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Ford Warns About Danger of Old Tires

May 21, 2005 | THE DETROIT NEWS

Ford Motor Co. has become the first U.S. automaker to warn customers that they should replace older tires, even if their treads are not worn out.

Ford officials said the move comes in response to a growing body of research that suggests that tires deteriorate as they age and can experience tread separations and other failures, even if they look robust.

"Tires degrade over time, even when they are not being used," Ford's warning reads. "It is recommended that tires generally be replaced after six years of normal service. Heat caused by hot climates or frequent high loading conditions can accelerate the aging process."

Ford's new tire warning was posted on the company's Web site,, within the last three weeks and will be printed in owner's manuals beginning with 2006 model year vehicles. Similar warnings have appeared in Europe, but this is the first time one of Detroit's Big Three has cautioned U.S. customers.

Foreign warnings

Foreign makers including Volkswagen AG, BMW AG, Toyota Motor Corp. and DaimlerChrysler AG have alerted customers in Europe and the United States about aging tires. General Motors Corp.'s European brands, Vauxhall and Opel, also have carried similar warnings.

In the years since the Firestone tire recall, Ford has funded several studies on tire safety, including how rubber ages, how older tires perform in the field, and how to develop laboratory tests that simulate how tires age in the real world. The six-year replacement recommendation was based on a broad study of tires retrieved from the field, said Ford spokesman Dan Jarvis.

Ford engineers are presenting new research on tire aging this week at an American Chemical Society meeting in Texas.

Age labels

Activist Sean Kane has petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for an easy-to-read tire age label. Kane, the president of SRS Inc., a Massachusetts auto safety research firm, has documented 73 crashes related to older tires that have resulted in 50 deaths since 1999.

Kane also said the safety agency should issue a consumer advisory based on the latest research, an approach the agency has followed before when it has stopped short of regulation.

NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson said the agency is not ready to issue any kind of consumer advisory, but that does not prevent automakers or tire companies from issuing their own warnings if they have research suggesting a safety issue.

"Ford is to be commended if they want to step up and warn their customers," he said.

Safety test

In the meantime, the safety agency is trying to come up with a test that will simulate the effects of aging. Congress asked for the test as part of legislation that followed the Firestone tire recall. The regulators expect to announce a proposal next year.

For its part, the tire industry says it is also conducting research into tire aging, but there is no data to support a specific age limit for tires. A tire's performance and safety is determined more by factors such as climate and proper maintenance, said Dan Zielinski, spokesman for the Rubber Manufacturers Association.

"We haven't seen the data that shows a tire will fail after a certain date," Zielinski said.

But the issue is seeping into public consciousness. New York state lawmakers are considering a bill to require tire makers to put "born-on" dates on tires sold in the state. In the meantime, examples are accumulating of people who have suffered sometimes fatal consequences for driving on old tires.

"I don't believe tires are failing more now," said Mike Danko, an attorney for the family of Bobby Crane, 17, of Danville, Calif., who died after an older tire on the SUV driven by his older brother shredded and caused them to crash. "But before, nobody looked at age as the cause of failure."

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