How Safe Are Your Tires?

David Webb was a father, husband and Border Patrol agent who lost his life when a tire on his patrol car suddenly came apart, causing his sport utility vehicle to roll over.

"He's a trained law enforcement driver. You'd think he'd be among the best of the best and even he couldn't control the situation," said John Gomez, an attorney for the Webb family.

The tire's manufacturer, Continental Tire North America, is named as one of the defendants in a wrongful death lawsuit filed this week by lawyers for Webb's family.

"This tire had more than half of its tread life left, but basically it was eroding from the inside," said Gomez.

The tire on Webb's Border Patrol SUV was nine years old. The lawsuit claimed the tire's age could have contributed to its failure.

"In tires, the materials that hold the belts together -- the rubber materials -- will degrade and lose its elasticity, and those properties will get to the point where the tire can no longer hold together," said vehicle safety advocate Sean Kane.

Kane and his company, Safety Research and Strategies, have examined the dangers of aging tires for years.

"The automobile industry has agreed that six years is a good point in time when you should take tires out of service because the risk factor for those tires failing increases significantly," said Kane.

Various automakers now advise car owners to replace tires when they are six years old, even if they've never been used.

"The problem with tire labeling right now is that consumers don't have any clear indication of when the tire was made and it's not easy to find," said Kane.

The tire industry has been fighting efforts to make "born-on" dates easy to read on tires.

"Our association does not recommend a removal date for tires based on age because there's no scientific information to back it up," said Dan Zielinski of the Rubber Manufacturers Association.

However, even some tire makers suggested tires be professionally inspected when they are five years old and replaced at ten years old, at the latest.

That is what the 10News I-Team found for sale in San Diego -- older tires well past the widely recommended six-year age limit.

As ABC's "20/20" showed viewers, don't assume that the new tire you're buying was recently made.

"You can go to any tire shop today and find 2- and 3-year-old tires right off the shelf," said Kane.

When you're shopping for a new tire, you could always ask the seller to point out the date it was made.

"Say, 'Hey, you know, when was this thing built?' If they're selling you a new tire, which is actually, you know, four years old, then that's probably not a good thing," said Gomez.

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