Dangerous Tires – How Old Is Too Old?

October 20, 2014 / Vehicle Accidents

The automotive industry, including tire manufacturers, have known for years that tires more than six (6) years old, regardless of tread depth or outward appearance, pose a substantial safety hazard to consumers. Tires, like other rubber products, have a limited service life, regardless of whether the tire appears to be worn out or appears to be brand new. Over time, a tire’s internal structure degrades, reducing the ability of a tire’s belts to stick together which, in turn, can result in tread belt separation which can then cause a disastrous crash. This internal degradation occurs regardless of the tread use or wear of the tire. It is invisible and cannot be identified even by tire experts without destructive testing.

A simple example of how rubber degrades over time is the experience we have all had of finding something placed in a drawer or in the attic that had a rubber band wrapped around it. After only a few years in storage, the rubber band has deteriorated to the point that it has lost all elasticity and eventually crumbles into pieces.

You can easily see how dangerous it is when a tire on a car or truck goes through a similar aging process. As they age, tire components dry out, causing the adhesion between the components of the tire to break down. The process of oxidation increases the speed of the deterioration. Deterioration occurs as air permeates the inner lining and goes through the rubber. The tire becomes subject to tread separation and blowouts, subjecting those in the vehicle or in nearby cars to the risk of serious injury or death in a highway collision.

Recently, Stephenson Rife filed a civil action in Indiana’s Dearborn County Superior Court on behalf of the victims of just such an accident. On September 19, 2012, 36-year-old Frank Cox was driving his Ford F250 on I-74 near St. Leon in Dearborn County when the driver’s side front tire’s tread separated. His truck veered out of control and into oncoming traffic. It ran head-on into a vehicle driven by Brian Hare, age 43, who died in the accident. Cox was injured and his passenger, Jeffrey Burton, age 45, was also killed.

Mackeba Harris, also 43, was a passenger in Mr. Hare’s car. She received severe internal injuries in the collision, including a lacerated spleen, liver and kidney; trauma to left and right lungs; fractures of the ribs, arm, neck and spine; and detachment of the rib cage from the chest wall. Not surprisingly, Ms. Harris’s medical expenses have exceeded $250,000. Mr. Hare’s car was pushed into a vehicle driven by Chris Grahm, age 26. Mr. Grahm was also injured in the wreck.

Two fatalities, three injuries – one critical – because the truck’s owner had bought a used tire at C&C Tires of Harrison, Inc. The tire was 8 years old and had been on the truck for only a few weeks before it failed.

According to the Rubber Manufacturers’ Association, an estimated 30 million tires are re-sold in the U.S. each year. Many consumers buy tires that look brand new but are, in fact, very old. They find them at tire stores, swap meets, flea markets, and on-line forums, unaware that they have already begun to degrade and could be dangerous. Even though tire and vehicle manufacturers have been aware of the age degradation problem for years, they continue to keep warnings hidden and refuse to take steps to adequately inform consumers and the general public concerning the problem with old tires.

Tire manufacturers and U.S. automakers ignore the problem, although German vehicle manufacturers, including Audi, Volkswagen, BMW, and Mercedes, as well as Toyota, began adding warnings about tire age in their owner’s manuals for their vehicles beginning in the early 1990s. The language varied slightly, but the message was very consistent: Tires more than six (6) years old present an increased risk and should not be used.

One of the most important disclosures about the danger of aged tires came from United Kingdom-based Tyre Industry Council (TIC), which issued an unprecedented warning to consumers about the dangers of old tires in September 2003. The TIC is a non-profit organization funded by U.K. tire manufacturers and retailers whose principal objective is to improve public awareness and tire safety. Eventually, after research and investigation, the TIC recommended that tires six (6) years old or older that have not been used SHOULD NOT be placed into service. In 2001, the British Rubber Manufacturer’s Association said it “strongly recommends” that previously unused tires not be used if they are more than six (6) years old, and that all tires should be replaced ten (10) years from the date of their manufacture.

In 2002, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed a tire aging test that tire manufacturers would be required to perform on their products. Unfortunately, overwhelming tire industry opposition and the lack of an industry consensus on aging standards led NHTSA to shelve the proposed rulemaking until it completed further research. Ford Motor Co. also began paying for studies on tire aging after the recall of Firestone tires on Ford Explorers in the year 2000. The research eventually resulted in Ford’s adoption of a warning that tires more than six (6) years of age should not be used.

In late 2003, the U.S. Rubber Manufacturer’s Association Tire Engineering Policy Committee drafted a recommendation for maximum service life for light truck and passenger car tires, recommending that any tire in service older than ten (10) years from the date of manufacture should be replaced with new tires.

Nevertheless, despite all of the information concerning the hazards involved in using tires that are too old, it is still very common practice for used tires to be sold at many tire locations – as the above-described Dearborn accident tragically illustrates.

Don’t place the lives of your loved ones and the safety of innocent people at risk by driving on old tires or ever buying a used tire, unless you know the date the tire was manufactured and you have had a qualified expert examine the used tire before it is placed on the vehicle.

For compassionate, conscientious advocacy after a motor vehicle accident caused by an aged tire or a negligent or reckless driver, call the Indianapolis car accident lawyers of Stephenson Rife at 1-317-825-5200.

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