Tires – An Opinion by Merkel Weiss


This week we’re looking at an opinion of by friend and colleague Merkel Weiss. As you may recall, Merkel contributes his expertise to automotive issues of the day. His accomplishments are many and include being a Mechanical Engineer, an accident reconstruction expert witness to the courts, a past professor of Automotive Engineering at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA and Design engineer for Chrysler Corporation.

Here is his take on today’s tire industry and his opinion is presented for your consideration. I suspect, like me, many will find it interesting because it touches our lives in one way or another.


In the news recently there’s been some discussion of internal tire degradation leading to tire failure, increasing the possibility of traffic accidents. This is an important subject to all of us car guys because many have vintage rubber on our classic cars. Today there is a movement to limit tire life to six years after which it is assumed unsafe.

After some thought I’ve concluded that the six-year age is arbitrary. Lawmaking bodies are after all in business to make laws; who cares if they are good ones?

There have been flat tires on cars for as long as there have been cars, well over 100 years now. Just because you have a flat does not mean you’ll have an accident, let alone a fatal one associated with the flat. I was unable to find any reliable statistics showing how many flat tires occur and how many lead to accidents. Further, we can seldom determine the actual cause of the flat, and almost never is the age of that tire recorded.

The whole subject of internal tire degradation is a scare tactic, in my opinion. The news reports that I heard asserted that the “majority of tire experts agree” that six-year tire life limits would be appropriate. As a tire expert, not only do I disagree, but I have never heard anything like this said before by any other expert.

My experience is that tires do not normally deteriorate from the inside at all; they deteriorate from the outside due to a long list of factors, the chief of which is either sun or ozone attack. If the tires are continually exposed to the elements the deterioration of the rubber can be substantial, indicated by small cracks in the sidewall and tread. But the real danger comes when the tire has steel belts and the cracks are deep enough to expose the steel cords. If water gets in and remains long enough it can cause corrosion and thus the cord can unseat and begin to shift which is a potentially dangerous condition. A simple examination of the tire will enlighten the observer of this condition, however. There will be some sidewall deformation as a result of the cord movement. This rarely results in a blow-out, but if there is one, the condition has been obvious for some time. Even if a bulge in the tire is large enough to look like the tire is going to have puppies, this is still not necessarily a sign of immediate or inevitable disaster. As for approval of a six-year lifespan, my experience is that these bulgy tires are usually much older than 6 years.

The impact of this proposed restriction has to be bad for us and particularly would negatively affect those who own old cars. One of the most important purchases we make will always be the tires and wheels. We give this a lot of thought, are slow to act and deliberate to purchase. We mount and balance the tires on the wheels and sometimes we put them away, sometimes we put them on the car. Either way, it is not
uncommon for our tires to sit around inside for six years or more without having ever seen the road. How can these possibly be defective enough to replace?

In the other extreme, our regular driver is often put in a garage at night and many times covered during the day to prevent damage from the elements. If at the end of six years we have only used up only half the tread of our tires, how can these be defective? I think that we would all agree that if a tire went flat on the freeway, there is a good chance that the inner sidewall could be damaged, which could certainly affect the safety of the tire. But if there’s any other way that inner sidewall could be damaged, I don’t know it.

We Southern California car enthusiasts are familiar with our tires, and we definitely do not want to risk our lives with defective ones. This six year law is simply foolish and a useless solution to a nonexistent problem.

Good News:
People’s perceptions help to find balance in our lives.

Bad News:
Over-Governance and more laws are not always good laws! Many are just control mechanisms and don’t reflect the will of the people generally.

My reaction to Merkel’s concerns is that he is spot on that laws can be passed that have no real purpose other than control over our lives. How we live our lives should not be at the “Dictate” of the FEW, because that is Tyranny.

I’m reminded of the quote that “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln.

Another Note: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has refused to impose a six-year shelf life on tires. All they have issued is a warning . Why? Because there is not enough evidence the tires are unsafe. It is also an economic thing since tire companies are not ready to junk thousands of tires every month that can still be sold. Tire experts know the tires are still good and no amount of panic pedaling will change the facts.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is
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