ABC 20/20 broadcast draws attention to outdated, deteriorating tires sold as a 'new' product

Jan. 1, 2020
Are you selling old "new" tires? Even if the answer is no, you can likely expect closer consumer scrutiny of your stock reflected through an examination of a tire's sidewall labeling. The online blogosphere is abuzz with tales of outdated tires being
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Are you selling old “new” tires? Even if the answer is no, you can likely expect closer consumer scrutiny of your stock reflected through an examination of a tire’s sidewall labeling. The online blogosphere is abuzz with tales of outdated tires being sold as new following a May 9 ABC “20/20” broadcast on the dangers presented by decaying components leading to tire failure.

Local newspapers and broadcast outlets across the country have also been following up on the issue.

The ABC program, overseen and narrated by Chief Investigative Reporter Brian Ross, quotes consumer safety advocate and federal consultant Sean Kane at length, who says more than 100 deaths in the U.S. have been attributed to aged tires that dried out and lost their treads even though they appeared to be safe.

With no warning from the industry or the federal government, according to the broadcast, safety experts say the only way for consumers to protect themselves is to learn how to “read the cryptic code embedded on a tire’s sidewall” which reveals the year and week a tire was manufactured.

“The code is at the end of a jumble of letters and numbers on the tire and, until recently, was on the inward side of the tire requiring motorists to climb under the car to read the number. For example, the number 418 indicates the tire was manufactured in the 41st week of 1998 and is 10 years old,” according to a program script reviewed by Tire Topics.

“U.S. consumers are left in the dark on this issue,” says Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies, Inc. in Rehoboth, Mass.

A tire older than six years old, even if it’s never been driven a mile, “is like a ticking time bomb. You don’t know what’s going on inside. That’s what makes it so dangerous,” says Kane in the 20/20 interview.

An ABC voiceover relates: “This tire was bought as new — it has never been on the road — but was nearly 14 years old when purchased. Despite its deep treads, this tire’s inside layers have been slowly decomposing and drying out.”

Members of the British Rubber Manufacturers Association, which include Goodyear, Firestone and Michelin, warned in 2001, says ABC, that “unused tyres [sic] should not be put into service if they are over 6 years old.”

The U.S. tire industry association, representing many of the same companies, says it has no plans to issue a similar warning, according to the broadcast.

“There’s no scientific information that can point to when a tire should be removed because of age,” says ABC interviewee Dan Zielinksi, of the U.S. Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA), who maintains that age is not the key factor in tire safety and performance. “You need to look at the totality of the tire’s service life or its storage conditions to make that decision.”

But safety experts say there is extensive research showing tires begin to deteriorate in “critical” ways even if they remain unused or unsold in store inventories.

In most cases, a visual inspection or check of tread depth will not reveal the problem, say experts interviewed by ABC.

The Ford Motor Co. has urged the federal government to adopt a six-year expiration date, citing “comprehensive research” and “defendable data driven by analysis.”

Ford, BMW, Chrysler, Toyota and VW/Audi now carry warnings about aged tires in manuals given to car owners.

Even some tire companies have begun to issue warnings. Bridgestone/Firestone, Michelin and Continental now recommend that tires older than 10 years should not be used, even if they appear safe by visual inspection, the report notes.

The network goes on to contend that some of the biggest tire retailers in the U.S. are selling tires that are well beyond the age limit recommended by consumer groups and certain automakers, according to the results of a hidden camera investigation by 20/20 and ABC News affiliates around the country.

Research and tests show that as tires age, they begin to dry out and become potentially dangerous, leading to calls for a six-year age limit for tires from Ford and other carmakers.

“20/20 teamed up with our ABC News affiliates to see if tires older than six years were being sold as ‘new’ by major tire retailers. Unlike most consumers, we knew how to read the industry’s convoluted date code, which reveals the week and year when a tire was made,” the broadcast says.

It cites results such as:
In San Francisco, Calif., reporters from KGO-TV found a tire made in 1999 and two from 2002 being sold as new by Goodyear, the seventh-largest tire retailer in the U.S.

In Indianapolis, Ind., affiliate WRTV-TV went tire shopping at Wal-Mart, the country’s third largest tire seller, and found a tire made in 2001 and one from 1999. In Orlando, Fla., affiliate WFTV-TV also found two aged tires dating back to 1999 and 2000 for sale at a Wal-Mart store.

“At Sears, the fifth-largest tire retailer in the U.S., our undercover 20/20 shoppers found nearly a dozen aged tires being sold as new as part of a special ‘manager’s clearance sale.’ At three different stores in New Jersey, we found tires ranging from seven years old to one that was manufactured 12 years ago in 1996,” the report says.

“At a Sear’s store in Watchung, N.J., a salesman warned us before we purchased a 2002 tire, saying, ‘You’re supposed to get rid of them every six or seven years...no matter what condition it is.’ He, however, still sold us the tire, saying to only use it as a spare. At the Sears stores we visited in Union and Jersey City, N.J., we were told the aged tires we purchased were safe. At a Sears store in Houston, Texas, ABC News affiliate KTRK-TV also found an aged tire dating back to 2001,” says the broadcast.

“In response to our findings, Sears released a statement saying, ‘It is unusual that there would be tires that old in our stores. We follow an inventory process of first in, first out, and we turn our tire inventory an average of more than three times a year. We note that there is a difference of opinion in the tire industry (the Tire Industry Association, RMA and the major tire manufacturers) about the service-life limits of tires. The safety of our customers is a top priority for Sears, and we’ll continue to work with all interested parties to push for a consensus on tire service limits. Consistent maintenance, proper inflation and regular inspection for tread wear patterns and damage are the keys to good tire performance. For consumers who are concerned about the age or condition of their tires, it is recommended they let us evaluate their tires regularly, which we’ll do free of charge.”

Goodyear, Wal-Mart and the U.S. tire industry trade association also say that age is not the key factor in tire safety, and that consumers should pay attention to other maintenance issues.

According to ABC interviewee Jim Davis, a Goodyear spokesman, “We don’t support age-based limits on tires because there’s no scientific data to support that.”

Wal-Mart spokesperson Linda Blakley says, according to ABC, “Should the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration) create a ruling related to age of tires and its effect on the safety of our customers, we would of course comply.”

Some of the biggest tire manufacturers, including Bridgestone/Firestone and Michelin, however, have issued bulletins to retailers calling for tires to be removed from service 10 years after the date of manufacture, the network says. The bulletins note that consumers should follow the tire replacement recommendations in their vehicle owner's manual if they offer different advice on a tire’s shelf life. Ford, Chrysler, BMW, Audi and Toyota all recommend that tires be replaced six years after they were made.

Because of those bulletins, tire retailers should not be selling tires close to or older than 10 years of age, says Kane, the auto safety advocate. “It’s shocking to hear that particularly now because companies, like Sears, these large tire retailers have had this information in their hands for some time,” he asserts.

ABC’s extensive reporting on this issue was sparked in part by outdated tires being linked to the 2002 death of Andrew “Andy” Moore, an admired student and musician from Newtown in Bucks County, Pa.

Moore’s parents have settled a wrongful death lawsuit against Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire and other local vehicle service defendants stemming from a fatal van accident caused by the sudden tread separation of a tire which had been sold to the Moore family years earlier as new. The Firestone tire was actually nearly four-years old at the time of purchase by Robert Moore, Andy’s father. Terms of the settlement are under court seal, but the Moore family, beginning with the 20/20 report, is now publicly addressing the need for action to prevent similar tragedies resulting from the sale and use of “new-old tires.”

“We lost a son and his life can never be replaced,” says Robert Moore, a resident of Washington Crossing, Pa. “But we can dedicate ourselves to saving lives by banning the sale of aged, potentially deadly tires and by making sure that old, unsafe tires are removed from service.”

Moore asks, “How can we as a nation require expiration dates on milk and eggs, but have no such requirement for tires? Something has to change and that is why we brought the lawsuit in the first place.”

The settlement came after extensive discovery and just before the civil trial was scheduled to begin before Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Arnold New. Donald F. Manchel and Jane Marton, the Philadelphia lawyers representing the Moore family, were prepared to present evidence indicating Firestone was aware that discontinued and poorly stored Firestone tires were being sold by Sunoco dealers, such as the Bucks County retailer that sold the Moore family its lethal tire. They also planned to demonstrate at trial that Firestone violated its own recommendations and warehousing policies, which called for tires to be stored in cool, dry environments away from electric motors. Manchel and Marton were both interviewed for the ABC program.

Andy Moore was a former Boy Scout and a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist at Council Rock High School (now known as Council Rock High School North) in Newtown. On July 31, 2002 the talented trumpeter and incoming, second-year Lehigh University mechanical engineering major was driving himself and four high-school friends in his father’s GMC Safari van during a dream camping trip in Ontario, Canada. Even though it still had plenty of tread, the rubber of the left rear tire tread separated as Moore rounded a curve on Highway 401, a main highway in southern Ontario, according to the lawyers.

Moore, who was wearing his seat belt, lost control of the van. It rolled several times and came to rest in a ditch. Moore and another high school classmate died. The other three passengers sustained minor injuries. They served as pall bearers at Andy’s funeral.

Five years earlier, in1997, Robert Moore had bought what he thought were newly-made Firestone tires. However, it was later learned that the tires had actually been manufactured in mid-1993. Complaining about how the van and tires were handling shortly before the fatal crash, Moore had the van serviced at a local Chevrolet dealer, which rotated the front tires to the rear.

Moore’s lawyers say that in 2000 Congress passed the Transportation Recall, Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act (TREAD) Act in response to the Firestone/Ford rollover crisis. But, the tire maker has never recalled any old/new tires, and did nothing to warn the public, police or auto industry about the danger of aging tires.

Says Manchel: “Consumers worldwide should be warned with regard to the use of old tires and the possibility of buying old tires as new, since nothing can prevent this aging process. This is an industry-wide problem not confined to Bridgestone/Firestone alone.”

“Why is it that when it comes to tires,” asks Robert Moore, “the only state inspection test is for tread wear and not age of tires, knowing that by every measure, an old tire is a potentially deadly tire?”

In the wake of their son’s death Moore and Andy’s mother, Dr. Mary E. Walder, a pediatrician, established the Andy Moore Scholarship at Council Rock North. Recognizing their son’s passion for music, the scholarship — which provides $1,250 per year for four undergraduate years — is awarded each year to a graduating senior who demonstrates excellence in both music and academics.

For more information about the ABC program, including video and photographic slide shows, visit abcnews.go.com/blotter. Kane’s Internet site can be viewed at: www.safetyresearch.net.

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