Tire Failures and Their Impact
Tires are the only point of contact between a vehicle and the road, making them critical to safe handling and braking. Tread separation, tire blowouts, and other forms of tire failure often result in the driver losing control of the vehicle, which in turn can lead to a serious accident.
While not a leading cause of traffic accidents, tire failure is nonetheless a significant and frequently deadly problem on U.S. roads. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), about 35% of all crashes caused by the vehicle itself or some component of it involved tire failure.
The consequences of tire failure can be catastrophic, especially at high speeds. A tire blowout or other tire-related problem can send a vehicle into a rollover, cause it to veer into opposing lanes of traffic or off the road entirely, or into the path of pedestrians and bicyclists.
In court, lawyers representing tire manufacturers often blame tire failure on the driver, alleging that the tire was not properly inflated or maintained. If you have been involved in an accident caused by a defective tire, our nationally recognized personal injury and defective product lawyers are here to help. Contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation.
When a tire is defective, serious problems can occur long before the tire would be expected to wear out.
Blowouts and detreads (tread separation) 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.
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 – all of these can cause tread separation and other tire failure.
What is a tire blowout?
A tire blowout is the sudden loss of air pressure in a vehicle’s tire, often causing the tire to break apart and away from the vehicle. Blowouts often sound and look like an explosion.
Tire blowouts are often related to air pressure. A tire that is leaky or underinflated is much more prone to a blowout than a healthy, properly maintained tire. But even tires in good condition can experience a blowout. Extreme heat, impact damage and subpar manufacturing to withstand either or both can contribute to blowouts. Vehicle weight, especially too much weight in combination with any of the other factors – anything that may excessively stain the tire’s internal structure — may also contribute.
What is a tread separation?
Tread separation, or detreading, is a tire failure that occurs when a tire’s treads detach from the steel belts underpinning them and the casing or body of the tire. Tread separation is the most common type of tire failure in steel-belted radial tires.
Motorists who experience tread separation while driving frequently refer to it as a blowout, but it is not the same thing. Tread separations can, however, cause a blowout – a sudden loss of air pressure that results in the tire breaking apart or exploding.
Whether or not the tread separation results in a blowout, the results can be catastrophic. Tread separations can cause the driver to lose control of the vehicle, resulting in single or multi-vehicle accidents and often rollovers. Even 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.
Modern steel radial tires are an assembly of special rubber compounds, steel belts, metal wires, and fabric cords. These components are bonded together with adhesives and rubber. Any errors in the chemistry of the components or the manufacturing process can create loose bonds or weak spots in the tire, making them susceptible to tire failure.
Manufacturing defects are the most common cause of tread separation. A defective tire will often start to exhibit signs of deterioration long before its life expectancy. The tire defect may make it seem like the vehicle is extremely out of balance with a vibrating, wobbling, or shaking motion. The first visual clue of a tire defect and impending thread separation is a bulge or bump in the tread area, which will expand in size until a tire failure occurs.
Hot weather and road surfaces can exacerbate any tire defect, so more tire failures tend to occur during the summer and in hotter regions of the U.S., such as the South and Southwest.
When a tire is defective, potentially serious problems like tread separation 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, a tire recall isn’t issued until the manufacturer is 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.
With no dependable system in place to ensure tire safety, it falls to the consumer to be as vigilant as possible. A recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report revealed that 9% of passenger cars on U.S. roadways are driven with at least one bald tire. Additionally, the NHTSA says 27% 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. A loss of air pressure in a tire can result in tire failure, including tire separation and blowouts, with a potential for loss of control of the vehicle.
Tire 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.
Contact a Defective Tire Lawyer
If you have been in a crash that you believe was caused by a defective tire, you may have a valid tire failure claim. Beasley Allen’s staff of highly experienced and nationally recognized product liability and personal injury lawyers can help you determine if you have a strong case. Call us today or fill out our online form to discuss your case free of charge and without obligation.
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