7 On Your Side investigates tire safety

The NTSB is looking into the aging of tires and the possible link to injuries and fatalities on our roadways.

Serious questions are being raised about the age and safety of the tires on your car and the ability to get recalled tires off the road. Seven On Your Side's Michael Finney has been conducting a joint investigation with ABC News investigative reporter Brian Ross.

We first brought attention to these issues back in 2008. Unfortunately, consumer safety advocates say little progress has been made to getting these hazards off the roads despite a number of deaths. One Northern California family claims the age of a tire caused them a lifetime of heart ache.

California Highway Patrol investigators say 20-year-old Brianna Minard was driving southbound on Highway 99 near Stockton in 2011. She felt her 2001 Chevy Blazer shaking, applied the brakes and lost control.

The tread of the right rear tire completely separated from the vehicle. The Blazer flipped at least twice.

Minard had just bought the used car eight months earlier with approximately 93,000 miles on it.

Minard suffered a serious spinal injury. Her passenger and boyfriend of two years, 20-year-old Jessie Gonzales died.

"As parents we fully expect to go before our kids," Jessie's mother Rosa Aquilar said. "He wasn't supposed to die."

Aquilar is represented by Khaldoun Baghdadi. He says the tire and auto industry need to do a better job of warning consumers about when to replace aging tires.

The CHP determined the Uniroyal tire that blew its tread on Minard's car was 1- years old.

Minard had tires from three different manufacturers on her vehicle.

The tire industry association says the majority of tires should be replaced in sets of twos or fours, but in some cases a single tire is OK.

"Rubber can corrode and degrade over time and when these tires are carrying people or children or friends or family they need to be inspected," Baghdadi said.

In its report, the CHP said, "The tire tread separation may have contributed to the pre-collision events...including the vehicle leaving the roadway." It said "Minard was the cause of the collision" due to an "unsafe turning movement" after the tire tread separated.

General Motors is Chevrolet's parent company.

In 2013, GM began recommending in its owner manuals that tires should be replaced after six years regardless of tread wear. Ford and Lincoln have made similar recommendations.

There is no easy way for Minard or any motorist to determine the age of a tire. To figure out the age of a tire, you need to look for the tire identification number (also known as the DOT or Department of Transportation number) on the sidewall. It starts with "DOT." Then there are a string of letters and numbers that ends with four numbers. For example, a tire with the DOT number 3113 was manufactured in the 31st week of 2013.

Sean Kane runs Safety Research & Strategies, a consulting firm which investigates safety matters for attorneys and other clients. He says the method used to keep track of a tires age is outdated.

Kane says it's even harder to figure out whether you have a tire that's recalled.

"The recall process is broken; it never worked," he said. "So I guess you could say it's still broken."

In fact last month we found three tires recalled by Michelin last year still on sale at a Costco in South San Francisco. We took video of the tires for sale using a small camera and then purchased all three to get them off the shelf.

Michelin fears the tires may have a perforation on the side and could experience loss of inflation pressure. Michelin urged any consumer who thinks they may have a recalled tire to bring them back in to have them checked.

In a statement it told us, "If a tire is recalled, the dealer will replace it immediately at no charge to the consumer."

Costco declined an on camera interview and did not want to issue a statement. But by phone it said this should not have happened, but believes the incident has helped them to improve safety procedures.

The National Transportation Safety Board acknowledges that not all tires recalled are taken off the road.

"To the best of my knowledge, it's 20 percent or lower," NTSB spokesperson Don Karol said.

Last February, investigators say a church van overturned in Lake City, Florida after the tread separated from a recalled tire. Two people were killed and eight others injured.

It is one of three accidents that have prompted the NTSB to open an investigation into both recalled and aging tires.

Yes, it's definitely a significant issue and that's why we're looking at it at the NTSB," Karol said.

The Rubber Manufacturer's Association represents eight major tire manufacturers. It acknowledges the recall system could be improved, but it questions whether an investigation is warranted.

A spokesperson talked to ABC News investigative reporter Brian Ross.

Brian Ross: "Our station in San Francisco was able to go out and buy recalled tires. Doesn't that suggest that the system really has broken down?"
Dan Zielinski: "Well, the system definitely needs to be improved."

The NTSB will also be looking into the aging of tires and the possible link to injuries and fatalities on our roadway.

We took our cameras to tire dealers around The Bay Area in search of tires older than six years. We found a 7-year-old tire at America's Tire in Redwood City.

The company said "There are no recommendations, rules or even guidelines that would suggest selling a new tire that is seven years old from the date of manufacture is a safety concern."

We also found used tires manufactured in 1999 and 2003 at Esmeralda's Tires and Wheels in San Jose. A manager at the used tire retailer could not be reached for comment.

But the Rubber Manufacturers Association says age on a tire doesn't matter.

"A tire's service life is dependent on a number of things," Zielinski said. "Certainly, how it's used. Whether it's maintained and how it's stored."

That opinion angers Rosa Aguilar.

"When there's preventative measures you can take, there's no excuse; there's absolutely no excuse," she said.

Aguilar's attorney has filed a lawsuit alleging wrongful death, strict product liability, negligence and failure to warn. Among those sued was the used car dealer who sold the car, GM and Michelin, the parent company of Uniroyal. In separate court filings, both GM and Michelin claim any injury or damages were caused by the plaintiff and other companies.

The investigation by the NTSB is the first major significant movement on this issue in a number of years.
Related Topics:
automotive7 On Your Sideinvestigationdrivingcar crashcrashtraffic accidentNTSBRedwood CitySan JoseSouth San FranciscoStockton
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