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Tire Safety: Age and Dangerous Defects

How much thought do you give to the tires on your vehicle? If you're like most, you probably don't give them a lot of thought unless you have a flat. But a recent special investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) suggests that all of us should be paying more attention to the four wheels that carry us everywhere on a daily basis.

Tire safety has been a topic in the media for many years, with various news outlets focusing on different parts of the tire industry. One theme has surfaced over and over: there are millions of dangerous tires still on the road.

When a recall is issued for a certain tire brand or production batch, only a small percentage of the affected tires are ever replaced. In fact, the NTSB estimates that56% of defective, dangerous tires are still on the road.

A Twofold Problem

The NTSB launched its special investigation into tire issues following a string ofdeadly accidents caused by defective tires that had been recalled. Information gleaned from that investigation served to highlight the many ways the tire safety system is ineffective at best. At issue are the way tires are accounted for after sale, and the length of time some tires are warehoused before being put into service.

Tire manufacturers that sell directly to the consumer through dealers or distributors require newly purchased tires be registered, recording the TIN in relation to contact information for the purchaser. If these tires ever fall under a recall, the manufacturer can then notify the consumer. However, the majority of American consumers purchase their tires through independent dealers and distributors, who are not held to these same requirements. If there is a tire recall, these consumers are not notified and, unaware, continue to drive on tires that should be replaced. What's more, most consumers don't know that tires should be registered with the manufacturer in order to be notified for recalls.

A concurrent issue is that tires sold as new may, in fact, be several years old. Tire stock can exist in warehouses and distribution centers for many years before they make it to the sales floor and onto your vehicle. Even though they have never made contact with the road, the rubber in a tire that's several years old may have degraded to the point of eventual - and catastrophic - failure.

Do Tires Have Expiration Dates?

Unlike a carton of milk or a tube of sunscreen, tires aren't given an expiration date.

Rubber manufacturers suggest that tire life should be limited to six years, regardless whether a tire is put into service or not - but caution that many variables can cause a tire to become unsafe before the six-year limit is up.

The imperfect system for tire registration that currently exists allows tires past the six-year limit to be put into service, and fails to notify a vast number of consumers when a tire recall is issued. Clearly, this is a system that needs to be overhauled to benefit the safety of the consumer. Following its special investigation, the NTSB has issued recommendations that include development of a coding system that renders tires easily scannable at the point of purchase, as well as building a national database of TINs and their respective purchasers to make notification of recalls easier.

About Tire Identification Numbers (TINs)

Every tire manufactured has a Tire Identification Number (TIN) imprinted on the sidewall. This number begins with the letters DOT and will contain coded letters and numbers including manufacturing location, tire size, manufacturer specifications, and the week and year the tire was manufactured. The digits denoting the week and year the tire was manufactured can cause some confusion, because these numbers indicate a specific week and year; for example, a number of 4107 means the 41stweek of 2007, and not April 1, 2007 as many might assume. It's also important to note that TINs are erroneously described as "serial numbers" - a serial number is unique to one item, where the TIN indicates a batch number. If a recall is issued for a specific TIN, it affects all the tires in that production batch.

It may be difficult to locate the TIN on your vehicle's tires, mainly due to the fact that it is generally only located on one side of the tire, and that side may be turned inward on your vehicle. If you have trouble locating the TIN, ask for this information the next time you have your oil changed; the technician should be able to check for these numbers while your car is on the lift. If your tires are six years old or older, you will want to consider replacing them, for your safety and that of your family.

Have Your Tires Been Recalled?

Of the 19,000 people injured in tire-related crashes in 2013, more than 500 were killed. Proper tire care and maintenance is important, and that includes learning whether or not your tires have been recalled.

If you know the brand name and tire line/size of the tires on your vehicle, you can check to see if they are subject to a recall. Remember, a recall affects all tires in a production batch, regardless of how new they are. To check for a tire recall:

  1. Go to the NHTSA's recalls site atwww.recalls.gov
  2. Select "Tire Recalls"
  3. Go to the section labeled "Tires"
  4. Enter the requested information (brand name and tire line/tire size)

You can also join the NHTSA's Recall Notification System, which will place your email address on a notification list for a variety of automotive recalls, from tires to child restraints to vehicles. You will receive an email when recalls are issued, and if they affect your vehicle, you will be able to take the next steps necessary to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

Because the current system is deeply flawed and it will take considerable time and effort to create a system that benefits the consumer when it comes to dangerous and defective tires, your best response as a consumer is to be proactive when it comes to vehicle tires. Know the age of the tires on your vehicle. Find out if your tires are subject to recall. And if you've been injured in an accident caused by defective tires,contact an attorney with experience in personal injury and defective products cases. You have specific legal rights and those rights should be protected.

Above all, if you find that your vehicle has defective tires or that your tires are more than six years old, replace them. Yes, the cost of four new tires is the reason many of us drive on ours longer than we really should - but isn't your safety and that of your friends and loved ones worth the cost?

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