Tire failures are a significant threat to the health and safety of Georgia citizens. From 2010 through 2012 in Georgia, failed or improperly maintained tires caused or contributed to more than 2,500 wrecks. This number includes at least 90 deaths on our roadways. Tire failures come in many forms, from simple flat tires to catastrophic tread-separation events. Regardless of the severity of the tire failure, defectively designed and manufactured tires are the underlying cause of many of the failures. Many other failures are caused by poor maintenance or servicing.
In many ways, tires are the most important stability control systems on a vehicle. Tires transfer braking and driving forces from the vehicle to the pavement. As a result, it is imperative that tire manufacturers design and manufacture tires that are able to withstand the strains and speeds of modern vehicles. Tire manufacturers have made extensive changes to the way tires are designed, manufactured, and sold to consumers since the first pneumatic tire was invented in 1845. In many ways, these changes have been positive. Modern tires last longer, offer superior fuel efficiency, and provide for a more comfortable ride. However, improvements in the long-term durability of tires have also given rise to problems involving the breakdown of rubber components over time and the inability of tires to withstand longer workloads and higher speeds.
These problems have been further complicated by concentrated efforts of tire manufacturers to conceal important safety information from consumers and to take shortcuts in the design and manufacturing processes to raise profits.
One of the most important considerations in designing a tire is providing adequate protection against tread separations. Countless hours are put into the design of each tire model and tire manufacturers make a calculated decision for each and every component. Innovators have filed hundreds of patents for methods that can be used and manufacturers have known for decades which methods are the most effective. Among these technologies, the best steps that a tire manufacturer can take to prevent a tread separation are using a cap ply, belt wedge, and a sufficiently robust inner liner. Unfortunately, many tires sold in the United States have not used any of these technologies within them. Worse still, consumers are not informed which tires do not provide adequate protections, even if the tires are priced the same as tires that do. This lack of transparency eliminates your ability to make informed decisions about your family’s safety.
As a tire ages it undergoes profound chemical changes that decrease its durability. These chemical changes are commonly referred to as oxidation, which simply means that as the tire components are exposed to oxygen, the oxygen particles cause the flexible components of a tire to harden and become brittle. Over time, the tire will simply fall apart under normal stress, just like an old rubber band. Because this process occurs naturally, it does not matter if a tire is being used, stored as a spare, or simply waiting on a store shelf for an unsuspecting consumer. In 1973, the average tread life of a passenger car tire was approximately 24,000 miles. This number has quadrupled over the last forty years and some currently sold tires promise 100,000 miles of tread life. As tread life becomes less of a factor in the service life of a tire, oxidation becomes a more serious concern— particularly in hotter climates, like Georgia, which is routinely the fifth hottest state in the United States.
Tire aging is a “hidden hazard” because it is impossible to tell how old a tire is without deciphering an 11+ digit code that is imprinted on the side of the tire. The guide on the opposite page demonstrates how to interpret this code. As you can imagine, most consumers either do not know that this code exists or do not understand its significance.
A large body of scientific evidence supports that most tires should be replaced six years from the date they are manufactured. This six-year expiration date begins from the day the tire was manufactured at the plant—not the date it was sold to a consumer or the date that it was installed on a vehicle. Tire manufacturers are well aware of this expiration date, but have refused to help consumers identify aged tires. In contrast, many auto manufacturers have taken small steps to warn consumers by placing warnings within the owner’s manual of newer model vehicles. However, these warnings fail to convey the gravity of the risk to consumers and do nothing to warn owners of older model vehicles.
In addition, due to the cryptic code tire manufacturers use on tires, the warnings are of only limited use to consumers. The failure to provide an adequate warning of the dangers of tire aging places innocent lives at risk.
From 2002 to 2012, more than 3.7 million tires have been recalled through NHTSA. Mandatory reports filed with NHTSA indicate that tire recall campaigns have been woefully ineffective. As of January 1, 2013, less than one million recalled tires have been removed from service. This means that in addition to the undisclosed design and manufacturing defects detailed in this publication, there are potentially millions of tires on United States roadways that have a known manufacturing defect. Simply stated, it is more economical for tire manufacturers to silently issue a recall and rely on tire sellers to remove tires from service than it is to diligently seek out consumers who are at risk of injury from defective tires.
Once a tire is sold, it requires regular maintenance. As vehicle systems, including tires, become more complex, the ability of consumers to perform self-maintenance is decreasing. As a result, many consumers now receive tire maintenance as part of routine procedures from a service center. Unfortunately, some service centers cut corners to save time or money and consumer lives are placed at risk. When a service center agrees to service a tire, the service center assumes a duty to identify and warn of dangerous conditions and to perform repairs and maintenance in a safe and professional manner.
When a tire fails and an individual is seriously injured or killed in the resulting wreck, tire manufacturers refuse to accept responsibility. Instead, tire manufacturers and sellers will do anything to absolve themselves of liability. When faced with a claim for a defective tire, manufacturers will manufacture frivolous defenses intended to place blame exclusively on the victim, the vehicle the tire was installed on, the roadway, or the owner of the vehicle. Many consumers may find these excuses compelling. However, the attorneys at Werner Wetherington have repeatedly proven that these “defenses” are not based in scientific fact.