When are your tyres too old? Are they a ticking timebomb?

Like everything in life, tyres have an age where they are considered too old to continue being used. In this post, we look into why they deteriorate, what you need to look for and when you should deem your tyres to be too old.

Tyre blowouts aren't fun
If you want to avoid changing a tyre blowout on the road, its worth watching the tyre age

I want to start the post off with a small story about my Dad’s old Clark aluminium boat that we used a couple of times a year around Perth. It was running ancient tyres, and on a trip booked to Coral Bay (1200km away) I suggested he should probably look at replacing them. Dad commented that they’d be fine, and nothing was wrong with them. Famous last words.

We made it about 350km north of Perth before the first tyre blew. He put the spare on, and we made it another 1 kilometre down the road before that let go, leaving us stranded on the side of the road for several hours whilst they made the round trip into Geraldton to get 2 new tyres, and return. Our 12 hour trip to Coral Bay turned into an 18 hour one, and we were all knackered by the time we arrived.

From that moment on, I made sure to pay attention to the age of tyres, as a blown tyre is never convenient, and in some cases it can be a real pain in the backside.

Coral bay in our old boat
The family boat, with new tyres after they both blew up

What makes tyres deteriorate?

If you’ve ever held onto a piece of rubber for a few years, you might have noticed it starts to perish, or go hard as time goes on. Tyres do exactly the same thing, and will get harder and harder as time goes on, and you’ll often develop cracks.

This is caused by age, and in particular exposure to heat and the sun. Tyres that are stored in a dry, cool environment out of the sun will last much longer than those on a caravan that face north and see the sun all day, every day.

Tyre conditions
The type of life the tyre has is hugely important to its condition

What tyres are most susceptible?

Tyres that do little work are most likely to fail due to age. That means boat trailers that get used a few times a year, box trailers, caravans and anything else that is pulled along and never really works hard.

It can be the same for vehicles too; I’ve seen cars running the same tyres for 12 years on the rear, as they don’t steer or drive, and they only do a tiny portion of the braking. Tyres that work for their money generally wont have this problem as they’ll be worn out by the time they get to an age where they are no good.

Caravan owners in particular are very commonly leaving their tyres for years and years, not realising that they are a time bomb just waiting to go off.

What to look for in your tyres

Firstly, check the physical date of manufacturer on the tyres. If you aren’t sure how to do this, have a read of How to check your tyre age.

Then, grab the rubber and give it a squeeze. If it feels like a block of concrete, there’s a good chance your tyres are old, or badly deteriorated. When you think about the tiny footprint that supports your vehicle, or your trailer, its no wonder that you need as much grip as possible. When the tyres go hard, your ability to steer, break and accelerate is hugely reduced.

Tyre tread goes brittle
Old tyres have rubber that feels brittle

How old is too old for your tyres?

If we start off with the letter of the law, you’ll find there’s actually nothing at all that gives a formal date for when you should dispose your tyres.

It references the tyre condition, but there is nothing at all that says 5 – 7 years is when you must replace your tyres, or you’ll be illegal. In theory then, you are technically legal driving anything with tyres that are 20 years old. They’d have no traction, and you’d be likely to have a big blow out at any minute, but it would be legal.

The professionals will tell you that 5 – 7 years is the window when you should be looking at replacing your tyres, and 10 years is the absolute maximum.

Tyre age check
Tyres made in the 49th week of 2011

I’d combine the recommendation with some common sense about how the tyres have been treated, and their condition. If you can see evidence of cracking, or the treat is like concrete, its probably time to move them on. However, if they’ve been kept in a cool, dry spot for many years you might get a bit longer out of them.

Know that you can’t always tell that a tyre is ready to blow though; sometimes they just let go randomly without any major evidence of cracking or deterioration.

What you do is entirely up to you, but factor the inconvenience and frustrations of having to replace a tyre when it lets go at the most impossible time.

Blown tyre in Karijini
Having a tyre fail is never a fun experience

What do we do?

I try not to let our tyres go beyond 5 years old, and often they are well worn out by that time. Our initial set of Toyo Open Country AT2 tyres wore out fairly quickly and I actually sold them as we were running a set of Bridgestone Dueler 697 tyres that still had life in them, knowing I wouldn’t get to use them before they were 5 years old anyway.

These were nearly worn out prior to our lap of Australia, and I wanted something slightly more aggressive so we went with a set of Toyo Open Country RT tyres, and will make sure we don’t use anything much older than 7 years or so.

Dried mud on our Toyo RT tyres
We’ve now got 1 year old Toyo Open Country RT’s in service

This shouldn’t be too hard as we’ll be doing 30 – 50,000km a year on the road!

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