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.