Bikers, others want to know age of tires

For Gary "Pappy" Boward, the prospect of the tread stripping off an aging tire on his van or car is scary enough. The possibility of it happening on his motorcycle is downright terrifying.

Boward, chairman of the motorcycle rights group ABATE, came to Annapolis Tuesday to call on the General Assembly to pass a bill that would require tire dealers in Maryland to inform consumers of research showing that tires deteriorate with age and that a federal agency recommends they be replaced after six years even if the tread depth is adequate.


"If you have a catastrophic failure on the front tire of your motorcycle or even the back tire ..., you're going to have a very bad event," Boward said after testifying before the House Economic Matters Committee.

The legislation, sponsored by Del. Benjamin Kramer, a Montgomery County Democrat, prompted a fierce response from several segments of the tire industry, including manufacturers, retailers, auto dealers and recyclers. Tire makers discounted the research on which the bill is based, while retailers complained of the cost, inconvenience and possibility liability issues raised by compliance.


"The plaintiffs' bar will get vigorously involved," said Travis J. Martz, representing the Maryland Motorcycle Dealers Association.

The hearing shed light on an automotive safety issue that many drivers aren't aware of.

Researchers for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,Ford Motor Co. and other groups have determined that tires degrade the longer they get past their manufacture date. According to NHTSA, the process of degradation — potentially leading to blowouts — occurs whether a tire has ever been mounted on a vehicle or not.

In a 2007 report to Congress, the agency noted that several leading auto manufacturers, including Ford, Porsche, BMW and Toyota, recommend that tires be replaced six years after manufacture. The agency agreed with that recommendation, though it is not a federal requirement.

Tires sold in the United States now carry an imprint showing the date of manufacture in what Kramer described as a "cryptic code" that few consumers understand. For instance, a tire stamped with the number 1308 would have been made in the 13th week of 2008.

Kramer wants to require that each tire sold as new in Maryland carry a label stating in plain English the month and date of manufacture and a statement describing the reasons behind the concern.

The lawmaker charged that manufacturers would prefer to keep consumers in the dark and ignore the research. He replayed a 20/20 report describing the sometimes fatal consequences of older tires, sometimes sold by the country's best-known retailers, suddenly shedding tread on the highways.

"They don't want to talk about it," said Kramer, a motorcyclist who credited ABATE, a group best known for its opposition to mandatory use of motorcycle helmets, with bringing the matter to his attention.


But Tracey Nordberg, senior vice president of the Rubber Manufacturers Association, dismissed the Ford and NHTSA research, contending that U.S.-made tires are "more robust than they've ever been before."

Brian Riley, a government affairs official at Goodyear Tire and Rubber, rejected Kramer's proposed label even more emphatically. "It makes us put an inaccurate and inflammatory statement on my product," he said.