Sept. 24 -- Bill Cartus received a 1965 Sunbeam Tiger sports car as a high school graduation gift more than 30 years ago. The Birmingham, Ala., resident says he kept the car in tip-top shape.
Four years ago, Cartus and his friend and fellow car enthusiast, Ginger Townsend, were returning home from a car convention in Montana. While driving at highway speeds the Sunbeam's left rear tire separated. Cartus says the car rolled. Townsend suffered permanent brain damage.
What Cartus didn't realize is the age of his tires made them dangerous. He said the tires had good tread, and he had checked them throughout the trip.They had only 4,000 miles on them, but they were 10 years old.
Cartus, 54, says no one told him about the hazard old tires could pose to motorists. "I now know that they deteriorate with age. That information was not given to me. It was not made available," he said.
Townsend's daughter is now suing the company that made the tire.
Cartus's case is just one of many in a series of accidents blamed on old tires.
Industry watcher Sean Kane, who investigates auto safety issues for attorneys, uncovered at least 20 cases in which old tires, some barely used, have disintegrated causing accidents. The cases led to 10 deaths.
"We suspected for some time that the industry has been unwilling to tell the public how serious a problem it is," said Kane, a partner with Arlington, Va.-based Strategic Safety. "Tires as a commodity should have a shelf life or expiration date on them."
Kane isn't the only one concerned about this issue. Last week a British trade association, the Tyre Industry Council, issued the tire industry's first ever warning on the subject, imploring people to refrain from selling tires six years old or older and to not use any tires 10 years old or older.
In addition three major German auto manufacturers, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Volkswagen, include warnings about using older tires in their owner's manuals. There is also a concern about spare tires, because they sit so long until needed.