers recommend considering replacement after six years and definitely replacing them after ten years.

As vehicle owners and consumers purchasing new tires, it’s important to check tire age in addition to wear and tread depth. Fortunately, car tires have their birthdates stamped right on them — each tire produced in the United States will have a code required by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) placed on their sidewall at manufacture. This “DOT” code will have several digits relating to the manufacture of the tires, but the last four digits will show the week and year of their production. For example, a DOT code with last four digits of “3619” is showing a manufacturing date of the “36th” week of the year “2019.”

Most people will have to replace their tires due to tread wear before tire age becomes a significant issue, but it’s still important — especially for those folks whose vehicles don’t accumulate a lot of mileage every year — to check tire age in addition to wear.

More importantly, it’s crucial for the automotive professionals on whom we rely not to sell tires that are close to or beyond their “shelf life” age. If they fail to do so, and this results in an old tire failure that causes an accident and injury, they may be liable for selling a product that was defective due to its age.

Re-Treads and Re-Sales

Modern tires aren’t necessarily cheap, and people understandably want to “get all the mileage” out of them that can safely be gotten. Additionally, for proper control and wear, most tires need to be replaced either in pairs or in full sets, further increasing replacement cost. The desire to economize on this has led to two different solutions — the “re-treading” of tires by attaching new, un-worn tread to the underlying tire structure, as well as the direct re-sale of used tires with little or no refurbishment.

Properly made re-treads are not necessarily unsafe, but they are rarely as safe as the original product. In addition to the attachment of the new tread being a point of potential failure, the underlying structure of the tire itself still bears all the accumulated wear and tear of its prior incarnation. The long, partially shredded strips of rubber we commonly see along our highways should be a warning about the potential danger of re-treaded tires.

Re-sold tires can be very problematic — they bear all the age and wear issues that caused their prior owners to replace them, and they are sometimes sold with minimal inspection or repair. Anyone purchasing re-sold tires should be very cautious.

Proper Inspection and Maintenance

Car owners and drivers are responsible for operating vehicles in a safe manner, and this includes the vehicles’ physical condition. But while we are responsible for seeing that our vehicles are maintained, most of us rely on auto dealerships, mechanics, service centers, and other auto professionals to do the actual inspection and maintenance work for us. It is critical for these professionals to check tire age (along with wear) when performing routine servicing and inspections, and to let us know when age and/or wear are becoming a significant enough factor to require tire replacement.

Legal Considerations for an Old Tire Failure

When an old tire failure causes a traffic accident with injuries or fatalities, a personal injury attorney acting on behalf of the victims must carefully assess the practical and legal causes of the tire failure. Were there fundamental design or manufacturing defects in the tire that might make the original manufacturer, wholesaler, and/or retailer liable? Were there later-added physical defects in a re-treaded or re-sold tire pointing toward liability for those who handled those activities? Or was the failure simply due to age and wear that should have been found upon inspection by a mechanic or dealership, who should have notified the owner of the need for replacement? And sometimes, liability rests entirely with a vehicle owner who knew about and failed to replace an old and worn tire. Determining these physical and legal causes is key for identifying potential defendants in a personal injury claim or lawsuit resulting from an old tire failure and is a crucial service that an experienced personal injury attorney can provide for clients.

View this video from ABC News about the danger of old, worn tires and how to inspect for proper tread depth:

Sacramento Personal Injury Attorneys

Hello, my name is Ed Smith, and I’m a Sacramento personal injury attorney. Auto dealerships, mechanics, and service centers have an obligation to sell us tires that are safe and in good condition, as well as to properly inspect and maintain our vehicles when we bring them in for servicing.  When they fail to do so, the sudden failure of an old tire can result in a traffic accident with devastating consequences.  If you or member of your family was seriously injured in accident resulting from an old tire failure or other automotive defect, please contact us at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly advice. You can also reach us through our online contact form.

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