The Investigators: Driving on Danger Part II

The Investigators: Driving on Danger - Part 2

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Four people died and more than 30 were injured on Feb. 15 when a tire on an SUV blew out putting it in the path of a school bus in St. Mary Parish. Federal investigators said that tire was ten years old.

The 9News Investigators uncovered used tires for sale at local tire shops that could have people driving on danger.

Tires are so common that most people do not think about them until they need a new one. The automotive industry cannot move without them and industry experts believe there are some things drivers should know before they ride on them.

Most drivers check the pressure, air, and tread. But experts said the date encrypted on the sidewall is just as important. It tells you the date a tire was made. The serial number is printed after the letters DOT, which stand for Department of Transportation. The last four numbers are the week and year the tire was manufactured.

The 9news Investigators inspected tires on cars parked at retail stores in Baton Rouge and found most people do not know the date is even there.

"Do you know how old that tire is," 9News Investigator, Cheryl Mercedes, asked.

"No ma'am," La'Tigre Stokes replied.

"Can you give me an estimate," Mercedes asked.

"A year and a half maybe," Stokes guessed.

"Did you know you can check exactly how old by the week and the year this tire was made," Mercedes asked.

"No," Stokes said.

The Investigators showed Stokes and other customers how to decode the jargon on the sidewall. Some drivers learned the tires on their cars were more than a decade old.

Experts claim the safe lifespan on most passenger tires is six years. A lot of the drivers The Investigators spoke with admitted they buy used tires to save money.

The Investigators visited several used tire shops in Baton Rouge to see if the people selling them paid attention to the date on the tires they were selling.

Patrick Harris at J & C Used Tires on North Boulevard invited us inside his storeroom.

"Normally I try to get a tire that's maybe a year or so," Harris said.

"Can you tell me how old that tire is right there," 9News Investigators, Cheryl Mercedes, asked.

Harris showed The Investigators the tire was made in the year 2009. He said when he gets a new set of used tires he gets rid of the older ones. 9News Investigators took a look around and found most of his tires ranged in age from 2010 to 2012.

"Would you sell a 2008 tire?" Mercedes asked.

"Um, that's old," Harris replied.

Harris said he would not sell a tire that old, but not every used tire shop in Baton Rouge sets the same standard.

The Investigators also visited Tire City on Florida Boulevard and Eugene Street.  Ayad Algamal gave The Investigators a tour of his stockroom packed with hundreds of used tires. Algamal said the tires are organized by size.

"How old are these tires?" Mercedes asked.

"Three or four years," Algamal said.

When The Investigators asked Algamal to identify the age of the tires he sells, he admitted he does not pay attention to the dates. However, he said all of the tires he sells, regardless of age, are priced the same and get the same 30-day warranty.

"So if I got a 2012 tire instead of 2008 tire, I would pay the same amount?" Mercedes asked.

"I told you we don't look at the date. We sell them all the same," Algamal said.

The Investigators spent several house flipping tires at Tire City and uncovered some tires more than a decade old.

"Actually this one right here is a 2003," Mercedes said.

"A 2003? It must be old. They just came last week," Algamal said.

Sean Kane, the president of a safety research firm that investigates motor vehicle consumer product safety, said the age of a tire matters. The group has been studying tire aging since 2003.

"Tire age is a safety problem and it's a significant one," Kane said.

He said part of the problem is that the federal government has no set policy that states when a tire should be replaced. However, some automakers are now taking a stance.

"GM, Ford, Chrysler, Volkswagen, Toyota,  and Nissan all say remove tires after six years regardless of tread because they represent an increased risk for failure," Kane said.

Kane said whether the tire is on the road or sitting on a shelf, the materials used to make it still break down.

"Take a new, fresh rubber band. You stretch a rubber band when it's new, it's very elastic. If you take an old one that's been sitting around for a while and stretch it you start to get cracks in the rubber," Kane explained.

Kane said the same goes for tires. While there have been a number of lawsuits filed against tire makers, Kane said you rarely hear about them because the manufacturers are quietly settling claims out of court.

"We all know what's going on. The question is, how to do we translate that data to protect consumers from installing tires or shops that are beyond the point where they are safe," Kane said.

Algamal at Tire City said after learning about tire aging, he will start to check the dates on the tires he gets.

"Are you committed to checking the dates on those tires?" Mercedes asked.

"Well of course. It is dangerous," Algamal said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is currently studying tire aging.

The results are expected to be published next year.

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