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Spare tire failures are causing serious accidents with catastrophic results. Bridgestone’s Firestone ATX and Wilderness tires, used primarily in Ford SUV’s, were recalled in August, 2000, but during the massive replacement program spares were often overlooked. Now those spares are being installed, often during normal tire rotation, and they are failing quickly, causing deadly rollover accidents.
The replacement campaigns in 2000 and 2001 created a shortage in replacement tires. Dealerships and tire centers prioritized, replacing the four in-use tires, and skipping the spares. Many consumers were not informed that the spare had not been replaced, and others were told that they would have to wait a year to get a new spare. In many cases the spares were never replaced and now they are aged, making them far more dangerous than they were at the time of the recall.
Tires age and degrade overtime even when they are not being used. Heat and sunlight are the biggest culprits. The rubber hardens and the steel inside corrodes. Old tires with perfect tread that look brand new can fail with just a few days of use. Since the tires show no visible signs of age or wear it is impossible to tell by simple visual inspection that the tire is unsafe. This is compounded by the fact that in the U.S. the manufacturing date listed on tires is printed in code so that the average consumer cannot understand it. In Europe it is printed as a date, readable by anyone. Simply changing the way that the date is printed on tires would give consumers the opportunity to check tire age for themselves. There is no excuse for hiding this valuable safety information from the public.
In 2005, Ford Motor Company and Daimler Chrysler started including warnings about tire age in their owner’s manuals. Ford’s warning reads, “Tires degrade over time, even when they are not being used. It is recommended that tires generally be replaced after 6 years of normal service. Heat caused by hot climates and frequent high loading conditions can accelerate the aging process.” Daimler Chrysler’s warning addresses spares more directly, “Tires and spare tire should be replaced after six years, regardless of the remaining tread… Failure to follow this warning can result in sudden tire failure. You could lose control and have an accident resulting in serious injury or death.”
Shortly after these warnings were added to owner’s manuals, Bridgestone-Firestone released its own technical bulletin, issued to its dealers. The bulletin recommends inspection of tires after five years and replacement of tires that are 10 years old, or at the age recommended by vehicle manufacturers. Yet, in the same bulletin they claim that there is no evidence that tires have a specific life-span before becoming unsafe.
Firestone ATX and Wilderness tires are not the only tires which pose a danger. Any brand of tire will degrade with age. Tire and vehicles manufacturers, tire shops, and dealerships are aware of the problem. They have a duty, at the very least, to inform the consumer when a spare is too old for safe use. Because the manufacturing date is encoded, consumers cannot be responsible for determining tire age.