Part Two: Aged tires being sold as new

May 9, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
A joint 7 On Your Side/ABC News investigation has found tires being sold may be too old and very dangerous to drive on. Both automakers and safety experts believe driving on tires older than six years old can lead to death or serious injury. 7 On Your Side follows up on this investigation with a look at a high tech, but controversial solution.

7 On Your Side took hidden cameras into tire retailers around the Bay Area to find out just how old some of the tires being sold really are. Then we visited a laboratory on the outskirts of Silicon Valley for a look at a possible solution.

The next time you buy a tire, you might want to ask when it was made. We went to a Goodyear store in San Mateo and found several tires made six to nine years ago.

The "459" on this tire means it was manufactured the 45th week of 1999.

Selling an old tire is not illegal, but many auto manufacturers warn tires older than six years could suddenly fail and cause a catastrophic accident.

Jack Crane of Danville agrees. The right rear tire on his son's SUV blew out. The Bronco rolled over, killing his son, Bobby.

"As you might imagine, I got a little angry. I lost a son," said Jack Crane from Danville.

Federal researchers are now studying tire aging and hope to release standards on tire performance soon, but the tire industry says tire age is a non-issue.

"There's no information that can tell you exactly when, just because of its age, that a tire should be removed for performance reasons," says Dan Zielinski, from the Rubber Manufacturers Association.

A Goodyear spokesman told us "Proper storage, maintenance and inflation of tires, not the age of tires, are the primary factors in tire performance."

Some safety advocates think part of the solution may be in a little bottle filled with RFID chips. They're already being used by airports in Las Vegas and Hong Kong to track luggage and they're also in use by WalMart to keep track of inventory. The chips are read by a reader which works much like a scanner.

Sean Kane is a consultant hired by attorneys filing auto liability claims.

"The RFID chip can help us identify the important safety issues that we need to identify, whether the tires part of a recall, and the age of the tire," said Sean Kane, from Safety Research & Strategies.

The chip would be embedded inside a tire, but civil libertarians are concerned.

"We all want tires to be safe. But the solution here is to make serial numbers that are easier to read so that the tires can be quickly checked and recalled, not to put an RFID tag in tires that will enable us to be tracked and monitored," said Nicole Ozer from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Alien Technology in Morgan Hill has been developing RFID tags since 2001.

"In the end, what really matters is does the technology provide you with more benefit or not. If it does, it will be adopted by people, and if not, people won't want it," says Scot Stelter of Alien Technology.

A push in Congress to force better disclosure about the age of a tire was defeated a few years ago under fierce industry opposition.

For more information you can check out Michael Finney's The Back Story. Click here

ABC News' Brian Ross reported on what his investigation found in other parts of the country. Read his investigation here.

Tire Aging Report from the NHTSA


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