I had a heated debate with a used car salesman the other day. It was a good one too and it didn’t end in bloodshed, which is always nice. The subject that we were arguing about was tyres.
The car he was trying to sell me – or rather the car that piqued my interest after spying it lying at the back of the yard – looked decent enough. However the rubber at the four corners were well past their ‘scrap-by’ date.
His argument was that the tyres still had a lot of ‘bunga’ (tread depth) left so they must be okay. My bone of contention was that the tyres were made when video cassette players were all the rage. One can always tell the age of a tyre from certain markings that the manufacturer imprints on the sidewall, and the tyres on this particular car, despite indeed having at least a quarter inch of tread depth, were probably developed around the time of the Spanish Inquisition, perhaps earlier.
He absolutely, categorically refused to believe that tyres have a shelf life, and insisted that these tyres were fine, just because they were not flat and the tread depth was adequate.
Well yes, proper inflation is vital to the performance and well-being of a tyre, of that there can be no argument, but age is a crucial factor too. Just because a tyre has not been used that much does not mean it’s tip-top. For example, say you have a 10 year old car that you bought new and only use very occasionally. It’s racked up a paltry 6,000 kilometres because most of the time it’s parked under your porch. Chances are the tread depth on those tyres is still almost new after such scant mileage, and you might think they’re fine. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Tyres are made up of various elements, chemicals, minerals, silica, rubber … and over time, thanks in part to our climate of extreme heat, humidity, and so on, these elements will slowly but surely begin to breakdown – even if the tyres are hardly used.
In fact, sometimes not using the tyres as much as they should be is actually detrimental to its structure. Flat-spots could develop, uneven wear, and even internal sidewall failure due to the car’s weight being concentrated on just one area when immobile for long periods of time. The surest way to visually see that this is happening or has happened already, is the appearance of tiny hair-line cracks that usually begin at the sidewall area. Sometimes though, these visual cues don’t appear until it’s too late and you’re seeing bits of flying rubber in your rear-view mirror. And horror of horrors, these cracks can be hidden by the unscrupulous with black Kiwi shoe polish.
I’ve witnessed this firsthand on three occasions, most recently just last month. It involved a current generation German luxury car. The car had come to a halt in front of Tropicana City Mall after leaving a trail of rubber for a good 30 feet. Its left rear tyre had simply disintegrated. I think it was extremely lucky that the failure had not occurred during a fast right hand corner or the result could have been a lot uglier.
So folks, do have a look at the tyres on your car, look for the manufacturer date (it’s stamped in an oval on the sidewall and may say something like “0310”, which means the tyre was made in the third week of 2010). It should not be more than seven years old max. In fact for this country’s climate, six years would be safer. Scrap anything older. And do remember one thing, just because your tyre has a lot of tread, doesn’t mean it’s fine. As for that used car, it’s probably sold by now. I just hope the new owner is reading this.