When Good Tires Go Bad

tires explode check dates replace tires

It's the worst kind of accident. The Howeedy's were on a family trip when a tire blew. Their van was broadsided.

"My two kids died and my other daughter, she has a brain injury and I was paralyzed," says Imany Howeedy.

As CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports the possible culprit was invisible: a tire that looked new but was more than six years old. They bought it used, not knowing that tires can degrade with age no matter how good they look.

Consumer safety analyst Sean Kane has spent years looking into the issue and says tires should come with a six-year expiration date.

"Clearly not all tires are going to fail when they hit the six-year point, but it's a good point in time when you start to see a disproportionate rise in failures," says Kane.

So far, he's turned up 52 deaths and more than 50 serious injuries in accidents where an old tire may have been a factor.

That may only scratch the surface since nobody officially tracks the cases. Spares are especially vulnerable because they can sit around for years.

The tire industry has been unwilling to set an expiration date, saying many factors besides age impact how long a tire will last.

"There's another concern, we don't want to give consumers a false promise that an expiration date means they will get that much tire life out of their tires," says Daniel Zielinski of the Rubber Manufacturers Association.

Where tire makers aren't taking action, automakers are stepping in. Ford recently led the way in warning customers that tires should be scrapped after six years or drivers risk injury and death.

In the meantime, you can check your own tire's age by finding the four digits of the tire's "DOT" number if the tire was made in 2000 or after.

The first two digits correspond to the week the tire was manufactured; the last two would be the year.

On older tires, there are only three digits. Just look at the last number: a "9" means the tire was born in 1999.

"I think the message should be out to everyone in the U.S. be aware of the age of the tire," says Mustafa Howeedy.

It's too late for them, but not too late for millions of others who have never given a second thought to their tire's birth date.