By on June 28, 2016

IMG_0678

Jimmy writes:

Sajeev,

For years I traded in my Hondas and Toyotas within 18 months of purchase. However, I did not care for the newest Highlander, Pilot, and Camry, so I kept the old ones hoping the next versions would be more acceptable. While I have not had a single problem with these vehicles, with the exceptions of a few light bulbs, I’ve noticed Michelin Green X and the Continental ContiProContact have small cracks in the tread grooves. The tires have 40,000 and 55,000 miles on them with lots of tread left. I have asked tire stores and some say don’t worry while others say they are dangerous.

What is the rule for tire replacements when it comes to cracks in the tread grooves?

Sajeev answers:

A timely query: my once-new 2011 Ford Ranger is old enough for new rubber. I noticed those cracks, even with decent tread and “good” rubber between them and the wear bars. And, just like you, I certainly ain’t trading it in for a new Ranger anytime soon!

This indicates dry rotted tires, which means harder, slippery and unsafe rubber in wet/aggressive driving conditions. As the cracks grow, blow outs and tread separation failures are likely. Given the mileage, I assume your tires are also five-ish years old. Tire manufacturers have a hard stop on replacement after 10 years, while car makers (fearing Firestone-esque lawsuits?) recommend six-year replacement intervals. For a daily driven and/or primary vehicle, I’d lean closer to the six-year interval for safety concerns.

Depending on the climate (heat is the concern) and UV exposure (garaged?), I reckon we both need new tires soon. The top picture is the factory ContiTrac on my rig.  The dry rot is closer to hairline cracks, not replicas of Grand Canyons. Given their admirable performance during Houston’s recent floods, these tires have several more months of life, but I’m rollin’ on borrowed time.

But looking at them up close?

IMG_0679

Those are bigger than I remember from my last “wait for the oil to drain out” tire inspection. While I don’t see myself on a looong highway trip in the future, this is a cause for concern.

So will Sanjeev treat himself to 10 mm wider rubber so contact patch isn’t stretched so tightly and the speedo might read accurately?  The autoblogosphere is dying to know!

[Images: © 2016 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars]

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

Also, if your tires suck and you’re shopping for new tires, help support TTAC’s work by doing your research at TireReviewsandMore.com. — TTAC staff.

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71 Comments on “Piston Slap: Safe Thinking on Dry-Rotted Tires?...”


  • avatar
    heavy handle

    Don’t get sentimental about old tires. I swap them out when they get hard, according to my own poorly-calibrated thumbnail test. They are almost useless in the wet by then, even if thread-depth is technically legal. That’s usually around 6 years past the stamped manufacturing date.

    The corollary is to always check that you are buying fresh tires. The same principle applies to motorcycle helmets.

    • 0 avatar
      Cactuar

      I bought new all-season tires in May, Goodyear Comfortread for our Odyssey. The authorized Goodyear shop I went to installed new tires. When I inspected the tires I saw this: 3 of them were 3 years old, one was 4 years old.

      I pointed out the manufacturing date to the shop owner and he said he’d contact Goodyear about it. Goodyear offered 20$/tire to compensate for the old tires. The owner wouldn’t change the tires to newer ones, stating that they are technically “new” (never driven, with stickers). He also claimed he could not swap them anyway since I had driven home with the tires (he didn’t warn me before I left either…).

      I called Goodyear Canada and the rep told me 3 and 4 years old is still considered new if the tires were never driven. I was and still am shocked by that statement.

      When a tire shop tells you it installs only new tires, check the manufacturing date and DON’T drive off with old tires. I’m still sour about the whole ordeal.

      • 0 avatar
        Land Ark

        Meanwhile, if you showed up to that same shop with 4 year old tires to put on that you bought elsewhere they would probably tell you that they don’t want to put them on and they won’t warranty the work because they are so old.

        It’s the old scenario where it’s fine if we do it but anyone else who does is a moron.

      • 0 avatar
        JK43123

        What?!? You DROVE on your tires? What were you thinking?

        • 0 avatar
          Cactuar

          Yes big mistake on my part with hindsight. The owner had confirmed me that he’ll get this sorted and that he’ll give me a call, so didn’t think more of it and left for work.

          If he was half honest he would have warned me that leaving with the tires basically renders them truly old and used at this point. I didn’t think 20 km’s on tires was a big deal, but it was apparently.

          • 0 avatar
            golden2husky

            One good reason to charge the tires. I’d challenge the charge and at least get some money back.

      • 0 avatar
        raph

        If the tires have been stored in acceptable conditions (cool dry place out of the sunlight) it really wont make a difference – but that’s the hitch, depending on where and how they were stored. The manufacturer generally stores them accordingly (although I remember an issue with Pirelli and Jaguar but that could have been as much Jaguar’s fault) but once out in the wild and sent to distribution centers and tire shops it becomes a crap shoot.

        Too bad Goodyear doesn’t offer a new guarantee. Michelin and Bridgestone offer a 30 day guarantee and if your not satisfied you can return the tires regardless of the manufacture date.

        • 0 avatar
          rpn453

          I cringe when I see outdoor tire racks at service shops.

          • 0 avatar
            chris8017

            Driving to and from work everyday here in Charlotte I drive through an industrial part of town and pass dozens upon dozens of car repair and tire shops along the road. It seems almost all of these tire shops have stacks and tire racks out in the parking lots baking in the sun day after day. I figure some of those tires in less common sizes bake in the sun for close to a year before they’re sold. These are the same shops that receive tire deliveries from the beds of beatup pickup trucks with tires stacked 10 feet high like a covered wagon from the Grapes of Wrath.

        • 0 avatar
          Cactuar

          Right, if the tires were stored in a warehouse with a decent environment not harmful to the rubber it’s probably fine. How likely is that though?

          If it was an overly dry environment it won’t be long until cracks start showing up, then I’ll have some recourse with the tire shop. The owner did say that I could claim new tires using the Goodyear warranty if there was a visible defect. If that’s the surest way to new tires I’m sort of hoping for that now to be honest!

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    You can afford to swap good, middle-class new cars every year and a half but you’re hesitating about replacing dry-rotted tires?

    • 0 avatar
      Cactuar

      Someone should inform him that tires can now be financed.

    • 0 avatar
      FlimFlamMan

      Well… Sajeev did say he/she was holding out hoping the newer generations would be acceptable, hence the delay on replacing tires. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t take any chances. Get new rubber and don’t cheap out on them either.

      • 0 avatar

        I am not holding out for a new Ranger, especially after seeing the Global Ranger when I was in Brazil. Too big for my needs.

        I am just surprised these tires have this much dry rot but are still very, VERY good in the wet and are pretty quiet on the highway.

        • 0 avatar
          SP

          No, Sajeev. Those aren’t cracks. They are extra sipes that the tire compound self-generates in optimum patterns as the tires wear. That’s why the rain traction is so good.

          Also, they double as speed holes. They make the car go faster.

          ;)

        • 0 avatar
          raph

          ozone/weather checking is the industry jargon for “dry rot”.

          Its mostly cosmetic but occasionally (especially on tires that are fairly old) its an issue.

          The problem with this sort of condition is there is a lot of different opinions out there all depending on who you ask and I suspect most of what people have heard has generally come from tire installers, dealerships, state inspectors looking to move some tires so they tend to be the most critical when it comes to dry rot as its an easy sell since 99% of the buying public has no idea what they are looking at and all the seller has to do is drop some line about dying horribly due to “unsafe” tires.

          Frankly I’d drop an email to a few different tire manufacturers and get their feedback and form an aggregate opinion.

          As for me I generally don’t have cause for concern unless the cracks are deeper than 2mm or the inside of the tire is exposed or rubber is flaking off.

          Then again the 2mm part is my red flag for any tire related malady (cuts, gouges, and so on).

  • avatar
    energetik9

    I’d replace them now, with the added consideration of where you drive and how you drive as part of that equation.

    Unfortunately I just replaced tires on two cars at the same time which adds up. Research on Tire Rack. I purchased both sets through them. And don’t go cheap. I went Pirelli on the SUV and Michelin S-04 on the sports car. Tire rack even had them on sale!

  • avatar
    VoGo

    I’ll bite. Why would you trade in a Pilot, Camry and Highlander every 18 months? I could see trading every 6 years, when the model changes over, but why pay such high transaction costs so often for so little change?

    Don’t mean to be challenging, just want to understand the mentality.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    You guys drive too slow. I never have a problem with dry rot, even with extra long life tires. Hehehehe ;)

    Actually, it’s probably a climate thing in my case since I park outside (that means sun exposure) and that I drive a lot more than average.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Buy new tires.

    I always ask to see to the date stamp prior to installation and never buy tires made in China.

    • 0 avatar
      SSJeep

      This. Best advice here. Check datestamp on any tires purchased, and do not purchase any tires made in China. Quality control just isnt there, and while the tires are cheap, they are only suitable for a refresh before turning in a lease.

  • avatar
    MrGreenMan

    Treat tires like presidents:

    Get really good ones.

    Toss out the incumbents every four years, regardless.

  • avatar
    mburm201

    A friend of mine has a low mileage 1996 Chevy S10 2wd stepside pickup inherited from his father. It has the original factory tires on it, which he doesn’t want to replace because he rarely uses the truck. He will not drive the truck on the highway.

  • avatar
    andyinatl

    Had a blowout once at 80mph on highway in the left lane due to the dry rot. At that time i was young and stupid and never even bothered to check the tires for dry rot. I was extremely fortunate that it was the rear tire, but after that experience i don’t skimp on tires.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Man I had a front left, blow at 80 mph, it was a blast to say the least. No more used tires for me.. It spun the steering wheel like “Wheel of Fortune” except I was real lucky no one was killed. I was in a middle lane of the freeway, shot across 3 lanes and was right up against the concrete divider/K-rail by the time I got it straightened out, without using the brakes of course.

      Sure I ignored the vibration it developed a few towns back, but I had more important things to consider. Thinking with the wrong head.

      • 0 avatar
        andyinatl

        Whoa, this story just made me relive my own spin out when driving to Florida on I-75 we were playing license plate game and i didn’t notice in time how traffic in my lane stopped. I was able to swerve at last moment to the left which thankfully had few open lanes and since the pavement was wet, i lost control and car spun several times with me just sitting there helplessly gripping the wheel. I eventually ended up in the very wide grass shoulder, having crossed several lanes. Thank God i did not hit anyone during this ordeal.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          I’ve never (knock on wood) had a tire blow out. My dad was a trucker and he was pretty anal about tires. He’d even drive a few miles to find a safe place to pull over if he had a flat. He wrecked a couple of tires that way. He told me he had a buddy get killed changing a tire. As a paramedic I have been at a few MVC’s where people’s cars where hit while getting a flat swapped out.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            I’ve seen a lot of really stupid things on the road, but most of these just sorta fade away in the mirror (figuratively and literally).

            One thing that does stand out was somebody stopped on the left shoulder (not even wide enough for a car), on a two-lane freeway, to change a tire. What possessed the driver to make that choice instead of pulling to the right, who knows. It gets better. As knucklehead* #1 was stopped, another knucklehead decided to help out by also stopping, blocking the entire left lane instead of just part of it, and then hopping out to stand guard with a little hand-held flashing LED flashlight (max effective range about five car lengths). Real smart. The passengers from both cars were huddled down in the ditch/median on the other side of the guard rail.

            * not a forbidden word

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            jimc2 – the medically correct word for knucklehead would be “metacarpophalangealcraniocephalic”.

            I’m available intermittently through the day to provide help with other names.

          • 0 avatar
            Opus

            My one-and-only tire blowout was on a motorcycle. On a bridge about 80 ft above the Mississippi. At about 50 MPH.
            Did not realize at first what the “bang” was, but figured it out within a fraction of a second. Luckily, it was my rear tire – I was able to control my direction for the most part while fishtailing back and forth. Managed to get across without injury.

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      Actually… the worst place for a tire to fail is in the rear, especially if you are prone to jamming on the brakes. In a front tire failure you can still steer the vehicle compared to the rear.

      In most of the cases with the Ford Exploder/Firestone tire failure the driver’s rear tire failed and typically the drivers hit the brakes which contributed to the roll over issue in addition to the low specified air pressure in conjunction with a vehicle that had a high center of gravity with a narrow track.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        I’m not sure why no one is taught to stay off the dang brakes when they have a blowout. I wasn’t either, but it’s commonsense. You’re stopping in an awful hurry anyways, just from the resistance. And they stop the car as soon as it clears the white line, even when there’s a huge wide shoulder that’s paved.

      • 0 avatar
        CobraJet

        I lived through the Firestone 500 debacle in the 1970s. They came on my new 74 Gran Torino. One blew out on the left rear while driving thru the Everglades on vacation. I put the spare on and by the time we got home from the trip two others had bulges in the sidewalls. I knew many people who had blow outs with them. Alabama thought it was a good idea to run them on Highway Patrol cars. A trooper was killed when one blew out during a high speed pursuit.

      • 0 avatar
        SP

        Well, that may depend on what car you are driving, which wheels are driven and what type of suspension.

        I had a blowout on the highway a couple of years ago in my MN12 Thunderbird, which is RWD and has IRS. The tire that blew was the right rear. The sound was like a very loud “BOING” when it happened. At first, I thought that something had fallen onto the glass sunroof. Then the “whup whup whup” sound getting louder, and increasing vibration, told me that it was a tire.

        I had no problems whatsoever controlling the car. If I had been in the middle of a fast turn, things could have been different and more dangerous. In general, I think independent suspension makes it easier to handle this kind of situation.

        (For what it’s worth, my uncle once had all wheel studs fail on one rear wheel of his Lincoln Mark VII. While he was trying to figure out what had happened, his wheel passed him on the shoulder, then took a lazy right turn down a hill and into a farm field. He had to park the car and go find the wheel before the tow truck came. Now that car was live axle, so I can’t explain that one quite so easily.)

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          “While he was trying to figure out what had happened, his wheel passed him on the shoulder…”

          And Kenny Rogers’ voice could be heard, singing,

          “You picked a fine time to leave me, loose wheeeeeeeel.”

          I’ll be here all week, folks.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            There’s no chance I am trying the veal, no matter how many times you suggest it. But I will tip the waitress well.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    In the “good old days”, tires usually didn’t last long enough for dry rot to be a concern.

  • avatar
    anti121hero

    Ugh tires… All three of my jeeps need tires. The grand Cherokee needs a set of 31s, the wrangler needs a new set of 31s too. Both keeps have very worn out and low tread mud terrains. My Cherokee just needs bigger tires, around 33″. I have a set of BFG all terrains in my garage that are like described above, great tread but dry rotted with cracks, so I won’t even run those. So essentially I’m looking at spending 2000$ in tires between 3 vehicles to get something decent.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    I just picked up a used volvo xc wagon for my daughter and first order of business was replacing the tires, based on the records I got with the car they were 5 years old and had milage on them, I really do not get why folks ( and car companies) cheap out on tires, they are the one thing that connects your car to the road.

  • avatar

    Funny, I just had a 4 year old Uniroyal toss its tread while sitting in the trunk of my 77 Chevelle. It had been on the car and was part of the 5 way rotation I do with it. (because full size spare)

    No idea why it separated like that, but damn glad it did it in the trunk and not on the car at speed.

  • avatar
    turf3

    My favorite old tire story:

    Back in the late 80s, a coworker of mine drove a Ford pickup to work every day. One day he bought a 1950 Ford to restore. It had basically been sitting in the old guy’s barn for years and years, with very few miles on it. When he went to drag it home, the (very old, maybe even original) tires still held air (kinda) so he aired them up and dragged the old truck home.

    Some weeks later, he goes out the house in the morning to go to work – a flat tire on his daily driver. Damn – the spare’s flat too! No compressor at the house. So…. what to do? He starts thinking, then he looks at the 1950 Ford. Hmm, it almost looks like the wheels could fit – ?? – !! He took a wheel off the old Ford – it fit, at least it fit well enough. Ancient tire still holds air, believe it or not. Late to work! Throw the two flat tires off the new truck in the bed. Drive to work. Get two tires fixed and aired up at lunch.

    So he drove to work that day (I don’t know, probably 10 or 15 miles) on what he believed was a 35(!!!) year old tire.

    He also said it felt like that corner of the truck was riding on a sheet of glass, that old tire was so hard.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    I’ve never had this problem on any new vehicle I’ve owned. I’ve had a few parts cars that looked like that. A few buddies of mine used to wheel and deal on beaters all of the time and this was pretty common.

    People just do not realize that tires have date stamps on the sidewall.

    Google tire age codes and you’ll get a number of sites giving explanations on how to read the age stamp.

    There is no official expiry date on tires so one needs to be cautious.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Those tires need some lotions.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    The Integra I bought last Fall has 8-year-old tires on it. They also have <13,000 miles on them. They will be replaced this Fall.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    I have an old Golf GTI that is garaged. I drive 1x/month in winter (on a cold dry day), and put about 300 miles a month in summer, only on sunny (dry) days

    I have BFG Comp T/As, I bought about 12 yrs ago. I’ve put around 20k miles on them. They have no evidence of dry rot, and the tread looks fine (the blocks are NOT cracked like the picture).

    I think I’m OK—but I welcome comments. Perhaps I missed something?

    Thanks

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      I’d continue using them. They age due to environmental exposure and heat cycles far more than time itself.

      I’d be more confident in unused 10-year-old tires that were stored in a climate controlled location than tires that were used for a single Arizona summer of high speed driving and parking in the sun.

  • avatar
    Sjalabais

    I’d definitely buy new ones! Even six years sounds like a lot to me. As summer tires, I use soft Uniroyal RainExpert, which have been an excellent choice on a lot of cars. Come to think of it, I might actually be one of their better customers. They come with 8-9mm deep groves when new, which is a lot, but might wear out after 3-4 seasons.

    Winter tires are usually Nokian Hakkapeliita studded tires. When the studs fall out, they need to be replaced. Probably just four seasons there, too…

  • avatar
    Kabayo

    I drive my tires until they either wear out or blow out (has never happened).

  • avatar
    Rday

    best thing to do is not take a chance on your life. blowouts are usually at high speed and can be very dangerous.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Whew ~ .
    .
    I remember when a 10 year old tire wouldn’t dry rot like that ~ they’d get hard and slippery but almost never blew out .
    .
    I’d scrap Sageeve’s tires straightaway .
    .
    Between working in The Auto Trade , running a Junk Yard and putting on lots of mileage I have seen many blowouts and deaths , mangled cars , trucks and Motos too .
    .
    A real @$$-chapper when it happens to you , lemme tell ya .
    .
    The date thing is no B.S. ~ I bought tires for L.A.P.D. and once got 150 MPH rated tires that were two year old , I passed them because we’d wear ’em out inless than 12 months but old tires are bad news .
    .
    Most Chinese tires too , I tried them for a while but they’re fine until the moment they’re not then you’re in danger or crashed .
    .
    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      Nate – IIRC the BC Ambulance Service would replace tires at 60% tread depth for summer tires and at 75% for winter tires.

      Emergency vehicles can put a lot of heat into a tire. I’ve been partnered with some aggressive drivers and you get to a scene and the tires smell like you threw them on a bonfire. (and your shorts smell like…. well… you get the point).

  • avatar
    rpn453

    Those surface cracks wouldn’t bother me. I’ve seen far worse. But I have a relatively high tolerance for risk. New tires certainly would be safer, allowing a much greater safety factor in an adverse situation such as an under-inflated tire at high speed. They’ll also likely have considerably more grip.

    Structural problems – deformation or sidewall bubbles – are more of a concern to me. Tires with those issues should be replaced immediately. Slow right down and check things out if anything feels unusual. Any tire that’s worthy of driving at highway speed should have no vibrations. The older a tire is, the more frequently and thoroughly it should be inspected.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    I have noticed that Michelin tires seem to be more prone to cracking that other brands. The MXV4s that I put on my station car had cracking between the treads after 7 years of being outside. Still had tread life but they failed inspection. Funny, my Michelin bicycle tires did the same thing…

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      Michelins are the worst culprits for dry rotting, but they’re also the tires most likely to still have tread and no wear pattern issues after years of use. That’s the excuse Michelin partisans use in the industry, but I’ve seen cracking in Michelins with three year old DOT numbers.

    • 0 avatar
      SP

      The rubber compounds in use do vary quite a bit by tire manufacturer and by model. I think Michelin tends to use more natural rubber than some other brands, which may explain part of the tendency to crack.

      I actually just replaced two Michelins last year because they had sidewall cracks, even though the tread was still good and had no vibration. (This sounds exactly like what ToddAtlasF1 is describing, haha.)

      For what it’s worth, I replaced them with the same exact model because I liked them so much in all other respects. (Michelin Primacy MXV4, now discontinued and replaced by the Premier A/S.) Michelin isn’t the only tire brand I like, but it is my favorite so far.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        ” Michelin isn’t the only tire brand I like, but it is my favorite so far.”

        Yeah, me too! I try to put them on my vehicles when it is time to replace the tires. My 2016 Tundra TRD came standard with girthy Michelins.

        I’ve never had Michelins crack on me where I live in the high desert of NM, but Goodyears and Firestones have been the worst brands for me over the past 70 years I’ve been on this planet, because of a number of failures.

        Pirelli and Yokohama have done very well for me too. But I rarely keep tires more than 3-5 years and most of the time I replace them when the tread gets down to 1/16th of an inch.

        • 0 avatar
          VoGo

          We have this in common, at least. I am a sucker for French rubber.

          And if I may get on my soapbox, tires are the one area you should *not* be cheap. If they are worn (or cracked), replace them with high quality tires.

          No sense endangering yourself or your family for a few bucks.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            http://www.michelinman.com/US/en/why-michelin/about.html

          • 0 avatar
            turbo_awd

            Agree – only drive Michelin these days. We don’t drive that much, but I always get highest quality Michelin tires. This doesn’t mean I would throw away other tires in good shape, but when it’s time for new tires, only Michelin.

            That might change if/when I actually get to a track sometime and look for tires that are more suited to that scenario.

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