DENVER — The next time you go shopping for tires, make sure you look at more than just the tread.
Some tires that look perfectly fine are actually ticking time bombs, ready to come apart while you’re driving down the highway.
It happened to Diana Hubner’s family.
On Father’s Day 2012, Hubner’s husband Clayton and their daughter were driving down Interstate 70 near Limon when without warning, the tread on two of the tires ripped apart. The truck rolled three times.
“The doctor called and he could tell it was a cellphone and he said are you driving? I said no. Then he said, are you sitting down? I said yes. And then he said there was a terrible accident and my husband had been killed but my daughter had survived,” Hubner said.
It turns out, while the tires on the truck seemed OK, they were actually 14 years old.
“They looked fabulous; a lot of depth still on them,” Hubner said.
A tire shop failed to tell Hubner the tires were 14 years old when she went to have them inspected just days before.
“All I knew was to look at the tire to say, ‘Oh, yeah, it looks worn, or it doesn’t look worn,’” she said. “I didn’t know about the dates.”
Chrysler, Ford and General Motors are among the growing list of automakers recommending tires be tossed after six years.
The National Transportation Safety Board estimates more than 400 deaths are caused each year by tire failure, and in 2007, 84 percent of all tire claims nationwide involved tires more than 6 years old.
“That’s when they say the rubber compound’s going to break down from the sun,” said Tim Sullivan, manager of Big O Tires on Federal Boulevard in Denver.
But the Rubber Manufacturers Association, which represents the nation’s largest tire companies, has helped defeat numerous proposals in several states to make the sale of aging tires illegal.
“Since service and storage conditions vary widely, accurately predicting the actual serviceable life of any specific tire based on simple calendar age is not possible,’ the RMA says on its website. “RMA is not aware of reliable and accurate scientific or technical data that establishes a specific minimum or maximum service life for passenger and light truck tires.”
The key for the consumer is to check your tires’ manufacture date.
However, it can be difficult finding it. Not only is the date often hidden on the inside of the tire, it’s also a series of numbers you have to decode to understand.
To find the manufacture date, look for the letters “DOT,” followed by a string of numbers. The last four are the ones that are important.
These are the week and year the tire was manufactured.
Most tire shops can also help find the DOT number, but some aren’t much help. One tire shop after another was knowingly selling tires much older than 6 years old. One tire shop even sold one from 2005 that it assured was perfectly safe.
Sullivan wasn’t surprised.
“We often have customers come in who will have a blown out tire and say I just bought it. It turns out the tire was 13 years old,” he said. “We’ve thrown away tires that had brand new tread depths on them that were 10 years old.”
Sullivan says to buy tires from a store you’ve heard of, and always ask to see the tires and the date before they’re installed.
It’s advice Hubner never received but wishes she would have.
“My message is we need to ask about the DOT’s,” she said. “People are saying cars will soon be able to drive themselves. Well, the tire industry is still in the dinosaur age.”
Hubner filed a wrongful death complaint against the tire dealer who inspected her family’s truck.