7 On Your Side: Tire Troubles

Bobby Crane, a teenage boy with dreams for a full life; a life he hoped to share with his brother, Joey.

"Not only did they want to be in business together, but they really wanted to raise their families next door to each other too," says Bobby's mother Susan Crane.

But that all came to a crashing end one day before Bobby's 18th birthday. The SUV he was riding in with his brother rolled over.

"Joey was at the wheel," says the boys' father Jack Crane. "He heard a loud bang and the car began to swerve, and he struggled to gain control of it."

Bobby didn't survive. According to the police report, the cause of the crash: tread separation on one of the tires. A full-size spare Bobby's parents say was put on not long before the crash.

"It had good tread, it looked fine," says the father.

A tire expert hired by the family determined the tire failed because it was 14 years old! A rare finding? No way says Safety Expert Sean Kane.

"This is clearly the industry's dirty little secret. Our research has only scratched the surface," says Kane. "You can get a tire and buy a tire that's maybe six, seven, eight years old," says Joan Claybrook with the consumer group Public Citizen.

So how old is too old? Kane says six years past the date of manufacture. They'd like to see expiration dates, but tire makers argue there's no way to determine a blanket date, since factors such as storage, maintenance and weather affect the aging process. David Berry with Bill Day Tire in Tyler agrees.

"The conditions that you drive in. If you're under real abrasive pavement or you're off-road or asphalt. Lake Tyler Road for instance is very abrasive on tires, so it depends on how you use it," says Berry.

There is a way to find out how old the tire is before you buy it off the shelves. In fact, these magic numbers are right on your tire. There's a long string of numbers on the sidewall called the DOT code. You'll see the letters "D-O-T", followed by a set of letters and numbers. We asked David to show us an example.

"The important numbers right here is this 5, 1, 0, 4 [at the end of the DOT code]. It's the 51st week of 2004 so obviously this is a fairly new tire." Berry adds, "Now it's not always on the outside of your tire. It's possible that depending on how the tire's mounted, this number could be on the inside of your tire in which case you wouldn't be able to see it. You would have to take it to your dealer and they would have to take it off the car to be able to see this number."

Safety advocates also say don't forget about your spare.

"Spare tires age, particularly because they're in an enclosed environment in the trunk of the vehicle," says Claybrook.

Until the debate over expiration dates on tires is settled, Kane just petitioned to the government to order manufacturers to make the DOT codes more visible and easy to understand.

"Something needs to happen in the interim because people are dying."

As for the Crane family, they hope telling Bobby's story will prevent other families from suffering like they have.

"If I knew that a tire could age to the point it was unsafe, I would never have allowed my sons to take that trip with that tire on their care, there's no way."

Christine Nelson reporting. cnelson@kltv.com