Have you ever watched a police car chase on TV? The fugitive frantically tries to get away, and the police turn to a tried-and-true method of disabling the vehicle: puncturing its tires. Before officers resort to blocking the vehicle in with squad cars or running it off the road with a PIT maneuver, they almost always deploy stop sticks or spikes to take out the tires — in some cases, they'll even shoot holes in them. This is effective because it's nearly impossible to control a vehicle when it's running on shredded tires or bare rims.
As we prepare for emergencies, it's important to keep this lesson in mind. Without a dependable set of tires, your vehicle becomes useless, and might leave you and your family stranded on the side of the road at the worst possible time. Tires also dramatically affect your car or truck's handling, braking, acceleration, and off-road traction. So, it's important to ensure they're in good working order before an emergency bug-out situation occurs.
Age has a substantial effect on tires, especially when they're exposed to direct sunlight and the elements. The rubber becomes hard and brittle, and may lose traction or puncture unexpectedly. Actor Paul Walker of the Fast and the Furious movies was killed after the Porsche Carrera GT he was in spun out of control. It was later found that the vehicle was on nine-year-old tires, and the California Highway Patrol noted that “the tires' age might have compromised their drivability and handling characteristics”.
An easy way to check the age of your tires is to look for the Department of Transportation (DOT) Tire Identification Number on the sidewall. Tires manufactured since 2000 use the Week-Year format, for example:
To the right of the DOT stamp on the tire, we see a four-digit number, 4014. This means that the tire was manufactured in the 40th week of '14, or the first week of October 2014. Here's another example:
This tire reads 3014, so it was manufactured in the 30th week of 2014. Simple enough, but with all the numbers and letters scattered around the sidewall, you could easily overlook this code if you weren't searching for it. Most manufacturers recommend replacing tires every 6 to 10 years, regardless of wear, though the lifespan can be diminished in hot and dry conditions. This also applies to your spare tire, so don't forget to check it as well.
Of course, there are many other warning signs to watch for, including tread depth, cracks in the sidewall, bubbles, air leaks, flat spots, or abnormal wear patterns. But the DOT tire code can give you an idea of how long a tire has been on your vehicle — or how new the “new” tires you just bought really are. For more information on tire wear and age, check out this helpful article from Edmunds.com.