25 February 2015

Losses and Lessons: Undetected flat leaves ’51 Chevy singing a sour note

VEHICLE: 1951 Chevrolet Styleline

WHAT WENT WRONG: Most classic car owners are conscientious about checking and maintaining their tires – and with good reason. Accidents caused by flat or underinflated tires are among the most preventable. Unfortunately, they still happen. The owner of a 1951 Chevrolet Styleline backed out of his garage without realizing the car’s rear passenger-side tire was flat. With the alignment slightly altered, the right side of the car clipped the doorway.

DAMAGE/LOSS: The impact knocked off the side molding and damaged the rear door, rear quarter panel and body panel. Total cost of repairs was $1,246.03, which Hagerty paid.

LESSON: Before the rubber hits the road, walk around your classic and give your tires a quick once-over. It’s easy to spot one that’s dangerously low on air. Depending on how often you drive your car, examine your tires regularly for excessive wear and tear, and use a pressure gauge to determine if they’re properly inflated. It’s also important to know how old your tires are. While tread wear and mileage usually determine when to buy new tires for a regular-use vehicle, age is an additional consideration for your classic car’s tires. Rubber deteriorates over time even if it’s carefully maintained. The experts we consulted suggest tires should be replaced every six or seven years, unless the car is simply on display. If you aren’t sure how old your tires are, there’s no need to guess. All tires sold since 2000 have a four-digit code that reveals the manufacture date; the first two digits are the week, that last two digits the year. For example, a tire coded 2409 was manufactured during the 24th week of 2009. No code? It’s old. Time to go shopping. Tires are easily overlooked, but they are literally the only thing connecting your machine to the road.

14 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Cindy Barnes Clayton,, NC February 25, 2015 at 15:49
    Where are the tire codes located, please?
  • 2
    Bruce L. Pearson New Mexico February 25, 2015 at 18:24
    Good article! Every owner of a collector car should read this.
  • 3
    Bruce L. Pearson New Mexico February 25, 2015 at 18:25
    Good article! Every owner of a collector car should read this.
  • 4
    Jim Bray McKinney, Tx February 25, 2015 at 18:31
    When I first acquired my 1965 Ranchero, the tires looked good and had lots of tread. The ride was rough, so I went to have the tires balanced. I was told they were over 10 years old! I replaced them immediately.
  • 5
    Richard Reinstein Vermont February 25, 2015 at 18:45
    Good article, but the illustration is of a 51 Chevrolet STYLELINE sedan, not a Fleetline. You might want to have your resident Chevy experts check copy before publication, IMHO. :) Cheers,
  • 6
    Al lader Yuma, az February 25, 2015 at 19:35
    Isn't that a Styleline?
  • 7
    Randy Rivers Vacaville ca February 25, 2015 at 19:50
    I had some radial T As on my 69 El Camino . Maybe two thousand miles on them. Next thing there eleven years old. Off they came.
  • 8
    Torrid Indiana February 25, 2015 at 20:45
    Good advise. I was very fortunate. I took my daughter on a drive in my 1971 240-Z, hills, curves and high speeds. All on tires over 20 years old. This was before I realized that time deteriorates tires. There was plenty of tread, but I too a chance I would never take today. Check your tires. Replace them based on time, not on usage.
  • 9
    Bob Bryant Niantic, CT February 25, 2015 at 22:09
    Good advice on the tires. The depiction of the car appears to be a Styleline. The Fleetlines of which I am aware were fastbacks.
  • 10
    Jerry Clement Caledonia, MI February 26, 2015 at 08:57
    I can identify: I didn't realize just how old the tires on our '68 Impala were. Had one come apart at 70mph on the highway. I kept the car under control. No sudden brakes or steering. I just eased it to the shoulder and called Hagerty. Roadside service was there in less than 1 hour. Left front fender bottom and inner fender were damaged. Hagerty was awesome taking care of repairs! We put 4 new tires on the car and replaced all four on one of our other cars as well. Even if the tire's tread looks new, which ours did, it's the age that matters.
  • 11
    Newtynewt 3rd rock from the Sun February 26, 2015 at 21:28
    You need to do more than just walk around your classic to check the tires. A friend checked his tires on his 57 Chevy and the inside sidewalls were cracking. Outside sidewalls looked good. They could have blown out on the highway had he not crawled under the car to check. For years I would rotate tires from my classic to my driver to keep them fresh. Now newer car wheel sizes have changed to 18,19,20 inches and we can no longer do that. Be safe and do more that just a once-over walk around.
  • 12
    Barry Van Hook Mesa, AZ February 26, 2015 at 00:05
    Good advice, but the Chevy is NOT a Fleetline ... looks like a coupe.
  • 13
    Gary Fluck Hatfield,Pa. March 14, 2015 at 08:42
    The date code on tires that they talked about is the last numbers in the "DOT" just after the serial number. And yes i too have been a victim of a good looking tire that was very old blowing out while driving. Scary. Thanks
  • 14
    Ron Silverberg Dexter, Michigan March 24, 2015 at 07:51
    It's hard to replace tires that have very little mileage on them but are ten years or more old. I will be replacing the rubber on my '76 Vette this summer (did the '85 last year) will about 3k miles on them. Mst be done, so much more comfortable while going down the road!!

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