21 March 2014

Losses and Lessons: When it comes to tires, age is as important as mileage

VEHICLE COVERED: 1969 Chevrolet Corvette

WHAT WENT WRONG: On the surface, it makes sense that rarely used tires should last indefinitely as long as they’re properly cared for. But looks – and low miles – can be deceiving. The owner of a 1969 Corvette drove his car only occasionally on weekends, and he regularly cleaned and conditioned the tires. In the eight years that he’d owned the car he never felt the need to purchase new tires since they still looked great. An easy – and costly – mistake. One day while cruising down the highway, the rear driver’s side tire blew out.

DAMAGE/LOSS: Fortunately, the Corvette owner was able to keep the car under control and pull safely to the side of the road, but it suffered considerable damage. The blown tire shredded the left rear wheel well and quarter panel of the fiberglass-bodied ’Vette. Cost of repairs was $5,215, which Hagerty paid.

LESSON: There are no hard and fast “expiration dates” on tires, but because rubber begins to crack and deteriorate over time, most experts suggest that eight years is the maximum safe life expectancy of a tire. If you don’t drive your classic at all and it just sits on display, you can get away with keeping the original tires as they’ll hold air. But if you drive the car at all, you need to know how old the tires are. The U.S Department of Transportation (DOT) requires that all tires manufactured since 2000 have serial numbers, and those numbers easily identify their age. Using the last four digits, the first two numbers will reveal the week and last two the year. For example, a serial number ending in 4905 tells you the tires were made during the 49th week of 2005. If there are no recognizable serial numbers, you already have your answer – the tires were made prior to 2000 and need to be replaced.

46 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Art Denzau Tulsa, OK March 26, 2014 at 15:46
    Interesting article on tire age. Thank you. I have a 1962 Corvette which only gets driven occasionally. And those tires are probably almost 9 years old. I need to check them. Thanks again.
  • 2
    Tom M. Connecticut March 26, 2014 at 16:45
    So - how old were the tires on that 1969 Corvette?
  • 3
    Roy Magnuson Seattle March 26, 2014 at 17:48
    Tires have had date codes since 1980. Prior to 2000 a 3 digit date code was used so there was no way to know for sure which decade it came from.
  • 4
    Dennis Kunnath Shelby Township March 26, 2014 at 18:50
    Thank you for the article on old tires. I've been toyiing with the idea of replacing my 8+ yr old tires. They look so good. New tires for the 2014 cruis'in season coming soon.
  • 5
    Ron Holder Vail, Arizona March 26, 2014 at 19:28
    Goodyear Eagles that looked like new developed large sidewall cracks on my 85 Corvette. I had a similar problem with Goodyear tires on my GMC Denali. Except for the above, I've been running Michelin tires for 45 years and haven't had a single problem.
  • 6
    John Fraser Houston TX March 26, 2014 at 19:35
    I have a car I bought with old tires that looked okay. I drove 100 miles with the steering wheel vibrating. When I had the car checked, a tire had a tread separation without a blowout...that was the next step...yikes! My tire shop said not to drive on tires over 5 years old, the rubber deteriorates over time and it can't be detected by inspection. I almost learned the hard way.
  • 7
    Bell Texas March 26, 2014 at 19:37
    Have there been any scientific tests run by reputable labs or manufacturers on the deterioration of tires due to age?
  • 8
    Charley Muncie, IN March 26, 2014 at 19:48
    Great information on reading the build date in the tire serial number. Thank you.
  • 9
    Dave North Carolia March 26, 2014 at 19:54
    Ha! I just replaced my bias ply tires I bought in 1982/83 for my 69 Camaro. They've got about half the tread left and have been in the garage (but driven occasionally) for most of the 30+ years. Finally got too nervous. The tire guy that mounted them thought they looked practically new inside and out. I'm keeping them as souvenirs. Maybe they don't make them like they used too as they say.
  • 10
    Dave North Carolia March 26, 2014 at 20:09
    Ha! I just replaced my bias ply tires I bought in 1982/83 for my 69 Camaro. They've got about half the tread left and have been in the garage (but driven occasionally) for most of the 30+ years. Finally got too nervous. The tire guy that mounted them thought they looked practically new inside and out. I'm keeping them as souvenirs. Maybe they don't make them like they used too as they say.
  • 11
    Roger Bawdon Saltillo, Tx March 26, 2014 at 20:54
    My Mach1 2003 Mustang threw a tread with less than 6000 miles on the factory tires..the car is stored inside and is in new condition...now with new z rated tires...no damage to the car..
  • 12
    Oldcarmike Phoenix March 26, 2014 at 21:08
    In 1970 I got my first car, a 49 Olds with 13K actual miles on it. It had been stored on blocks and still had the original tires, I aired them up and drove them on that car until the tread was gone. I seldom had a problem with "old" tires until the 80s. I think the tire makers just got cheap and started selling us lousy tires. I wouldn't trust any tire over 4 years old now, especially in Arizona. I don't remember new tires flying apart until those wonderful Firestone 500 tires and they have pulled that stunt several times. I wouldn't let anyone use a Firestone tire for anything other than a swing, and then I'd be leery of it..
  • 13
    Steve Hiram, Ohio March 27, 2014 at 14:48
    I drive my 1961 Willys regularly and had forgotten how to breakdown the sidewall code when I bought the truck. I took it to a tire store and they were very helpful to show me how old my tires were (and of course sell me new ones). To me, the added safety of current tires is well worth the expense - especially in a vehicle that has very few inherent safety features.
  • 14
    David Lyons United States March 27, 2014 at 17:15
    Thanks for the wake-up call!! It looks like a new set of tires for my 75 vette convt.. Penny wise!!!!
  • 15
    Tom M. Connecticut March 27, 2014 at 06:21
    It was a terrible accident on a wonderful classic car. How old were the tires?
  • 16
    Tom M. Connecticut March 27, 2014 at 18:48
    It would be *very* helpful if the article actually told us how old the Corvette's tires were.
  • 17
    Mark Indiana March 27, 2014 at 08:56
    Had the same thing happen to me on 2 of my classic Trans Ams, ran a set of used BF Radial TAs for years on one and a set that I bought new on the other, but were several years old. Out for a mother's day cruise with the wife and kids one day and blew the front tire out on one, lucky no one was hurt and just skinned up the wheel shroud a little. I replaced all 4 just in case and then later that summer I had the belts separate on anther car on the front so badly that I could not drive it home. I replaced all those too with a new set of Firestones. Age and setting is harder on them than anything.
  • 18
    Brannen North Carolina March 27, 2014 at 09:01
    My dad and I had the exact same thing happen on our way back from a show just a few weeks ago. I was driving his 1983 Avanti II when the right front tire blew. Being a fiberglass bodied car, it also sustained a shredded fender. Luckily the spare (which I think may be the original) got us home safely.
  • 19
    Rickey Crosby Rincon, Ga March 27, 2014 at 09:11
    I just had the same deal happen to me.Opened my 73 Vette up on I-95 for a moment and BOOM .... tire came apart ... steel belts ate the bottom of my driver's side rear fender.... @ 93 MPH ,,,, very fortunate no further damage occurred. Could have been the front . Anyway, the tire never lost air so I limped on down the shoulder for about 2 mile to the BF Goodrich store in Pooler Ga. Long story short, tires were 15 yrs old with perfect tread .... changin them now .... wish I had saw this story first !!! Have a Large day !!! RC
  • 20
    Steve Hamilton, ON March 27, 2014 at 09:30
    Same thing happened to me with my '03 GMC Sierra last summer. Left rear tire blow out on I-75 just north of Flint, MI. Smokin' hot day. Luckily, it was only the sidewalls that disintegrated. Tread was intact. No damage. The tires had lots of tread on them, but they were 7 years old. The truck has low milage, but the side walls on the tires had started to age crack. Replaced all 4.
  • 21
    Dave houston, TX March 27, 2014 at 10:34
    There was a real interesting story about 20 years back, in Car and Driver of a twin-turbo Calloway Corvette blowing the left front tire at about 200 mph on the autobahn. Basically the driver did everything right and was able to coast the car to a stop - but essentially the entire left front of the car was totalled by chunks of flying and flapping tire.
  • 22
    Flobear Downers Grove March 27, 2014 at 10:39
    I am a believer in tire aging. My tires on my MGB looked like new, no cracking, lots of tread. Twice on a cruise in misty rain, my brakes locked up. I checked the date on the tires and my 6 year old tires were actually 10. When I got home, I replaced them with tires that were two months old. The change in ride quality was amazing and the brakes did not lock.
  • 23
    dewert Az March 27, 2014 at 11:43
    I didn't know this until my neighbor took her 2002 thunderbird to have air put in the tires at Discount Tire. They refused to touch it because the tires were 10 yrs old. Makes sense.
  • 24
    Walter Clark Willcox, Arizona March 27, 2014 at 00:43
    I have been working and driving vehicles since I was 8 years old, I am now 72. Through the years, I have learned that ALL facets of the vehicles requires schedule maintenance, especially the tires. They dry out even if the vehicle sleeps indoors. I have 14 vintage, classic vehicles. They get new tires every 6 years whether they need them or not. All of my fleet is metal. Plastic is light but very fragile when it comes to a blow out or a fire. Both are catastrophic in a plastic vehicle. None of my collection EVER exceed the speed limit. This also helps with the maintenance. I still do ALL my maintenance and love it. Hagerty is my best friend!
  • 25
    David Jefferson Mequon, WI March 28, 2014 at 17:28
    My '62 MGA was acquired 5 years ago and came with decent looking Michelin XZX tires. They looked new. The car was up on jack stands this past winter when I was about to clean the dismounted wheels. I went onto the internet to find how to read the date codes and was shocked to find a 3-digit, 17 year old date. The spare was the same age, had red and blue chalk or paint on the tread, never having been used. I scrapped all 5 tires without batting an eye and had the rims fit with fresh rubber. One less thing to worry about.
  • 26
    Joe Dyer IN March 28, 2014 at 11:11
    The tires on my 73 Mustang Convertible are over 10 years old, and still look great. If Spring ever decides to come ton IN, I'm going to pull a wheel and take it in to have the tire inspected. I will probably have them replaced, only because of age, not miles (maybe 3M miles on the tires). One question, though, where can I get a set of 5 205/70/14 narrow white sidewall (Preferably Michelin) Tires?
  • 27
    Michael Granite Bay Ca March 29, 2014 at 21:01
    My 1979 Corvette had tires from 1991, mint condition still. I had no idea about the rubber getting old theory. My driver side rear blew last summer so while at the Pleasanton Car Show I happened to pass by the America's Tire display area and bought four brand new Good Year tires as they offered me $100 off if I bought right then. Years ago my old 1976 Corvette had a recall on its tires back in 1977ish so while taking it to Firestone the steel belted tread gave out and a golf ball size tumor popped out making the rest of the drive quite unpleasant.
  • 28
    Doug Wolford Puyallup, WA April 2, 2014 at 13:13
    My wife's 2001 Saturn had a nice set of Pirelli's on it when we bought it used. She came out of work one day and the right front tire was flat-the sidewall was cracked. She took out the space-saver spare and the metal bands were coming out the sidewall! It had been an Arizona car before we bought it. It got 4 new tires that night!
  • 29
    Tom Grothouse Arlington, TX April 4, 2014 at 18:54
    My '68 Mustang had perfect-looking BF Goodrich Radial T/As with less than 2K miles over 14 years. I was backing it out of my garage and a tire blew out violently. No damage to the car and thank goodness I was not on the road. Be safe everyone...
  • 30
    Rick Sheboygan Falls wi April 4, 2014 at 19:23
    What's wrong with used tires? Plenty. Is how Consumer Reports relaid the message, in their april issue. Misuse, Defects that aren,t obvious, Unknown effects of aging,and mismatch tires. That article opened my eyes, I never would guessed tires have a life expectancy, other than tread wear or sidewall cracking. the 11 year old tires that are on our car will not see pavement again. Time for some new skins.
  • 31
    Dave North Carolia April 5, 2014 at 01:45
    Parked next to the 69 Camaro in the garage is my 84 K5 Blazer. It had 15 year old tires on it a few years back give or take that spent most of their lives outside. Not a whole lot of miles on them. Truck has been parked in the garage (when not in use) since 2010. A couple years ago I was doing some work outside the garage which had its doors closed. I heard a loud pop and went inside to hear a loud hissing sound. Though one of my new airlines blew. No, it was a big hole in one of the truck tire sidewalls, just sitting there minding it's own business. Lucked out on that one.
  • 32
    Gery Sawall Stone Bank Wisconsin April 6, 2014 at 01:24
    I had original style bias ply tires put on my 1959 Corvette in 1988 and finally replaced them in 2012 with wide whitewall radials. They still looked great, but I was apparently riding on borrowed time. The car was almost always parked in a garage. I love the way it rides and drives now with the radials.
  • 33
    Dave North Carolia April 8, 2014 at 21:16
    So I just got this Firestone flyer in the Sunday paper that reads "Cars Don't Have EXPIRATION DATES, Drive a Firestone" he he. Whatever that means. The ad didn't mention anything about tires expiring.
  • 34
    Dave North Carolia April 13, 2014 at 00:51
    I must say the new BFG RTAs handle better on the 69 Camaro than the 30+ year old tires that they replaced.
  • 35
    Dave California April 25, 2014 at 17:45
    I purchased a set of wide whitewall tires for my 48 Chevy Woodie. One of them started to come apart after about a year. They were fancy "recaps" on Michelin carcasses. The people that sold me new tires said the recap was well done, but on an old tire. The company went out of business.
  • 36
    Duane Wyoming August 21, 2014 at 22:03
    I have a '68 Super Bee. It was restored in '98-99. I put new BF Goodrich TA's on it then. I had a tire failure in 2006, then some problems in 2011. No catastrophic failures, tread separation causing vibration. I couldn't see the problem so I quit driving the car on the highway. Finally saw the steel belts sticking out of the tread. I replaced the tires earlier in the spring. Evidently was this same cause and effect.
  • 37
    Emmanuel Ibe Nigeria September 1, 2014 at 12:10
    I couple of days ago I observed my steering wheel was wobbling. as the days went by the wobbling got more severe. I just came from a tyre-shop and after the diagnosis was told that my front tire(driver sided) had split wire internally. whatever that means. hence its condemned. my tire has serial no. 2310. its a Champiro 128 brand tire made in China. what could have damaged my tire cos it still look ok and new from the outside.
  • 38
    Paul United States October 18, 2014 at 17:18
    I recently bought an 88 Mustang. The ad said "nearly new tires." I always watch tire dates, and these are late 1997. They do look super ...not dried out, and no cracks. Car was in climate controlled storage since '98.
  • 39
    Luis Natal Coral Gables Florida February 8, 2016 at 19:51
    I just bought a 1990 Ford Mustang GT convertible with 66,000 miles. It looks wonderful. The previous own from Canada used it only during winter days in Florida and kept it in the garage since new. I checked the tires and they seem to be from 2005 since the last DOT number end with 2605. They are continentals and look great, not dry wall or cracks anywhere. I guess I will need to replaced them regardless of how good they look. God, I drove this car from Tampa at 75 miles per hour two nights ago after I got the car...scary!!!
  • 40
    Rick waterbury ct February 10, 2016 at 15:56
    have five radial tires mounted on wheels laid flat in plastic bags on heated basement 29yrs old ? Any good or scrap them thanks
  • 41
    Anton Dutchess, NY February 18, 2016 at 22:06
    What is a good tire for Lexus ES350 that only does low milage driving?
  • 42
    Big don Outback Australia June 27, 2016 at 08:39
    Brilliant advice, have a 66 stang with 9.5 year old tyres and sounds like wheel bearing moaning when driving. Changed diff and still makes same sound. I think tyre is not truly round anymore and time for new ones. My nanna always said better to be safe than sorry ,thanks.
  • 43
    Jesse Beltran California July 7, 2016 at 13:44
    I have 2007 Toyota Camry, over 26, 000 miles only with the original 4 tires and tread still good. Is it still safe to drive my car. Thanks.
  • 44
    barbara a hanneman Colorado September 19, 2016 at 18:23
    have a car with original tires on it. 2003 with 8,000 miles. Always garaged. Look excellent. Are they safe to drive on??
  • 45
    Steve Belvedere Indiana February 24, 2017 at 13:42
    The bias plies on my '55 are 25 years old and ran fine last year. I plan to replace them with classic looking radials. Classic tires run about $1000 and I can't really afford to replace them every 6 years. Thinking 8 to 10 this time depending on how they hold up.
  • 46
    Ronald Rickerds FL April 8, 2017 at 20:45
    Like Michelin, sidewall shredded with plenty of tread remaining while on the interstate...culprit was heat related deterioration of the rubber in older tires...this one was 7 years old... Tire tread value does not tell the whole story...be careful. Remember the celebrity, experienced race driver, who jumped in a fast car and drove it like crazy, A tire blew and sent him into a tree....

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