This past Saturday was a beautiful warm spring day with the sun shining. It was a perfect day to go for a cruise in one of my old cars. I decided to go for a ride in my Chevy Malibu as I haven’t had a chance to take it on a good long highway cruise this spring. I asked my kids if they wanted to join and they agreed it was a great idea. So, with the tunes cranked we hit the highway for our little adventure. That was until about 15 minutes into the trip while travelling at 70 mph when I felt the car starting to pull the left slightly. Quickly this pull got worse and worse and I realized I had just lost the front left tire.
I pulled over to the shoulder of the highway and assessed the situation. The tire was completely flat with absolutely no air in it. That’s when I realized that I only had the OEM bumper jack in the trunk. As I was calling a friend who lived nearby to see if he had a floor jack, an older gentleman with a 20ish year old beat-up GMC pickup hauling some hay pulled over and offered to help. He told me that he had a jack and a tire iron. I took him up on the offer to use his floor jack instead of using the bumper jack.
Within a short time I had the car lifted and the tire off. The tire’s sidewall suffered some pretty bad damage due to being driven without any air pressure; however, in examining the tire, I didn’t see any obvious cause for the flat. I pulled the spare from the trunk and realized that it was a very old tire. While, I have examined the spare tire in the past, my complacency due to lack of tire problems for many years meant that I never given its age any real thought. It was also this complacency which led me to not packing a floor jack, something I normally do on longer trips with my old cars. I got the spare mounted but it wasn’t too reassuring. It looked to be a little low on pressure, despite the fact I last set the pressure last year.
The gentleman complimented the good condition of my Malibu and I thanked him for his help. He told me that he has been stuck on the side of the road and nobody helped him. So, he tries to help people when he sees them stranded. It’s nice to know there are still some good people out there. I set on my way, driving cautiously on that old spare tire. I stopped at a nearby gas station to check the tire pressure, which was low as I had suspected. I also put some air in the flat tire and discovered it was a faulty valve stem that caused the leak. Luckily the valve stem leak resulted in a relatively slow and controlled release of the air pressure. Had it been a blowout due to the tire failure, it might have been a totally different outcome. With the tire pressure set, I was able to make it home safely.
Now what to do about the tires? The flat would obviously have to be replaced due to the sidewall damage, but do I just replace one tire? Or maybe just the two fronts? The remaining three tires are crack free, have lots of tread life left and the tires have lived indoors, other than when the car is driven, since new. That got me thinking, “How old are these tires anyway?” I remember helping my brother pick the staggered set of tires for the Malibu when he owned it, and it didn’t seem that it was that long ago. Well, I was wrong. The date code was 2011 – 10 years ago! I thought I better check the date on my Torino’s tires too, because I bought its last set of tires about the same time. Sure enough they were also dated 2011.
Right there, I decided that this flat tire was my sign that I need to get new tires for both cars. Had this been a catastrophic tire failure, I could have done significant damage to the car or worse yet caused injury to my kids and me. Most of the experts in the tire industry seem to suggest that tires age out and shouldn’t be used after 10 years. Coker Tire, one of the largest vintage tire retailers, suggests that if you plan on driving your classic, you shouldn’t drive on tires that are more than 10 years old. The British Rubber Manufacturer’s Association (BRMA) recommends that unused tires over 6 years old should not be put in service, and that all tires should be replaced after 10 years from their date of manufacture. The Japanese Automobile Tire Manufacturer’s Association (JATMA) recommends inspection of tires after 5 years of use and replacement after 10 years, regardless of overall condition.
US market tires manufactured after 1971 have date codes stamped on their side walls. Tires manufactured before 2000 have a three digit code. The first two numbers are represent the week of the year the tire was manufactured, and the last digit is the last number in the year of manufacture. The problem is it can be hard to determine the decade. Is it 1986 or 1996? Sometimes you can narrow the decade by the model of tire, but this is not always the case.
From 2000 on, the tire date codes were revised to a 4-digit code. The below photo shows my tire that failed, which has a manufacturing date of the 3rd week of 2011.
My tires live in a moderate climate and don’t see high mileage, extreme heat or cold, and have limited UV exposure. This explains why at 10 years old they still look good, but I know that I can’t see the rubber degradation. That said, the money saved by not replacing them is not worth the risk of a major failure (see the Dodge Charger above). Having looked at my spare more closely once I got home, I assessed it to be well over 20 years old, as it still possessing the old 3-digit date code. It looks like it’s time to update it as well. Luckily the spare in my Torino is a fair bit newer, although I plan to replace it down the road.
While most daily drivers will wear out the tires before they age out, many of us here at Curbside have classic cars or recreational vehicles that see infrequent use. If you do, this might be the time to go and check the date codes on these tires to see if they are due for replacement. Which brings me to the question of the day and perhaps a bit of a Curbside community announcement, now that you know how to read the date codes, how old are the tires on your vehicles? Let’s all do our best to keep our tires safe, “because so much is riding on your tires.”