Nov. 5, 2010 -- Dangerous, aged tires are still being sold across the country, even as a major rubber supplier recently urged the U.S. government to beef up labeling standards for tire safety, an ABC News investigation has found.
ABC News visited tire shops outside of New York City and San Francisco this week. Of the five locations in New York, ABC News found that two shops had a pair of tires from 2006. At one location, a tire from 1996 was on display for sale.
Check the end of this story to get tips on tire safety.
In San Francisco, ABC News went to four tire sellers. The last one visited had an entire set of tires made in 2005 and one tire that was 10 years old.
As previously reported by ABC News, aged tires can present a hidden danger even if their treads are unworn and they haven't been driven a mile. According to consumer and industry sources, as tires age the rubber can deteriorate and become brittle, leading to a possible tread separation.
Tires are coded with a U.S. Department of Transportation or DOT stamp followed by a four-digit number. The first two numbers indicate the week the tire was made; the second two, the year.
In May 2006, 11-year-old Willie Moreno was killed when his family's Explorer rolled over on a highway in Riverside, Calif. The left rear tire, which had experienced a catastrophic tread separation, was later found to be 12 years old at the time of the accident. A California jury awarded $18 million in March to the family. American Tire Depot (ATD), a Southern California tire-store chain, was found negligent for installing the tire in the Ford Explorer involved in the accident. .
The NHTSA Issues Tire Warning
In 2008, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association issued a consumer advisory warning motorists that outdated tires, even if they appear to be brand new, can lead to "catastrophic failure."
Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler Group have advocated that tires more than 6 years old should not be used, and this week major rubber supplier Lanxess Corp. urged the U.S. government to beef up labeling standards for tire safety.
"I would not drive in tires older than six years," said Sean Kane of Safety Research.
But the Rubber Manufacturers Association disagrees. "There's no scientific information that can point to when a tire should be removed because of age," said the association's Dan Zielinkski.
Currently there are no federal standards setting an "expiration" date for tires. Tire industry trade groups have come out strongly against such a measure, arguing that factors such as excessive use, and poor maintenance and storage are more important in determining whether or not a tire will fail.
"There has been no change in labeling, no legislation about the length of time tires can sit on the shelf," Kane said.
Tire Tread Tips:
Here are some tips to help you make sure your tires are safe:
Check the DOT stamp on any tire before purchasing.
More tread is better. Some industry groups now suggest using a quarter for your tire test instead. If the tread comes up to the edge of Washington's head that means you have an 8th of an inch of tread depth.
Also look for the "wear bars" on your tires. These are little pieces of rubber, usually set at a diagonal to the rest of the tread. When your tread is even with these bars, it's time for new tires.
It's best to replace all four tires when any one is bald. But if you absolutely cannot afford to do that, experts say, you should put the new tires on the back of your vehicle to help prevent fishtailing.
Rotating your tires as often as your owner's manual or mechanic recommends will also help preserve your tread. The frequency varies, but many manufacturers recommend tire rotation every 6 thousand miles.
Safety Tips for Tires
Nicks in the sidewalls of your tires are a hazard, too, because they subtly degrade the strength of this vital part that carries your heavy vehicle. And even missing air caps are not ideal, because they will very slowly let air out and dirt in. Proper tire maintenance can be achieved with a few simple tools. You will need a penny or a quarter as well as a tire pressure gauge, which can be purchased at any vehicle service center, tire retailer or the automotive section of your local warehouse store.
Finally, it's a good idea to scrutinize the tires of any used car you are looking to buy.
ABC News' Brian Ross Unit and Elisabeth Leamy contributed to this article.