My Word: Do You Know Your Tire’s Birthday?

June 12, 2014 Comments (0)

by Denise McCluggage

When one writes a weekly syndicated newspaper column as I did in a previous life that writer looks forward to the special weeks someone has devised, such as the recent Tire Week. A special week hands a writer a subject and means one fewer had to be dreamed up to fill the quota of 52. Yippee for tires.

I particularly liked Tire Week because I believe sincerely that tires are as important as you can get in a vehicle. Yes, they keep the bloody thing off the ground, but that’s not what earns them their kingship. What does that is this: Tires serve as the sole communicator of all drivers’ hopes, wishes and intentions from the vehicle to the surface of the earth. Nothing else can do that.

Want to turn? The steering wheel merely aims your rolling front wheels. It is the tires taking little bites of the road in that new direction that result in a turn. Want to stop? The brakes slow the turning of the tires. It is the tires’ friction with the road’s surface that leads to a stop. Want to get rolling? Apply pressure to the gas pedal and the car’s running gear turns the drive wheels. Again the friction between the tires and the road surface causes your vehicle to get underway and keeps it rolling as you feed it fuel. If that grip on the road is absent because of ice, gravel or too much speed you do not do what you intended. Tires and friction are necessary.

I felt a bit guilty not writing something about tires this past Tire Week so I decided to do a column, if not for a newspaper, at least for the medium gradually strangling newspapers. And I decided to concentrate on an aspect of tires that most people are surprised to hear about.

Tires have a birthdate. Tires have a use span. Tires have a shelf life. And it behooves tire users to know about such things so that they can be wise buyers and safe users of the most important items on their cars.

Many people know enough to keep their tires inflated to the proper pressure, checking no less than once a month when the tire is cold—maybe driven a mile or less to the service station. But it’s really nice to have an accurate pressure gauge at home and even a neat compressor to pump up a non-compliant tire. These people know how to check to the depth of the tread with a coin (or how to Google it) and to look for damaging curb strikes on the sidewalls. And for cracks on those sidewalls.

I applaud them. But they are often at a loss when I say “How old are your tires?” Oh, put on three years ago. Big sale. Saved a ton. Did you? How old were they when you bought them? They were new!

To your car, maybe. But when were they born?

Blank look. Just ask the tires.

Right off the rack a tire can be ready to be scrapped. Maybe. Did you ever buy a packet of shiny new yellow pencils with round red erasers only to get them home and discover the erasers are as hard as little rocks? Good for smearing the mark of a #2 pencil but not for erasing anything. Pencils are cheaper than tires but their rubber is subject to similar time limitations. Tire rubber gets hard and that grip to turn, stop and start is dangerously compromised. The tread—as sharp as it looks, as deeply as it measures—is not what counts. Age is. And history.

Controversy reigns. Tire dealers have their own policy of how old a tire needs to be before they will not sell it. Tires warehoused in controlled climate and humidity are “younger” than tires mounted and in use or displayed in sun-struck racks at a shop. Be aware that laws have been discussed governing maximum tire ages but none have been passed. A tire living outdoors in a hot dry climate may be ready for replacement in five or six years. Seven is probably a limit for such a tire to be safe. For a garaged car in a kinder atmosphere you might get moderate use for another three to four years but I’m fond of seven. Which, comes to finger-counting, means my lightly-used 21-year-old Suzuki Sidekick living in New Mexico is probably ready for new black rings at each corner.

Let me go check their birthday…

OK. I’m embarrassed. My lovely Bridgestones which I still think of as “newish”—and they look it—carry this code—3403—on the sidewall following DOT and other numbers not relevant to me now. I’m not going to tell you what 3403 means but let you “look it up.” My daddy always said that would mean more to me.

What Daddy meant was go through card catalogs and pull down heavy tomes from library shelves. Certainly character-building. I mean go to this Tire Rack link and look at their illustrated way to read the age of your tires. And mine, if you’re the nosy kind. Tire Rack also has a wealth of tire lore that is worth several years of Tire Week. You can become an expert and dine out on tire information for months to come.

Belated happy birthday, Tire Week.

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