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Urgent consumer warning: Tires sold as 'new' may be dangerously old, check dates

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Numerous fatal crashes blamed on unexpected tire failures.

In a scathing report featuring veteran ABC News journalist Brian Ross, it appears highly possible that tire manufacturers might be attempting to make it more difficult for consumers to easily determine exactly how old the tires on their cars might be.

It has been documented that in a number of fatal highway crashes nationwide, tire failure, very possibly premature failure due to unsuspected aging, was likely a cause for drivers losing control, resulting in serious accidents.

The problem is that in some instances, tires sold as “new” may actually have been sitting on the shelf in a warehouse environment, which may be subject changing temperature, humidity and similar factors. While not experiencing actual road wear, scientific studies suggest the likelihood of weakening and deterioration of tire tread and structure occurring regardless over time.

First and foremost, all motor vehicle operators are urged to check the tire dates of manufacture on their vehicles. This can be done very easily; the date of manufacture is stamped on the tire's sidewall appearing in a recess in at least one of every set of tires purchased. (See accompanying photo).

What has sparked controversy and criticism directed at tire manufacturers is the manner is which this date may be coded. Instead of the traditional month and date of manufacture, it seems most tire makers use as system based on the week and year of manufacture, which can be confusing. For instance, a tire manufactured on February 12, 2005 would be coded as 0605, meaning the sixth week of the year 2005.

U.S.tire manufacturers have been reluctant to comply with legislation which would require regular, mandatory inspections for age, and have actually fought this legislation in eight states.

Ford, GM and Chrysler all urge motorists to replace of tires that are six years of age or older because of the possibility the rubber in them could degrade and create a dangerous situation in which the tire loses its tread.

The Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) calls the six year limit “arbitrary,”not supported by facts and has employed lobbyists to defeat legislation which would require mandatory inspection of tire age.

The group spend $36,000 in the state of Massachusetts to hire lobbyists to defeat legislation which would require tire age inspections to be included in regular vehicle inspections, according to ABC news affiliate investigative teams.

RMA executive director Dan Zielinski has stated "It’s more important how a tire is used, (than) whether it‘s maintained and how it’s stored.” At the same time, Sean Kane, a safety consultant for several state governments and lawyers who challenge tire companies' claims, says the six year limit is a good rule of thumb, while tire maker Michelin stresses anything older than ten years should be replaced without question.

According to Kane, "They (manufacturers) did not want to put a date code on tires, specifically because they did not want to give the impression that tires might actually have a service life."

Tire age degradation is part of a unique special investigation initiated by the National Transportation Safety Board into hundreds of deaths each year from "tire initiated events."

"Aging does potentially play a role in the degradation of the internal structure of the tire," said Don Karol, the investigator leading the NTSB initiative.

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