How safe are your car tyres?


  • Letters
  • Sunday, 05 Sep 2010

As you make your preparations for the balik kampung road trip, be sure to check on the conditions of your tyres before starting your journey. An important aspect to be aware of is the tyre’s date of manufacture.

THERE is more to be done to ensure tyre safety than just the “kick test”. Find out when your tyre was manufactured. If you don’t know where to look, check the tyre sidewall. The date of manufacture for every vehicle tyre is stamped on its side.

If you have not taken note of it before, perhaps you should. Most tyres come with a three-year warranty at the very least.

However, what you may not be aware of is that the warranty period usually commences from the date of manufacture, and not from the date it was purchased and fitted on your vehicle.

Marketing executive Alex Tan sheepishly admits to not knowing that the manufacturing date is stamped on each tyre, and says his purchase decision is based on a visual inspection.

“First I look at the tyre to see if it looks clean, then at the small hair-like studs of rubber that protrude from every tyre. If they are still soft and supple, I assume it is new,” he explains.

“I have never asked the tyre reseller when it was manufactured and they have never told me that either.”

Like Tan, Ryan Fernandes is also unaware of the date stamp.

“I buy tyres based on familiarity with the brand and its price. I have never asked nor been informed when it was manufactured. Most of the time they (tyre resellers) take it from the high racks, and I have no idea how long they have been sitting there,” he says, adding that he assumes the tyre is new as long as the foil seal or sticker is intact and looks in good condition.

There is an assumption that a tyre has an actual expiry period – meaning that it should not be used after a specific number of years after it has been manufactured.

According to Automobile Association of Malaysia (AAM) chairman Tunku Datuk Mudzaffar Tunku Mustapha, there are a number of factors which contribute to the effectiveness and expiry of a tyre.

“Over time, the elasticity of the rubber in tyres diminishes, and tyres will harden or suffer from cracks which can, at times, be hidden from the naked eye,” he says.

“These conditions can result in dangerous blowouts when the vehicle is being driven, especially at high speeds and when the tyre is under extremely high temperature and load. With age, tyres that become stiffer also have reduced traction and handling performance.”

A spokesperson from Bridgestone Malaysia clarifies further.

“A tyre will deteriorate as it is a rubber compound. In the factory, it has been cured (vulcanised) to optimum condition. But if you put tyres in ambient temperature, it will continue to cure, but at a very slow rate,” he says.

He informs that for optimal storage, new and unused tyres should be kept out of direct sunlight, not be in contact with chemicals such as petrol, and away from electric generators (which also produce ozone).

The AAM further explains that heat and light cause oxidation which can potentially damage the inside of the tyre, resulting in leaks. Tyres must not be left on oily floors, and even dirt and water can harm tyres.

“It is advisable to store tyres in a cool place, shielded from direct sun and artificial light as well as other elements, to extend its shelf life,” says Tunku Mudzaffar.

According to him, there is no documented proof that a brand new or unmounted tyre can become dangerous.

“But consumers are strongly advised to purchase the latest manufactured tyres. A two-year-old tyre may appear perfect but there is no way of being certain if it was properly kept or stored,”

Road Safety Department director general Datuk Suret Singh says that if the tyres are properly stored, they can last for 10 years.

“But once the tyres are on the road, they only last for up to three years – depending on the manner of driving, distance travelled, load, type of terrain or quality of roads used.”

It should be emphasised that the condition of tyres in storage cannot readily be determined by the manufacturing date alone.

“Nobody can tell you definitively what the cut-off date from manufacturing is. Bridgestone does not have a shelf-life for tyres, they only provide a warranty period,” says the company’s spokesperson.

“Under proper storage conditions, it can still be used after seven years or even more – but you can never be sure.”

Another tyre manufacturer states that its products are covered by a warranty for manufacturing defects six years from the date of manufacture (tread wear aside), and specifically limits any liability to that period.

While it has yet to conduct research on tyre safety, the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety (Miros) is aware that the subject requires further analysis.

There are no statistics available to specifically show if a so-called “expired” tyre has led to an accident, according to Miros director-general, Prof Dr Ahmad Farhan Mohd Sadullah.

Any mechanical failure that could have led to a crash is recorded by the police and this is done superficially in the (investigation) form, he says. In it, there are three items out of 10 pertaining to tyres – namely old, retreaded and worn-out tyres.

“It is difficult to ascertain if tyre defect is the actual cause of accidents, as multiple factors come into play,” he explains.

“But from our crash investigations, we have seen many examples of bad tyre maintenance – for instance, the use of worn-out tyres. There was even one incident where snow tyres were used.”

Bridgestone maintains that they strive to deliver freshly-manufactured tyres to dealers.

“We have a first-in, first-out system and hardly have any old tyres in storage. We co-ordinate with our factories, and we only take tyres that are less than one year from production,” says the spokesperson.

“Nowadays, dealers know how to control their stock and are well-educated. For fast-moving models, dealers may keep some stock, but for slow-moving types, they will normally order when needed. At most they will keep stocks for one or two months, and they will replenish as necessary, so I don’t think it is a problem.”

A random check on tyre stocks of some tyre retailers in Shah Alam revealed the oldest dating back to 2009.

A common practice among heavy vehicle owners/ drivers in Malaysia is to use retreaded tyres. This is where a new outer lining is fitted on an old tyre (tread pattern has worn out), giving it a new tread pattern and allowing it to be re-used.

Bridgestone says tyre retreading is a common practice for heavy vehicles (such as cargo and dump trucks), and that approximately 50% of their tyres are retreads.

Malaysia is also one of the most advanced in the region for retreading tyres, says the Bridgestone spokesperson.

“We retread all sorts of tyres, from consumer to off-road tyres.”

However, consumer retreads are not commonly used in Malaysia and they are made mainly for export, he adds.

Retreaded tyres are not only more economical but they are also better for the environment, he explains.

“Once a tyre has worn out, and if the casing is still in good condition, it can be retreaded multiple times – depending on the quality of the retread and the casing,” he says.

Both the RSD and Miros agree that retreads are generally safe for use as they have to adhere to strict standards – either the Sirim MS 224:2005 or UN ECE R108 specification.

“The main issues on tyres which concern the Road Safety Depart­ment are sub-standard (such as snow tyres) and regrooved tyres,” says Suret.

Regrooved tyres are illegal in Malaysia and motorists caught using them face a fine of up to RM300.

Regrooving is the process of cutting new, deeper grooves into a tyre to extend its life, says Prof Ahmad Farhan.

“Not all tyres can be regrooved, resulting in many inappropriate – and possibly dangerous – tyres being put onto the road. There is an increase in potential for failure after the regroove process.”

Manual regrooving, he points out, can produce depth inconsistencies – a groove cut that is too deep will expose the top belt resulting in corrosion and finally tyre failure. This can also cause early breakdown of the undertread protective rubber gauge.

Suret assures that there are significant safeguards in place in the country to ensure overall tyre safety.

“The Customs Department prevents the import and export of tyres that do not comply with enforced standards.

Furthermore, enforcement is also undertaken by the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry under the Consumer Protection Act.”

As for which authority is in charge of what aspect of road safety, he says: “The Road Transport Department (JPJ) focuses on bald tyres while the RSD focuses on the use of sub-standard, regrooved and snow tyres.”

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