How Old Are My Tires?

Dear Tracy,

I was recently given a 2004 Ford Focus by my great aunt. She feels that she is too old to be driving and knew that I was in need of transportation. While I greatly appreciate the car, I am a bit concerned because she did not keep any maintenance records and is not sure how old the tires are. She did not drive a lot, so they look pretty good, but how can I know for sure?

Peter S.

Dear Peter,

While tire tread depth is a pretty reliable standard for determining the condition of a tire, tire rubber compounds do deteriorate over time, regardless of wear and mileage. As a tire ages, cracks in the rubber develop, which can be on the inside as well as the outside of the tire. Eventually, this cracking can cause the steel belts in the tread to separate from the rest of the tire. To see how this happens, you can view this animated demonstration, provided by Safety Research and Strategies, Inc.

There are many differing opinions regarding the lifespan of a tire. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not have specific guidelines on tire aging, but instead advise following the recommendations of carmakers and tire manufacturers. According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association, it is difficult to put an expiration date on a tire because such factors as heat, storage, and driving conditions can greatly impact the life of a tire.

So how can you determine if you need new tires? A good place to begin is to determine the age of the tires. Tires made after 2000 have a DOT code, as prescribed by the U.S. Department of Transportation. This code provides information about the tire, including its age. An easy way to decipher this code is by downloading a free app offered by the Tire Safety Group. Available for Android and iPhone users, the app allows you to get to get a free Tire Facts Report.  It offers an easy way to find out if a tire is old, defective, or has been recalled – all you need to do is enter the DOT code from your tire. If you are not sure how to find the code, the app shows you where it is on the tire and even includes a flashlight function so you can see what you are doing!

Once you know how old the tires are, you may want to take your car in for an inspection by a trustworthy auto service provider. Not only can they help you determine if you need new tires, they can let you know if you need any other services as well.

Handling Hydroplaning

Dear Tracy,

All the rain we have been getting in my area has me very worried about hydroplaning and getting into an accident. Can you explain what exactly happens when a car hydroplanes and how best to handle the situation?

Bret B.

Dear Bret,

Hydroplaning is much like skidding or sliding, but actually has the potential to be much more dangerous because it is nearly impossible to control. It happens when water pressure causes your car to rise up and slide on a thin layer of water, during which time your tires lose contact with the road.

Anyone who has experienced hydroplaning can tell you, it is an extremely frightening situation. If hydroplaning does ever occur while you are driving, fight the urge to brake or turn suddenly. Ease your foot off the gas until the car slows and you can feel the contact with the road. If you do have to brake, do it with a light pumping action. Most vehicles now have anti-lock braking systems that will safely and effectively pump automatically as you brake.

The good news is that hydroplaning is highly preventable. A number of avoidable factors contribute to the likelihood of hydroplaning including:
• worn tire tread
• improper inflation
• driving at high speeds

The tread on your tires has been designed to prevent hydroplaning by channeling and dispersing water and slush away from the face of the tire. Worn tread is unable to do this because the channels lack the required depth. Under-inflated tires also lack the ability to disperse water properly. Traveling at high speed is a problem, too, because the tire does not have enough time to push the water out of the way, as it is meant to do. Keeping your tires in good condition and driving smart in inclement weather will go a long way in preventing hydroplaning. Remember to slow down when driving through rain, snow, or slush, particularly when turning or on curves. Always try to avoid driving through puddles or standing water.

Tire Buyer Tips

Dear Tracy,

Do you have any tips for a first time tire buyer? Specifically I am wondering if it is a good idea to buy tires online to get the best price. I would also like to know what things are important to look for and how to know the best choice for my vehicle.

Nick F

Dear Nick,

While you might hear about some “deals” when buying tires online, I strongly suggest finding reputable, trust-worthy tire retailer in your area who will be there to not only assist you in the tire buying process, but also provide after sale service and support. As someone new to the tire buying process,  it will be especially helpful to have the guidance of a knowledgeable tire dealer who can recommend the type of tire that will best fit your vehicle, driving style and desired price point. You can really trust a dealer who asks you questions about the type of driving you do and guides you in understanding factors such as tread wear, ride and handling, and driving conditions.

Even if you see the lowest prices online, consider the fact that buying from a local source will give you the confidence that you are getting the right tires, and have a trusted place to go if and when you need support. The best way to find a dealer you can trust is to ask friends, co-workers, and neighbors. Someone  might have a great recommendation in your own neighborhood.

Before you start shopping, it is a good idea to have a basic understanding of tires. Here are some points to consider:

  1. Manufacturer Recommendations Make sure your tire selection is in keeping with your vehicle’s specific manufacturer recommendations for the best safety and performance.
  2. Regional Climate Consider the kinds of weather you get in your area. Do you have much rain or snow fall? Choose the safest selection to handle the road conditions you will encounter.
  3. Ride Quality Many models will look great on your car, but not all tires will provide a smooth and comfortable ride or solid handling.
  4. UTQG Rating The U.S. Department of Transportation requires each manufacturer to grade its tires under the UTQG (Uniform Tire Quality Grading) labeling system and establish ratings for tread wear, traction and temperature resistance.
  5. Tread Design Tread design varies between tire brands and models. Some are actually noisier than others. If you do a lot of highway driving, you should consider consider this. Your tire dealer can help you decide on the best tread design for you.
  6. Buy a Full Set Be sure to replace all of your tires at once for optimal performance and even tread wear.
  7. Protect your Investment Once your tires installed, be sure to have related checks such as alignment and balance. It is possible for a vehicle maintenance problem that caused your old set of tires to wear out too rapidly will also ruin your new tires.

Old Tires Avoid End of the Road

Fortunately a lot fewer old tires are ending up in landfills these days. Concerns about the environment as well as innovation and creativity have inspired some great ideas for how tires can be re-used. Today, Tire Business published an article about how instead of meeting the end of the road, old tires are becoming the road, as part of the asphalt mix of the future.

The Technological Institute of Plastics in Valencia, Spain has reported the development of a “more durable and sustainable asphalt mix” made from plastic waste and end-of-use tires. After 18 months of studies, the 1.35-mile section of test road is performing very well. The combination of plastics, including polypropylene caps, polyethylene packages, polystyrene hangers and old tire material provides increased strength and rigidity.

Some of the other ways that old tires are being repurposed include:

  • Retreads: End-of-use tires can be recycled into new tires. Called “retreads”, these tires are often used on trucks and on airplanes.  Before tires can be retreaded they must be thoroughly inspected for damage, wear, and manufacturing defects. Many tires are not suitable for retreading and must be scrapped.
  • Energy from Tires: Nearly half of all old scrap tires are used for energy. Burned as fuel in factories and power plants, as well as cement kilns and paper mills, these examples of operations use either whole or shredded scrap tires for energy. This reuse keeps millions of tires from landfills and also helps reduce the need for fossil fuels. While burning tires releases gases and noxious substances, from an environmental position, the output is cleaner than that of many other fuel sources.
  • Construction: Just as scrap tires are being used in road asphalt, they are also being used in other construction projects. Use is becoming more widespread, with scrap tire rubber being an inexpensive, lightweight product used to fill underneath roads where bogs, clay or other weak soils that cause construction complications. Tire rubber is also beneficial in sound walls, bridge foundations and other home and community building projects such as patio decks, running tracks and the pliable black surface that is used in school playgrounds.