What are some issues involving tire safety and tire defects?

Tire failures, blowouts and detreads are foreseeable and preventable events. Manufacturers know that tire treads will wear with proper use and at some point fail if not serviced properly and replaced after their intended period of use has expired. Most new tires made today are estimated to last between 60,000 and 80,000 miles.

Obvious tire defects may be detected with a visual or cursory surface inspection when the tire is first installed and inflated. These include bulges, lumps, cracks and noticeable air leakage. Technicians should check for tire defects when any service work is done on the vehicle and its tires.

Tire tread separation can be caused by bonding problems in the tire manufacturing process, contaminants introduced into the tire during the tire making process, under-vulcanization, old ingredients, improper sized components, or something as simple as air being trapped in between the layers of the tire during manufacturing.

Detreading of these defective tires can result in single or multi vehicle accidents, or even rollovers. Even the auto manufacturers agree that drivers should be able to pull over, not roll over, when a tire detreads. That is unfortunately not always the case.

Tire Recalls

When a tire is defective, potentially serious problems like detreads and blowouts can occur long before the tire would be expected to wear out. If tire failure is the result of design or manufacturing defects, and the manufacturer is aware of the problem, they have an obligation to alert consumers to the potential danger.

However, in many instances, tire recalls are not issued until manufacturers are forced to do so. Even then, many consumers and retailers are unaware of safety issues. How is this possible?

There are fundamental flaws in the system for recalls. There is no effective tracking system. There are thousands of brands and segments of brands of tires, and a consumer can't really just look at a tire and be able to tell that it has been recalled. It's often based on a complex Department of Transportation code.

Adding to the problem, recall notices are often sent by third-class mail, to save the manufacturer money. As a result, there is no automatic forwarding if a vehicle owner has changed address, and the company receives no notification if a recall notice does not reach its intended recipient. Many service centers don't even have complete copies of recall documents.

Tire Safety

With no dependable system in place to ensure tire safety, it falls to the consumer to be vigilant. A recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report revealed that 9 percent of passenger cars on U.S. roadways are driven with at least one bald tire. Additionally, the NHTSA says 27 percent of passenger cars on U.S. roadways are driven with one or more substantially under-inflated tires.

The NHTSA advises motorists check their tires monthly, as well as prior to a long trip, to make sure they have adequate tread, that tread does not demonstrate any visible cracks or other defects, and that tires are properly inflated. Under-inflated tires can result in tire failure, including tire separation and blowouts, with a potential for loss of control of the vehicle. Under-inflated tires also shorten tire life and increase fuel consumption.

Safety Tips

• A tire is considered bald if it has 1/16th of an inch or less of tread depth. Most tires have built-in treadwear indicators that let a motorist know when they should be replaced. The indicators are raised sections spaced intermittently in the bottom of the tread grooves. When they appear even with the outside of the tread, it's time for new tires.
• Use a Lincoln penny as an easy way to check for tread condition. Just place the penny upside down within the tread, with Lincoln's head facing downward. If you can see the top of Lincoln's head, the tires needs to be replaced.
• Bald tires are also between 1.5 and 1.8 times more likely to be under-inflated than tires with deeper tread. Make sure you are using an accurate gauge to test tire inflation.
• The NHTSA found that almost 20 percent of gas station tire-pressure gauges over-report the pressure by at least 4 psi or more. It's better to keep and use your own gauge, which has been tested and certified as accurate.
• Do not rely on a visual inspection to determine whether a tire is properly inflated. Always use a reliable gauge. Proper tire inflation guidelines can be found in your automobile's owner's manual or on a placard in the glove compartment or driver's doorjamb.
• If your tires are more than six years old, you may want to consider replacing them. As tires age, the rubber can become more brittle and more prone to a blowout.
• There should be a date code on your tires that will allow you to tell how old it is. This code can be found along the edge of the tire where it meets the rim / hubcap. Before 2000, the date code had three digits. Since 2000 it has four. The first two digits are the week of the year (01 = first week of January); the third digit (for tires made before 2000) is the year (1 =1991). For most tires made after 2000, the third and fourth digits are the year (04 = 2004). So if the date code reads 0806, the tire was manufactured in the eighth week of 2006.

What can I do?

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