It’s scary to have something you rely on suddenly fail you, but it’s tragic to have someone you love suffer serious personal injury or even death as a result. The tires we drive on every day are a vivid example and such was the case with Julia Chandler and her 12-year old son, Octavious. While traveling on Interstate 65 in Gardendale, Alabama in March of 2011, Julia lost control of her ’97 Ford Explorer. Her SUV flipped several times ultimately landing in the middle of the interstate. A used Michelin tire Julia had purchased 12 days earlier suddenly split apart due to tread separation. Julia and 3 of her 4 children suffered personal injuries, but Octavious was killed.
As with all products – especially those that our lives are riding on (literally) – there must be an extra measure of responsibility and accountability on the part of the manufacturer and the retailer. This is especially true with used tires. Used tires are a huge market. According to the Rubber Manufacturer’s Association (RMA), up to 10% of all tire sales (30 million tires) were used tires. Consumers purchase used tires to save money in a tough economy trusting that because they are for sale at reputable retailers, they must be safe. What consumers don’t know is that there is very little regulation in the used tire industry. Unlike new tires, used tires are completely unregulated even though there are a host of additional dangers associated with them. Motivated by much higher profit margins, retailers are eager to sell them without any requirement to make certain of their safety.
Tires are made of rubber compounds and are subject to a loss of elasticity over time. This “drying out” process is compounded by oxidization that occurs within the tire due to pressurized air. This drying and oxidization combination can cause cracking on the inside of the tire resulting in sudden tire failure. In addition, if used tires have been driven while under-inflated (a very common occurrence); they are prone to belt loosening. This is the primary factor in tread separation, or “de-treading.” Unfortunately, these serious risk factors are only detectable by a trained and experienced installer because they are internal issues. Examination of sidewalls and tread wear which any diligent consumer can do will not detect these types of problems.
Responsible manufacturers and retailer/installers are needed who are willing to support and legally submit to examination guidelines for used tires before sale and installation. For the responsible consumer, no amount of money saved is worth the kind of cost that the Chandler family suffered. * Very special care must be taken when purchasing used tires. Safety could be greatly enhanced if an industry-wide certification protocol was mandated. More than the satisfaction of a penny saved, consumers could drive away knowing their risk of personal injury or worse was greatly reduced.
The RMA provides an excellent list of examination guidelines for used tires. These guidelines can be found at http://www.rma.org/tire_safety/tire_maintenance_and_safety/used_tires/. For anyone considering purchasing used tires, it would be an excellent idea to print them and take them with you as you shop for the right provider. Be your own regulator! Require the seller to include you in examining each tire according to the RMA recommendations BEFORE making your purchase. And as always, if you or someone you know has suffered as the result of tire failure or de-treading due to possible manufacturer or retailer negligence, make sure to consult with a trusted attorney.