Team 10 investigation: Buying new tires? They might be old - and possibly deadly

Experts: Consumers don't know if tires are too old

SAN DIEGO - Tires that appear to be new are being sold in San Diego, and across the country, despite safety advocates and government regulators warning that many of the tires are years-old and pose serious safety risks.

There are no state or federal legal requirements to inform consumers of the actual age of tires they are purchasing, although there is a free app that tries to help consumers.

Documents reviewed by Team 10 show both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and a leading auto safety group agree that tires can degrade over an extended period of time — despite tread that appears to be like new.

In San Diego, Team 10 found a tire shop that said it would sell us two tires that were brand new for $60.

A Team 10 photographer asked the clerk how he could tell if the tire was brand new, and the clerk said, "look at the tread," and you can see it looks brand new. According to the DOT code on one of the tires, it was actually 13 years old.

The store owner later blamed a miscommunication. He said the worker who helped Team 10 does the accounting for the shop, and was just helping on the floor for that day.
               
"We don't sell faulty items," said the tire shop's owner.

Team 10 also found a second shop that had a tire for sale older than six years.
 

The Danger

Experts say the tread can separate and possibly cause drivers to be involved in serious crashes that could result in death. That’s what one Southern California family said happened to them.

Francisco and Maris Meraz said their 19-year-old son Luis bought a tire he thought was brand new. They say that tire caused his car to flip, which killed him.
 
"If my son was alive, I know he'd be a great dad," said Maria Meraz.
 
Meraz's girlfriend was seven months pregnant at the time of the crash.
 
"In my heart I blame the shop that sold the tires knowing what they were selling but they wanted to get rid of them," said Maria Meraz.
 
His family said the tires the El Centro teen bought had actually had been sitting on the shelf for 12 years.

The Department of Transportation standards state a tire is not supposed to be used after six years, even if a tire has never been put in service.

Attorney Gary Eto represents the Meraz family. He agreed with the NHTSA and a safety auto group that even if the tread looks new, age causes the inside components of the tire to fall apart.

Safety Research & Strategies, Inc., an auto safety advocacy group, said it has documented catastrophic failures involving aged tires including 252 incidents, 233 fatalities and 300 injuries across the country over the last 20 years.

"The unsuspecting consumer experiences a tread separation, the car goes out of control and sometimes it flips over," said Eto.

The Rubber Manufacturer's Association strongly disagrees that components in tires break down over years causing safety risks.

Another issue reported by consumer advocates is stores selling recalled tires. Team 10 did not find any examples of that in the dozen stores producers and photographer checked, however.

Tire guidelines

Other resources for consumers

How Can You Tell If A Tire Is New or Old?
 
Check the code number

The Department of Transportation has a code number on the sidewall of every tire -- the last four digits reveal the week and year the tire was actually manufactured.

For example, a tire with the last four digits 1913 indicate it was made in the 19th week of 2013.

Mobile Users: Video explaining what to look for

The Tire Facts app by the Tire Safety Group offers one way for consumers to check the age of their tires, and to see if they are under a recall.

Consumers enter the DOT code on the tire and the app sorts through data to find the age. It also explains to consumers where to find the DOT code in the app’s 'How to Find' section.

Mobile Users: Video explaining how to use the app

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