Your New Tires Could Be Six-Year-Old Death Traps

Those “new” tires of yours could be six-years old and ready to disintegrate on the highway. Tire rubber dries out after six years, but unlike in Europe and Asia, American companies are allowed to sell expired tires long after they turn into death donuts. A 20/20 investigation found that the “new” tires on sale at Sears and Walmart can be up to 12-years-old. Inside, how to tell when your tires were born…

All tires bear a Department of Transportation number hidden on the inner wheel wall. At the end of the number is a four-digit sequence that shows the week and year the tire was made. Tires with the notation 3502 were made in the 35th week of 2002. If you only see three digits, get new tires immediately; your tires are from the 90′s and are way past their effective lifespan.

Listen as the mustachioed John Stossel explains:

Check Your Tires [The Kim Komando Show]
Aged Tires: A Driving Hazard? [YouTube]
(Photo: zorilla)

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  1. PsychicPsycho3 says:

    John Stossel’s mustache can do anything.

  2. Yankees368 says:

    That kinda of makes me want to run to my car and check the secret date code right now.
    ….And its dark and raining out.

  3. Baron Von Crogs says:

    Smashing, I’m sure they’ll take it very seriously.

  4. ZekeSulastin says:

    … and somehow you still managed to sneak a cat picture into the story …

  5. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    I assumed it just affects after market tires but still I ran out to check … in the dark.. my April 2006 Chrysler has April 2006 tires. Date was on the outside wall.

  6. Shappie says:

    My 04 truck has wk 17 2003 tires on it

  7. erikw says:

    Interesting.. I’ve known about the DOT codes for a while, but I highly doubt that some places are selling tires that old.

    Okay, I’ll admit that I haven’t watched the video yet. I bought a new set of Michelins about 5-6 months ago that were no more than a couple months old when I bought them. Tires from Costco are great.

  8. NotYou007 says:

    This is very old news.

  9. Lucky225 says:

    Your “new” Consumerist story could be 6 years old.

  10. SarcasticDwarf says:

    I recall there being a huge uproar about five years or so ago about tire tread separating. I have noticed recently that it does not seem like there is anywhere NEAR the amount of tread on the sides of the road than there was ten years ago.

  11. RChris173 says:

    yes, I’ve seen this before…

    I’m beginning to sense a common theme with cats here…I am a cat lover :)

  12. Cliff_Donner says:

    /Homer/ Mmmmm . . . . death donut . . . . /< Homer/

  13. Quatre707 says:

    Perhaps the issue is people purchasing tires from Wal-Mart…

  14. GreatCaesarsGhost says:

    Did any of the commenters actually watch the video? And who cares if it’s “old news?” Most people don’t know this.

  15. madog says:

    This is old news, so clearly everyone knows about it, and a story involving your tires imploding on the highway is definitely not worth repeating. Geez, Consumerist! What’s wrong with you guys these days?!?

    • shikkaba says:

      @madog: Not worth repeating, eh? Did you know that not everyone remembers everything they hear once, or that there are some people who’ve only had a car for few years and thus never had to pay attention to things like these?

      If these injustices are still going on (the video has a posting date of July 2008, so it the story is THAT new, then they obviously are…) then we should know about it. We should be told a million times until we actually CARE and do something about it instead of shrugging our shoulders and complain that we’ve heard about it before.
      That is one way things actually get done.

  16. Old tires at a low volume store? Of course.

    Old tires at a high volume store? Less likely. Odd sizes are possible, while common tires are churned like the Gulf of Mexico during Hurricane Ike and will always be new.

    Bottom line? Buy tires from a store that actually sells tires and leave the foil beanie at home.

  17. crazydavythe1st says:

    As long as the tires are only 5 years, 11 months old, all is well with the world, right?

  18. SarcasticDwarf says:

    I think one thing should be clarified: Are they saying that tires over six years old are the problem or only tires that are not used until they are six years old? If tires become dangerous at six years old then all tires should only be sold if they are less than ONE year old (giving the owners five years of relatively safe use).

  19. unpolloloco says:

    I’m thinking that the old ones are display models, not sale

    • @unpolloloco: I think you need to actually watch the video.

      Anyway, yeah, Consumerist, what gives? Why are you telling me something that I *need* to know considering I drive on the highway at least 6 hours a week? This is old news that absolutely everyone and their son is aware of. Try posting something relevant.

  20. RichasB says:

    HOLY SHIT! I just check my tires right now and they’re ALL from 2001 (different weeks though). I’ve been meaning to change them recently and I was going to do it on my 90,000 mile checkup but know that I know that they have low thread left and are 7 years old they’re getting thrown straight to the recycling bin!

    Thank You Consumerist for posting this.

    P.S. Ignore those jerks saying that this is old news because as we all know in America that certain news (mostly news that hurts business as usual) becomes surpressed.

  21. Skipweasel says:

    Out of interest, is there any definitive evidence that there are actually accidents being caused by this?

  22. crazyasianman says:

    might have been brought up a while back, but still doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t pay at least a little bit of attention to what the store is giving you. who knows, even if you’re dealing with an actual tire shop that sells a substantial amount of tires, you might opt to pick up a set of tires that missed someone else’s attention (both consumer and employee).

  23. RightLaneMustExit says:

    The greater point here is that you probably shouldn’t have tires older than 6 years on your car, period.

    The obvious time this comes up (as mentioned in the article) is when buying tires: don’t buy old tires (if you shop around, it should be easy to find fresh ones < 6 months old).

    But, you also need to replace the tires on your car after they are 6 years old. So, if you don’t drive much, you may need to replace your tires before the tread wears down. The old trick with a coin isn’t enough to check your tires — you also need to check the date code.

    Here’s a government (NHTSA) FAQ about tire aging. There’s also general information about tire care and new tire ratings in the same place: [www.safercar.gov]

  24. god_forbids says:

    Considering how hard we slammed Arm & Hammer (and many other grocery shrink ray offenders) for ‘making up’ shorter product expiration dates to drive sales, how likely is it that this is simply a ploy to elicit “oh noez I gotstuh get me sum noo taires raght now!!!111!1!” by tire manufacturers?

  25. Stormbringer says:

    What’s with all the whining about it being “old news” and “everyone already knows”? Jerks like that need to be bitch slapped; if it can save lives, run it. Just not every week.

    Also, I don’t get how anyone is supposed to do something about it:
    “These tires are eight years old!”
    “Well, they’re new, never been used.”
    “I want fresh ones!”
    “F**k off!”

  26. Yurei says:

    wow, it took consumerist this long to take up on this story? I heard about this months ago and preceded to check all of my tires. thankfully my ’99 has tires from ’04 on it.

  27. Yurei says:

    @SarcasticDwarf:

    I think what they say is the tires you buy from a store “new” that have never been used could be problematic, not if you’ve had them on your car and they’re more than 6 years, though if you keep your car in a very hot garage or something, I could see it being a problem. Rubber breaks down and become very brittle when kept in direct sunlight or in hotter conditions, and my mom can tell you how many warehouses are NOT climate conditioned, so your tire may have spent 6 years baking and freezing before being sold to you and may be apt to crumble.

    @Skipweasel: Yup, I was watchign a video and reading articles about various accidents where people DIED from their car’s tire suddenly sloughing off the treads and spinning out of control. One story that stuck out was a teenager or kid in his low 20′s driving up to canada that never got to make it because this happened and killed him. Fox or 20/20 or someone whom I watched the video on recreated this with a professional tire, they ripped the tread off as he was driving on a closed course and even he couldn’t maintain control of his vehicle.

    And the numbers are on the outside walls too where they can be easily seen on newer tires from the later ’00 period, not just on the inside.

  28. ptkdude says:

    bought new tires in February. Three of the four show a date of 3307. The other one apparently has the date on the inside of the tire, because I didn’t see it.

  29. lol_wut says:

    I think Consumerist has covered this before, but it is worth repeating if another outlet has brought it up as a reminder. We are approaching the end of Summer and we are going into Fall/Winter and it is important to make sure your car is ready for the elements, tires a key component of that. I wouldn’t want my tires to suddenly fail on the highway as a big snowstorm was moving in.

  30. Ben_Q2 says:

    I have to say the only thing I will never buy at Costoc is tires. Every one has had what they call “Black Ice” EVERY. Yes I do watch the air.

  31. GreatWhiteNorth says:

    … caution, oversimplification ahead…

    Back in the good old days… folks took an interest and pride in understanding their vehicles, how hey work, what products went into them. Well actually the good old days really refers to a state of mind when dealing with your ride. Folks with this state of mind tend to deeply research the car before they buy, develop a relationship with specialty shops for tires, brakes, mufflers, etc. These folks don’t tend to drop by Walmart to have work done on their vehicle. They then tend to keep the vehicle for a good long time, often cradle to grave, showroom to wrecker.

    Other folks seem to only be interested in cost, convenience and superficial appearance. Just look at all the PT cruisers on the road, cheap, easy to buy with superficial styling on a neon.

    This tire story isn’t much of a surprise as it only reflects society as a whole. Folks want it now and cheap. Shops selling tires have to have something in stock or the customer walks next door. Customers needing instant satisfaction will not wait the day or two for tires to be delivered, so stock is purchased, sits and ages. Along this line, I have seen folks be sold tires of the wrong size because that is what was in stock (ie 215′s instead of 205′s) and the shop didn’t want to lose the sale.

    Solution? If you are not the type of person willing to find the best tires (or other products) for your vehicle and wait for them to be delivered “fresh” and installed properly. If you aren’t interested in undertanding your vehicle and how it can be maintained to keep you safe … well please lease your vehicle and get a new one every 3 years.

    • Powerlurker says:

      @GreatWhiteNorth:

      Part of the reason that “the good old days” are over is that cars nowadays are far more complicated than back in the day and much harder to maintain on one’s own. Additionally, “back in the day” a working knowledge of one’s car was much more important to possess because of the far lower reliability of old cars. Cars today are much more reliable while at the same time being much more complicated so the value of detailed knowledge is far less valuable nowadays.

      • narf says:

        @Powerlurker: Harder to maintain? Please.

        Checking the oil hasn’t changed – open the hood, pull out the dipstick, wipe, reinsert, and check. Tire pressure – unscrew cap, put on a pressure gauge, and check. Tire wear and exterior lights – just open one’s eyes. We’re not talking about engine rebuilding … we’re talking basic operation.

        It’s because people are seriously too lazy these days, and automakers wouldn’t mind that these folks kill their cars (appliances?) in this manner so they’d have to buy a new one. Or rather, “rent” and let the next buyer deal with their irresponsibility.

        If you worked in a dealer service department, you’d know. Lease turn-ins, and it’s never had an oil change in the 3 years and 31k miles.

        • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

          @narf: Oh god. That sounds awful. The longest I’ve ever gone without an oil change was only 4k miles, and that was just because I didn’t have the money at the time, and I took a long trip home just to get to the dealership I bought it at.

  32. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    Thanks Consumerist. This *is* news to me. I’d never heard of this practice & danger before your article.

  33. What does the video say at 3:45 to 3:51, and at 4:10?

    What has Ford Motor Corp suggested be done?

    What does the U.S. tire industry say needs to be done and why?

    Who does the Rubber Manufacturers Association represent?

    What does the RMA say we shouldn’t do in the U.S., even though it is done in England?

    At 6:00 in the video, how old is the tire they are talking about, and where did they purchase it?

    What change happened last year in regards to the way the born-on dates were imprinted on tires?

    What does Sears say it will take to get them to be more careful about selling tires more than 6 years old?

    According to the story about Andy Moore, what conclusion can you draw about the likelyhood of lawsuits to curb individual stores selling old tires?

    Since Americans were made aware of the dangers of old tires being unsafe, what precautions have the tire manufacturing industry and the tire sellers taken to ensure unsafe tires aren’t sold to consumers?

    ~~~~~~~~

    Yeah, maybe this issue has been around for a while. How possible is it that this report is AN UPDATE ABOUT THE ISSUE? answer: 100% possible that this report is AN UPDATE ABOUT THE ISSUE, and not just a retelling of the problem.

  34. The_IT_Crone says:

    A few Xmases ago the in-laws of a friend were killed and all of their kids were hurt when their Firestone tires failed on their Ford SUV (I’m sure that Firestone mess is “old news” to the rest of you and you’ll flame me for posting it, too).

    Bad tires are serious trouble that we often forget, so I appreciate being told ANYTHING about it.

    Thank you consumerist for posting this.

    • PDX909 says:

      @The_IT_Crone:

      One of the reasons that the Firestone tires were failing is because Ford specified a lower inflation pressure on some vehicles to improve ride comfort. That was against the recommended pressure specified by the tire manufacturer. The tire carcass gets pretty hot when the tire is under inflated and at speed can cause de-lamination of the substrate material. I’m sorry to hear of their loss.. that whole thing could have been easily avoided.

      • narf says:

        @PDX909: Lower inflation spec (that Firestone did agree on too), top heavy vehicle, and tires that are just poor – B traction, C temperature (the lowest).

  35. Quill2006 says:

    I didn’t know about this, so I appreciate the story. Not everyone has been reading this site or keeping up with product safety stories for years.

    One problem I noticed with the video is that the tire treads they show by the side of the road look like big truck tires, which from what I’ve heard are supposed to only last so long and then blow?

  36. Trick says:

    OK, so we have two or three people complaining about this story being known by everyone in the world and their dogs.

    I guess we now know the ones around here with no-life and spend their entire day (most likely parents basement) reading each and every article posted to the internet…

    Most people have lives and don’t read everything there is out there. Some are brand new, perhaps joining yesterday or last week.

    Since most people only buy tires once every three to six years, this is a good story to run every so often.

    I am buying tires for two cars over the next month and its nice to have reminder on something I already knew about…

    • atypicalxian says:

      @Trick: Absolutely – same here. I didn’t know anything about this and I would wager most people don’t, unless they’re Jalopnik/gearhead types or they live on the Internet.

  37. craftykate says:

    Phew! After reading this I ran out and checked my car and three of the tires I bought in ’07 from our local Goodyear were from ’07, the third was from late ’06. I’ll be checking my husband’s car when he gets home! Thanks for the “old” news I had apparently missed the first time. =)

  38. Jevia says:

    Interesting that Ford Motor Company is such a proponent of this information. I just bought a “certified used vehicle” from them in August 2008 and now just checking the tires, they are dated from 2004. I suppose at least I have a couple of good years for them and I’m aware of the situation so I can keep tabs on my tires’ condition.

    Thanks for posting this report even if it is “old.” I only learned about the Consumerist about six months ago, so all of this is new to me.

  39. EdnaLegume says:

    EdnaLegume <— didn’t hear this story previously
    EdnaLegume <— didn’t know how to check tire date prior to story
    EdnaLegume <— drives a car that uses tires
    EdnaLegume <— gives Consumerist two thumbs up for posting a story that is not likely to be “old news” as long as there are tires on cars.

  40. If John Stossel, the strongest apologist for corporate America, is willing to present this story, there must be something to it. He blames the consumer for everything.

  41. JayDeEm says:

    I was not previously aware of the date code but will have to go check it out now. The tires on my truck have plenty of tread left, but I put them on 4.5 years ago and they have 60k miles and 3 Phoenix summers on them. Either way they’re probably right at the end of their life, and getting quite noisy at that.

  42. BiZarRroBALlmeR says:

    This tire? don’t worry, someone just urinated all over it. It preserves the rubber.

  43. nataku8_e30 says:

    Eh, I saw this story on 60 minutes when it first ran, and I call BS on it, based solely on personal experience with relatively small vehicles. Maybe this is something that affects SUVs and trucks, which do put more stress on their tires, but I’ve driven a Miata, several motorcycles and my dad’s XKE with tires that I knew for a fact were on the vehicle in question for over 6 years (the XKE and one of the motorcycles had 20+ year old tires). If there isn’t significant cracking and there’s decent tread life, the tire should still be safe if kept properly inflated, rotated and balanced (as well as your suspension being properly aligned).

    • ppiddyp says:

      I’ve had tire shops refuse to mount tires over 6 years of age. Which is fine by me, because even if they don’t have cracks in ‘em, old rubber doesn’t grip as well as new rubber.

      @nataku83: Just because you haven’t had a tire blow out because of unseen damage, doesn’t mean you won’t have it happen at some point. Punctures are one thing, but full-on blowout of a front tire at speed is no fun.

      That said, heh, I think the tires on my old BMW are probably about 8 or 9 years old. ;)

  44. TACP says:

    Most places I’ve bought tires, including Walmart, didn’t always have four of the same size tire in stock. Once or twice, I’ve had to wait until the next shipment arrives. Unless it’s some really obscure size, I doubt they’ve been sitting in the store for six years.

  45. I did the whole crawl under the car today.

    Tires were 7, 7, 7 and 7 weeks old (per the date and my bill of sale) for my primary vehicle.

    The wife’s car were 51, 51, 51 and 59 weeks old (per the date and the bill of sale).

    Daughter’s car. Good luck really computing it because the tires were bought in sets of two and have been rotated an unknown time. And there was a blow out tire (hit a curb) that was pretty new. Best guess was 3 weeks, 11 weeks, 12 weeks and 2 years(?).

    All tires from the same high volume independant dealer.

  46. MrEvil says:

    I usually don’t worry about my tires’ age. I buy from a high volume tire place and I’ll run them bald inside of a year and a half.

  47. That douchebag behind the “Smiling Bob” dickpills has gotten more hate here than the U.S. tire industry, and his products haven’t even killed anyone, he only costs folks some money, he doesn’t sell old tires to people’s grandmas. ( kids don’t drive = “please won’t someone think of the grandma’s”)

    It’s kinda fucked up that so many commenters dismiss this story without really watching the video or even considering the issue beyond the car in their own driveway.

    The issue is not the danger of driving on old tires; the risk is not in tires that have been in regular use for 6+ years. The risk is in tires that have been sitting on a store shelf for 6 or more years already, gathering dust and drying out while showing absolutely no signs of damage or risk. The issue is lack of restrictions regarding the sale of tires aged more than 6 years.

    No one is threatening to come take your tires on their 6th birthday. You can still have cake and armor-all at the party. The only issue is whether or not there should be a “sell-by” date on tires.

    The question is: Since all the research and evidence and statements from everyone ever-ever-ever including car manufacturers says that tires should have a “sell by” date, why isn’t there a sell by date?

    Why has the the U.S. tire industry consistently “fought efforts to require an expiration date” on tires? I’m not the shiniest apple in the basket, but even I know that a “sell-by” date could only benefit U.S. tire manufacturers. I mean where is the downside? Everyone wants to give them government sactioned planned obsolescence, but for some reason they don’t want it. Amazing! Comments about the mind-boggling stupidity of tire manufacturers in opposing sell-by dates would be a lot more interesting than all the “I already know how to check my tires” and “I heard something like this once before” ones.

    Oh well, maybe next time.

    • Orv says:

      @alphafemale: My guess is they don’t want to have to take back and destroy all the expired tires.

      I also wonder how this applies to retreads, like heavy trucks use. Should the use of retreads where the tire carcass is over six years old be banned?

      • econobiker says:

        @Orv: Heavy duty truck tires are an entirely different creature than light vehicle tires. The retread industry has various inspection items for determining reuse of carcasses. In fact when I was in the heavy duty tractor trailer truck industry (up to late 2006) I read info that the majority of the tire alligators seen on the road are from new tires. The retreaders are very conscious of the perception that most people have that “retreads” are on the side of the road. Lack of decent inflation is the usually cause of hd truck tire failures…

  48. enine says:

    I had to order my tires (BFG AT KO) as they don’t stock them normally so I know they came fresh from the factory.

  49. airren says:

    I dunno. I have a car that I only drive during the summer months and under 500 miles a year. The tires are from 1995 and look fine (car is garaged most of the time).

    I guess if they blow up, I’ll be back to say that you “Definitely must replace your tires @ six years!” But I’m not going to replace them unless I can see some sort of this degradation.

  50. mebaman says:

    I had heard about this and checked the date on the OEM tires of my car, which I purchased new last year. Oddly enough, the little oval appearing after the first set of numbers is BLANK. There are no numbers indicating a week or year(and yes, I double checked the other, longer series of numbers just to make sure I wasn’t crazy).

    I’m a bit concerned.

  51. Hyman Decent says:

    What about the compact spare? I have a 1990 Olds and have never replaced the spare. I replaced the full-size tires last year and asked one online retailer if they offered compact spare tires and they said no.

    • econobiker says:

      @Hyman Decent:
      Don’t bother with the compact spare. Throw away the compact spare and get a full size wheel and used tire. You should have no problem with a ’90 Olds with wheels, etc being in a junkyard.

      I have always tried to ditch the compact spare upon the first replacement set of tires on a car. I keep the best old tire and hunt for a full sized spare wheel- bonus points if I can get a matched alloy wheel (if the car is equipped with them) but I am satisfied with a same sized steel wheel. I usually use my own old tire since I know its mileage / history but have purchased a decent used tire in the past.

      Another tactic for vehicles with full sized spares on cheap wheels is to use the full size spare with the first new set of tires. This is so that you only have to purchase 3 new tires at that time and not let the virgin unused tire degrade (usually underneath the vehicle bed, etc).

      And spend the money for better tires plus rotations, checking air. I have a set of Michelins on my truck that are about 9 years old and have over 100,000 (mostly highway) miles on them.

      And like nataku83 said, just because the tires are over 10 years old doesn’t mean that you cannot drive/ride on them. Just be aware that the tires will not perform like brand new tires.

      • Hyman Decent says:

        @econobiker: Thanks for the advice. I don’t think a full-size wheel and tire will fit in the well for the spare in my car, though. If you can look it up and feel like doing so, my Olds is a Toronado Trofeo. But replacing the spare in my car isn’t a big concern of mine since I drive only about 300 miles a year (I live in New York City, near a subway station) and I almost always stay close to home.

    • LightLeigh says:

      @Hyman Decent: “What about the compact spare?”

      The compact spare is designed to be used only for emergencies, and only to get you off the side of the road and to a place to repair/replace your flat tire. I don’t think the “aging rubber” problem would be a big issue for the very short-term and low-speed use of your donut tire.

  52. Dervish says:

    I’ll have to check mine tonight. I just had a new set installed. I ordered them from tirerack.com, which I highly recommend – lots of great info and reviews, plus good prices, and they ship either to your home or an installer of your choice. Installers are rated by customers and their mounting/balancing rate is clearly posted so it’s easy to shop around.

    I know this sounds like a total shill, but I was just really pleased with the whole process.