How to Determine the Age of your Tires
Have you ever asked yourself, “how old are my tires?”. If not – you should. Determining your tire age is very important to you and your family’s safety. If you’re driving with a tire over six years old, you could be putting yourself in danger, as tires dry rot with age from the inside out.
“These Tires Have a Few Good Years Left in Them”
I used to think, “the tread looks great, no bald or worn out spots, these things could last at least a couple more years”. They may last another three years, but your tread has little to do with it. What is more essential is the age of the tire. Tires are made of rubber, obviously, and when rubber gets old, it starts to dry and crack (often times from the inside out – this process is not always visible to the naked eye).
What’s more important than the thickness of the tread is the date that the tires were manufactured. Until recently, I had no idea that the age of the tire mattered. I thought it was all in the tread and visible cracking. I also had no idea that tires have a manufacture date stamped on them. But the manufacturers don’t make it easy on you to figure this out.
It turns out that tires have cryptic codes on them. Believe it or not, you can actually determine your tire’s manufacture date based on these codes.
How to Determine your Tire Age
Let’s discuss pre and post 2000 tire manufacturing date stamps (if your tire is older than this as indicated by a lack of this standard, you’ll want to have it replaced immediately). Tirerack.com has a great demonstration on how you can determine your tire’s ages:
Tires Manufacture Date After 2000
Since 2000, the week and year the tire was produced has been provided by the last four digits of the Tire Identification Number with the 2 digits being used to identify the week immediately preceding the 2 digits used to identify the year.
Example of a tire manufactured since 2000 with the current Tire Identification Number format:
DOT U2LL LMLR 5107 Manufactured during the 51st week of the year, in 2007
While the entire Tire Identification Number is required to be branded onto one sidewall of every tire, current regulations also require that DOT and the first digits of the Tire Identification Number must also be branded onto the opposite sidewall. Therefore, it is possible to see a Tire Identification Number that appears incomplete and requires looking at the tire’s other sidewall to find the entire Tire Identification Number
The use of a partial Tire Identification Number on the one sidewall (shown above) reduces the risk of injury to the mold technician that would have to install the weekly date code on the top sidewall portion of a hot tire mold.
Tire Manufacture Date Before 2000
The Tire Identification Number for tires produced prior to 2000 was based on the assumption that tires would not be in service for ten years. While they were required to provided the same information as today’s tires, the week and year the tire was produced was contained in the last three digits. The 2 digits used to identify the week a tire was manufactured immediately preceded a single digit used to identify the year. If you’re driving on a tire with this format, it’s time to retire it.
Example of a tire manufactured before 2000 with the earlier Tire Identification Number format:
DOT EJ8J DFM 408 Manufactured during the 40th week of the year, during the 8th year of the decade
While the previous Tire Identification Number format identified that a tire was built in the 8th year of a decade, there was no universal identifier that confirmed which decade (tires produced in the 1990s may have a small triangle following the Tire Identification Number to identify the decade).
And finally, hold on to your sales receipt. Most tire manufacturer’s warranties cover their tires for four years from the date of purchase or five years from the week the tires were manufactured. So if you purchase new tires that were manufactured exactly two years ago they will be covered for a total of six years (four years from the date of purchase) as long as you have your receipt. If you lose your receipt, your tires’ warranty coverage will end five years from the week the tire was produced (resulting in the tire manufacturer’s warranty coverage ending only three years from the date of purchase in this example).
Will My Set of Four Tires All be the Same Age?
Another thing to note when getting new tires or checking your old is that all four tires will most likely not be the exact same age. On a previous set of tires I purchased, I found that three of my new tires were made in the second week of 2008, while the fourth was made in the 21st week. Had any of my tires been manufactured more than a year prior to my date of purchase, I would have taken them back immediately and demanded a refund. When checking the age of your tires, check all four tires.
My Tires Don’t have a Code on Them!
If you do not see a manufacturing code on your tire, grab a flashlight and slide underneath your car to check the other side. Tire manufacturers want to make it as hard as possible for you to determine your tire’s age, so they’ve inconveniently placed the manufacture date on only one side of your tires.
Why Do Tire Companies Hide the Tires Manufacture Date?
Because they can and it’s profitable to. In many other countries, government works for consumers a little harder on their rights. In the good ole’ USA, big business lobbies against consumer rights and quite often wins. Why would the big tire manufactures want to pull their tires off the shelf to be destroyed?
Take a peek at this very informative video from ABC’s 20/20, in which a hidden video camera was used in tire stores. Some retailers were helpful and informed, others not so much. Some retailers were selling tires as old as 12 years! You have to wonder how much of this is corporate mandate versus ignorance.
It pays to be an informed consumer, both in terms of finance and safety. If you’ve bought old tires recently, hopefully you have save your receipts. Go back to the place you purchased from and see if they’ll swap newly manufactured tires (or demand it). If that doesn’t work, you should at least be able to get a credit towards new tires.