« Red Yardstick Chair | Home | BehindTheMedspeak: Mermaid syndrome baby surgery successful »

June 2, 2005

Should tires have an expiration date?


Sure, we know that when they wear down it's time to replace them.

But what about people who don't drive much, and consequently have low–mileage but long–ago–purchase–date tires?

Are they living — and driving — on borrowed time?

Dare I say it... hanging by a tread?

My interest in this subject was piqued by this past Tuesday's Wall Street Journal article by Timothy Aeppel on this very subject.

So I instructed my crack research team to look a bit more deeply into the subject and see what turned up.

Turns out that on May 1 of this year Tim Nelson of ABC News in Raleigh–Durham, North Carolina did a story on this same topic.

Ford has begun urging consumers to replace tires six years after their date of manufacture, regardless of wear.

Toyota has long warned drivers that tires are perishable.

Daimler–Chrysler's Mercedes division had been telling drivers that tires last only six years; last fall the Chrysler group began including such a warning in its 2005 owner's manuals.

General Motors so far has not taken a position.

The information needed to determine the age of your tires is present on the tires — but it's very difficult to determine. (Scroll down to the final paragraph of this Federal Register link).

First, you find the line of print beginning DOT; read to the end of that sequence of data and you'll come to a final three or four digits.

They tell you the week and year a tire was produced.

If there are four digits then the tire was made in 2000 or after.

4805 means the 48th week of 2005; 0401 means the 4th week of 2001.

If there are ony three digits then the tire was made in the 1990s.

347 means the tire was made in the 34th week of 1997.

And so on and so forth.

The Wall Street Journal story noted, "Not only are the numbers difficult to interpret, but they can be hard to locate: the numbers are printed on only one side of the tire, which sometimes is the one facing inward when the tire is mounted on the wheel."

I went out and checked my car and learned that all four tires were made in 2000.

Then I checked the spare: it read 143.

That means it was made in the 14th week of 1993.

That's 12 years ago — 6 years past its expiration date.

Next year when I replace the four on the car I'm going to buy a fifth and replace the spare as well.

And if I should happen to need the spare before then, well, I'm gonna get it replaced ASAP.

A mechanic I used to go to in LA, when I drove terrible cars, giant old American–made aircraft carriers, once told me that only two things will kill you outright if they go wrong while you're driving: brakes and tires.

So it seems to me that updating my rubber is well worth the expense.

Here's the ABC News story.

    Dangers of Old Tires

    Angelo Womack walks along I-40 and his thoughts are never far from what happened 10 years ago along the same stretch of highway.

    "They veered off to the left and went down an embankment and the truck went into a flip and it flipped twice, and each time it flipped it landed on my father's side."

    Womack says his father, Roger, died after a tire on his truck blew out.

    Angelo's been extra careful ever since.

    "You could get a blow-out at anytime."

    Tires can blow out for many reasons, not just simple wear and tear; some believe age is the key.

    Sean Kane [president of Safety Research & Strategies] says he's tracked 65 cases nationwide where tires with good tread have failed catastrophically, causing crashes.

    He says tires can age and treads can separate even when they're not used.

    He says that any tire at least six years old can be dangerous.

    His solution is to put expiration dates on all tires, just like a bottle of beer or gallon of milk – to keep drivers safe.

    Right now you can find out how old your tires are but it's not easy.

    Each tire comes with a Department of Transportation code, but it's kind of an alphabet soup.

    First, find the series of letters and numbers following the letters D-O-T.

    The last three or four digits are the important ones.

    They tell you the week and year a tire was produced.

    It will read the number of the week and the year.

    An example would be the 485, or the 48th week of 1995.

    Tires made before the year 2000 only have three last digits – if it said 4805, for example, it would be the 48th week of 2005.

    We wanted to know just how common aging tires are on the road, so we went to some parking lots across the Triangle.

    We were surprised to find at least a half dozen tires were probably too old to drive on.

    The owner of one BMW may want to consider getting new tires — they were made the 48th week of 1998, about 7 years ago.

    The oldest tires we found, made the 38th week of 1993, are almost 12 years old [picture at top: it reads 383].

    Not everyone is sold on the idea that age alone causes danger, and some think an expiration date would be more of a hindrance than a help.

    The Rubber Manufacturers Association tells us there's no scientific data that says tires will no longer perform beyond a certain date.

    We also took the idea of an expiration date to the head of the Governor's Highway Safety Program.

    He says he's not against the idea but sees several potential problems with trying to tell consumers exactly when their tires are too old.

    "If you dated two tires the same date and one's being used and one hadn't been sold yet, then obviously the tire being used is gonna have more wear and tear and deterioration than the one that's still on the shelf, so how do you, when do you end it?"

    Those may be legitimate questions, but they're not the ones that concern Angelo Womack.

    He wants to know why expiration dates aren't on tires now.

    "It would be helpful because it would give people a general idea of the time I have left on these tires."

    And that he believes could be the difference between life and death.

June 2, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Should tires have an expiration date?:


if the circle where the code should be is blank, look on the other side of the tire.
They only have to put the date stamp on one side.

Posted by: joel | Aug 17, 2008 10:41:10 PM

I bought my grandfathers truck. He purchased it new in 1981. the spare tire's last three digits are 012. does this mean the tire was made in 1982 0r 1992

Posted by: Ben Knecht | May 18, 2008 6:33:47 PM


Posted by: VINCENT | May 10, 2008 12:06:16 AM

The round circle that is suppose to have the code for the date the tire was made...the circle is blank, how can I find out how old my tire is?

Posted by: Tina Chandler | May 9, 2008 10:21:54 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.