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Are 14 year old tires safe?

Short answer: absolutely not, and yes even if they look brand new. A tire that is 14 years old has definitely accumulated a number of structural insufficiencies over the course of the years regardless if actual miles were out on it. For a detailed explanation on what goes on inside your tire as the years build up, read on. Some of the main reasons that warrant replacement of such tires are listed below.

Hazards of using old tires

1. Risk of blowouts

A tire that is not structurally sound is substantially more prone to blow outs which is probably the greatest hazard encountered by users of old tires. This is mostly due to stiffening of the sidewalls which cause them to bulge and ultimately blowout when put under stress. These can be insanely dangerous and have proven to be lethal time and again. Failures like separating from the rim or throwing out chunks of rubber during wheel spins are fairly common with old tires as the cohesion of the rubber molecules decreases significantly with time.

2. Increased braking distances

The polymers of the rubber compound also undergo deterioration which invites unwarranted hazards to your commute. These include increased braking distances which could mean all the difference in situations where you have to apply full emergency brakes and escape a deadly accident by a few inches.

3. Slippage over tricky surfaces

Old tires have much lesser grip than the new ones. This may not be an issue while driving on normal surfaces but it could cause slippage when driving over water, gravel, sand, mud or snow etc. These surfaces have been known to ultimately test the grip as well as the tread design for years now.

4. Risk of hydroplaning

Such tires have a much greater risk to hydroplane as well because the shape and integrity of the water evacuation channels is bound to be compromised. Thus water accumulates and forms a layer beneath the tire.

5. Understeer

An old tire is akin to an inelastic rubber band with a compromised ability to recoil. This “recoil” is what keeps the tire glued to the road whenever the car is upset or the weight is shifted to one side. Loss of this critical function can prove to be lethal due the dangerously overwhelming amounts of understeer imparted by the lack of contact and thus traction.

Other inconveniences:

1. Greater propensity to puncture:

Older tires have a considerably greater propensity to puncture upon the slightest of impacts. This is in part due to the weakened structure and partly due to the inelasticity of the rubber. Punctures during your commute are a headache few wish to experience and puncture during a road trip are painful enough to haunt the rest of the experience. So to save yourself the inconvenience and invest in some new tires for a carefree and relaxed state of mind during your travels.

2. The Squeak:

Another unpleasant but not a potentially lethal side effect of using old tires is the dreaded and consistent “squeak”. These older tires tend to produce a really unpleasant and aching sound when the road or the tire become hot and they are put under stress like for example during braking or cornering.

3. Damage to suspension

Your car’s suspension works in conjunction with your tires to absorb and mitigate the effects of impacts that your car regularly receives. With stiffened tires, your suspension components like the shock absorbers, coil overs, control arms and others have to take all the beating. This leads to a bumpy and uncomfortably noisy ride down the road and not to mention, hundred of dollars down the drain with the repairs.

When to replace tires?

Most tire manufacturers allow a 6-8 years shelf life period on their tires with some premium brands offering up to 10. Daily driven tires are usually limited by the mileage rather than the age. Most tires offer a tread life of 50,000- 70,000 miles with some premium ones offering up to 90,000 after which a tire should be replaced if you’re not willing to compromise on your and your loved ones’ safety. For tires that are not regularly driven a period of 4-5 years after the installation of tires is more than enough to warrant replacement, that is if they had been stored for not more than 1-2 years. Allow for a more trimmed down tread life as the years on the shelf add up and start taking their toll on the health of your tires.

Investing in new tires can bring in a lot of other benefits too like improved fuel economy. For more on that, read Do new tires improve gas mileage?

What if I decide to keep the old tires?

After all the above discussion, if you are still unconvinced and decide to keep your old tires here’s a few things to keep in mind to minimize the risks.

1. Decrease speed

Decreasing the speed reduces almost every risk involved like the risk to hydroplane or blow out. It also lessens your reliance on the already compromised braking system and the risk to understeer.

2. Increase following distances

Keep a carefully estimated distance from whatever vehicle you’re following, so that your tires are able to brake in time if the vehicle in front decides to do a full ABS stop.

3. Avoid driving in rain

This should be obvious by now that hydroplaning is no joke. Floating on the road at above 65 mph without any steering control is an eerie sensation that is enough to make the best of us freak out. Also rainy conditions already significantly increase braking distances on every sort or age of tires, so you might want to be extra careful.

4. Regular pressure checks

Running older tires will require you to increase the frequency of checking out your tire pressures as they have a lesser ability to maintain tire pressures over longer periods of time. This could mean mid-trip stops and weekend checkups to keep everything in order.

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