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WAAY 31 I-Team Investigation: How safe are the used tires on your vehicle?

Used tires are becoming more popular everywhere, including the Tennessee Valley. Our WAAY 31 I-Team Investigation reveals critical information you need to know to make sure you're buying safe tires.

Posted: Apr 8, 2019 6:17 PM
Updated: Apr 9, 2019 8:38 AM

Our most recent WAAY 31 I-Team Investigation takes a look at something that could mean the difference between a safe family drive and a dangerous car crash.

Your car tires are critically important to keeping you safe. Here in the Tennessee Valley, most people buy new tires, but some folks buy used. Across the country, more than ten percent of all tires sold are used. Buying used is becoming more popular, and you need to know that a tire’s age is a critical part of evaluating whether a used tire is safe.

Safe tires are a priority for Keon Similton. “My first concern is the safety of my children and the safety when I’m driving down the road,” he told WAAY 31.

Similton says he always buys used tires. He buys his tires at OK Tire in Decatur, because he trusts the people selling them. The father-of-four has a mini-van full of family trusting him to make the right decisions.

“This is a daily car for us,” Similton said. “I want to make sure that we can be safe.”

“We’ve been selling used tires just about as long as we’ve been in business, which would be about 45 years now,” Scott McKelvy told WAAY 31. He’s one of the owners of OK Tire & Service. The Decatur dealer sells far more new tires than used, but new tire prices at “about $400 a set to well over $1,000 a set” make used tires friendly to family budgets.

“I think used tires are a good value for some people,” McKelvy said. “But, I do think it’s important that tires are inspected properly so that it’s obvious that they are in good shape before they’re in use.”

McKelvy explained when it comes to used tires, his trained technicians check for the obvious: tread wear, damage and defects like exposed cords and belt separation. They also look for something not so obvious: if a tire is too old to be safe on the road. “We see that quite often,” he said. “While the industry really doesn’t give us a specific age, they do tell us that most warranties stop at around six years on a new tire.”

Industry experts agree a tire’s age is much more critical than whether it’s used. Just like cars, tires technically become used as soon as you put them on the road. We’re all riding on them, so buying used tires might be perfectly safe if they’re not too old.

“It’s like any rubber product and the other components that are used to make the tire, they age from just being exposed to the elements,” McKelvy said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration points out “Most vehicle owners can easily overlook tire aging, increasing their risk of a crash.”

Most people wear out tire tread well before a tire’s age might become an issue. NHTSA says aging could be an issue for tires not regularly on the road, and it warns tire aging in Sunbelt states like Alabama is a bigger worry because sunlight and warm weather contribute to tire aging.

You can determine how old a tire is by looking at its identification number. “On most tires, the last four digits tell you both the week and year of manufacture,” McKelvy said.

The DOT tire identification number must begin with the letters “DOT” followed by a series of characters. It’s those last four digits that reveal a tire’s age. The first two digits identify the week the tire was made. The second pair of digits identifies the year. For example, “4417” means a tire was produced on the 44th week of 2017.

Scott McKelvy is proud his customers are loyal and keep coming back. When the rubber hits the road, he says it all comes down to finding a reputable dealer you can trust. “We do everything we can to make a qualified inspection,” he said. “And the last thing we want is to sell somebody something that they’ll have a problem with.”

“As a customer, that means they care about somebody’s safety, not only mine, but other customers as well,” Keon Similton summed it up. He takes comfort in the careful inspections to protect his precious cargo. “My safety and whoever I have in the car, too, including my family.”

Beware of used tire sellers with a short track record. They’ve been known to scrub off those tire identification numbers. Also, in Decatur, two reputable tire dealers report their tire discards have been pilfered for resale when they should have been destroyed.

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