An age of indecision over new tires
The process of tire sales in Europe is quite straightforward in that drivers stop in at a tire retail center to buy a new tire when a current one is worn, which is a practice carried out all over the world. There is no doubt that customers always visit their local tire center begrudgingly, as it is generally known as a “distress purchase.”
Let’s face it, they do not figure as an exciting buy, but cars will always need replacement tires. But we cannot expect drivers to actually look forward to upgrading their tires, and most recently in Europe they now have something else to possibly moan about — tire aging!
Up till now, European customers have probably not even thought about how old new tires could be when fitted to their vehicles, but recent reports in the national press have now given them food for thought on the matter.
Articles have been published in leading newspapers and automotive magazines across Europe warning drivers to check the age of their tires. They also are going into detail on what happens to tires when they have been manufactured many years ago such as cracking of the sidewall and generally damaging the tire’s overall condition.
Drivers also are being encouraged to check the age of their tires by looking at the panel on the sidewall which gives the production date in the form of four figures preceded by the letters DOT. So in effect, European motorists are now increasingly questioning the actual age of new tires when they are fitted.
I have looked at this situation in depth and it seems the tire industry is not pleased with what they openly consider to be “scare mongering.”
I have discussed the situation with a good cross section of people in the industry and the facts are as follows. Rubber in tires does deteriorate over time due to UV and environmental exposure. This causes dry rot leaving the structure of a tire brittle which leads to inevitable sidewall damage. However, tires do contain anti-oxidizing chemicals in order to slow down aging, but they must be used on a regular basis for this process to become effective. Poor storage is another important factor in this issue as exposure to sunlight, constant heat and rain can also inflict damage.
Drivers are being encouraged to question just how long new tires have been stored in warehouses and retail centers’ racks. Manufacturers state that tires can be kept in tire racks (in the right conditions) for up to two years before being sold. The general acceptance is that the product is still good to be fitted even up to 10 years after being produced.
The industry is also stating that vehicles that only cover low annual mileage and older vehicles tend to be most at risk from the possibility of premature tire aging, and at the moment a lot of debate is going on about the do’s and dont’s of how to combat the effects of tire aging.
A matter of geography
Having studied this growing situation across all European countries, I have found that the question of how long tires should be fitted to vehicles very much depends on location and use.
For example, tire aging will obviously develop more swiftly in hotter climates such as Spain, Italy and Greece and much less in Scandinavia where temperatures are a lot cooler for most of the year.
In my opinion the fact that the media are actively encouraging drivers to pay more attention toward the condition of their tires can only be a positive move. On the other hand, on the question of just how old tires should be, I would consider tires on display for sale should be no more than two years old and even then you have to trust that both the tire manufacturer and retailer have stored their tires correctly.
Taking everything into consideration, I do not believe we have heard the last of tire aging, which possibly in the long term may well lead to even more information being added to the current EU tire label. ■
John Stone has been working within the global tire industry for the past 20 years. In 2004 he launched his own company, Sapphire Media Services, as a business media consultant with clients around the globe. Stone also writes for tire and automotive-related publications in Europe, South Africa and Asia.