AKRON (July 17, 2006) — I think I've become a believer that tires degrade with age and should have an expiration date. All it took was a personal experience.
Yes, I freely admit that one week short of a year ago I wrote a column dismissing, somewhat, Ford Motor Co.'s and DaimlerChrysler's stance on tire aging. Ford had inserted into its owner manuals, “Tires degrade over time, even when they are not being used,” and recommended they be replaced after six years of normal use.
DaimlerChrysler did pretty much the same; but Ford pushed the issue and now has asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to warn motorists to change tires after six years.
I wrote that I love the idea because it means more tires would be sold. I was a bit sarcastic, though, because no studies had been completed at the time that actually proved tire aging to be an issue. Ford later released the results of its own studies that prompted its suggestion to NHTSA.
Here's what happened that gave me a different perspective on tire aging.
I have a small boat—big enough for Lake Erie on a calm day—and I pull its 3,000 pounds on a trailer with my Ford Explorer. During the July 4 holiday weekend I took it to Ohio's Caribbean, the islands in the western end of the lake, to do my thing with some friends. Lots of fun, and we survived the experience.
Right before I was to leave, a friendly vacationer pointed out a tire on my trailer had gone flat. Uh oh.
So here I am on Kelleys Island. No spare, of course (that would have taken foresight). For that matter, no lug wrench that fit. My friend and I drove around the island in his truck, trying to find a solution, since there are no gas stations on tiny Kelleys—just a lot of people enjoying the holiday and a couple of marinas.
We went to one and I asked for help. “Oh, you can't get a new tire on the island. No one here to fix it, either.” If I somehow could find a tire on the mainland, a five-mile ferry ride away, and then….
Plan B was a can of fix-a-flat and crossed fingers. I got just enough air into the tire to make it onto the ferry. And I did make it about 100 feet off the ferry before the tire said goodbye to the rim. A ticket-taker at the ferry told me a gas station around the corner might be able to help, “if it's open. I don't think it is.” It was, the guy had a tire that fit and I was saved.
So why did the tire go bad? It had few miles on it and throughout winter the boat and trailer are on blocks, so the tires don't even have any load on them most of the time. Ahhh…but the tire was cracked along the sidewall and that's where it failed. It was as wrinkled as great-grandpa's mug. The tires are about 7 years old.
So now I feel a little differently about tire aging. And I'm also replacing the other tire, getting a spare and buying a lug wrench that fits.
I'm a quick study.
Mr. Noga is editor of Rubber & Plastics News, a sister publication of Tire Business.