The Investigators: Driving on Danger

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Thousands of car crashes each year are blamed on bad tires. Industry experts say they have an expiration date. Yet there are no laws stopping tire shops from selling old, used tires.

The Investigators uncovered there is a code that could prevent consumers from driving on danger.

Tire aging is an issue that has already hit close to home.

On February, 15, a busload of high school baseball players and an SUV collided on Highway 90 in St. Mary Parish. Four people died in the SUV. More than 30 people on the bus were injured. Federal investigators zeroed in on a tire on the SUV that failed. It was ten years old. Experts claim the safe life of a tire is six years.

Industry experts argue tires are perhaps the most important component of your car. They vary in size, weight, and age.

9News Investigators inspected tires cars parked at various retail stores in Baton Rouge.

Every tire is marked with a complex code that includes a series of letters and numbers. It can be found in the DOT, or Department of Transportation, identification code. Follow the letters DOT to the last four digits in the series. The last four numbers tell the week and year, respectively, when the tire was manufactured.

The Investigators found tires with manufacturing dates ranging from 2013 to 2005.

Most of the serial numbers were easy to read. But not everyone knows how to crack the code. The Investigators waited for shoppers to return to their cars to see what they knew about their tires. Most knew nothing about the date posted on the sidewall.

"How do you check your tire," 9News Investigator, Cheryl Mercedes, asked.

"I put a coin in there to see if it's worn out," George Hatzis responded.

Hatzis used an old trick. He buried a penny in the rubber to check the tread. We know it was manufactured the 35th week of 2010, but he did not.

"Oh, I don't know anything about that. I bought the car with the tires on it," Hatzis said.

Most people do and they take the seller's word when they are told the tires were recently manufactured.

9News next ran into Wayne Netter, a former truck driver who said he examines his tires every day.

"These tires are about a year old. When I purchased it I asked the owner and he showed me the paperwork on it," Netter said.

"Did you know that you could read the date of when it was manufactured right here on the tire," Mercedes asked.

"I just learned that when I put new tires on my Armada," Netter said.

"So can you tell me how old this tire is," Mercedes asked.

Netter tried but could not immediately find the date. After a couple of minutes, The Investigators helped him. Netter learned his tires are not as new as he thought.

"It was manufactured the 48th week of 2011," Mercedes said.

"So he (seller) didn't tell me the truth," Netter said.

Unless you look at the date, it can be hard to tell whether a tire is still inside the safe lifetime. Experts said a tire, whether it is on the road or on a shelf, typically reaches its lifespan after six years.

Shopper Darrell Moses, felt good about his tires. The tread does not seem worn and there are no visible cracks on his tires. But he had no idea how old they were.

"The date is right here. The code is 4007. That means your tire was manufactured the 40th week of 2007," Mercedes said.

"Wow! I just learned something. That's impressive," Moses said.

The date can be shocking but not to everyone. Some drivers admit they take their chances on used tires because they cannot afford new ones.

"Thirty dollars. You can't beat it," Patricia Williams explained.

Patrice Williams was stunned when we found one of her front tires was over nine years old.

"The code is 2805. This one was made the 28th week of 2005," Mercedes pointed out.

"I guess I need some new tires. It doesn't look like a bad tire. I guess when you buy them used you don't really pay attention to them. You are just getting a tire," Williams said.

The Investigators visited several used tire shops in Baton Rouge to see whether they pay attention to the dates on the tires they sell.

Ayad Algamal with City Tires at the intersection of Florida Boulevard and Eugene Street invited The Investigators inside a storeroom with hundreds of used tires stacked to the ceiling.

"How old are these tires," Mercedes asked.

"About three or four years," Algamal responded.

But when The Investigators asked Algamal to show the date, he had a hard time finding it.

"Do you normally look at that," Mercedes asked.

"No," Algamal responded.

"This 4707 means this tire was manufactured the 47th week of 2007," Mercedes pointed out.

"Oh 2007. So this is when they made it then," Algamal responded.

The Investigators started flipping tires in the storeroom and noticed some were not marked.

Algamal admitted some of the serial numbers have been covered with paint or rubbed off. The Investigators found a few.

“So you can't tell me how old this tire is, can you?” Mercedes asked.

"No. How am I going to tell you?" Algamal asked.

"How are you going to tell your customers?" Mercedes asked.

"I'm telling you the customers never ask for a date. Never," Algamal responded.

Industry experts who have been studying tire aging for over a decade call it "the invisible hazard." They said the federal government has failed to acknowledge the problem and that has allowed tire shops to continue selling old used tires.

Tuesday on 9News at Six, hear what one research group is doing to change that and what Tire City plans to do with its used tire collection after The Investigators pointed out the issue.

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