How Old is My Motorcycle Tire? When Should I Replace It?

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A vehicle is only reliable as its parts, including each tire. You are putting yourself at risk of serious injury or death if you drive a car or motorcycle with old, outdated, or poorly maintained tires.

As tires age, they undergo a process called oxidation that damages their structural integrity. To prevent this from affecting you and your motorcycle, it is important to learn how to read tire markings and determine their age. Once you know how old your tire is, you can decide when to replace it.

What Happens to Old Tires?

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Over time, tires begin to disintegrate and lose their composition. Rubber—the primary ingredient for tire manufacturing—oxidizes when exposed to the elements. When this happens, the tire begins stiffening from the inside out.

The warmer the weather is, the quicker that oxidation occurs. Tires need to be stored in relatively cool areas like temperature-controlled warehouses. Long-term outside exposure to the elements can shorten the lifespan of a tire and make it unfeasible to use.

In general, tires need to be both rigid and malleable. Their ability to adjust to various types of terrain without crumbling is what makes them so durable. Exposure to the air causes the stiffened rubber to crack and disintegrate. This process compromises a tire’s overall functionality and makes it less safe to use.

Knowing a Tire’s Age

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When manufacturers produce a new batch of tires, the batch receives an identification number. This tire identification number tells you the week and year that any given tire was produced.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) mandates that all tires include an identification number. It consists of the characters DOT, which stands for “Department of Transportation,” followed by a series of 8-13 letters and numbers.

With this information, you can look up who made the tire and when/where they made it. See below for an example:

DOT CC9L XYZ1016

In this scenario, the last four digits “1016” tell you that the tire was made in the 10th week of 2016. This means that the tire was produced between March 7th and March 13th, 2016.

When looking for this information, you may need to check both sides of the tire. The identification number only has a requirement to display on one side, not both.

You can use this information when purchasing tires at independent retailers. Sometimes vendors will tell you that you are buying a new tire—but in truth, you are buying an older tire that has never been used.

Checking for the tire identification number to verify the manufacture year ensures that you know exactly what you are buying. Even if the tread looks great, these “new” tires could have been in storage for a long time since they were made.

Remember, oxidation impacts the internal structure of the tire first. If stored in a hot warehouse or outdoors, the tire could have been exposed to less-than-ideal conditions. In this case, even though the tire has never been used, it is not in great shape—at least not the shape you would expect to pay for a newly-manufactured tire.

Replacing Worn Tires

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It is important to replace your worn tires because they can pose a major safety hazard. Commons issues include:

  • Tire blowouts while driving
  • Increased risk of hydroplaning
  • Ineffective braking capabilities
  • Tread separation from tire carcass

In 2013, in the aftermath of Fast and the Furious star Paul Walker’s fatal car accident, the crash investigation revealed that the car’s tires were nine years old and likely contributed to the car’s handling failure.

The common practice for replacing motorcycle tires is six years after their initial manufacture date. If the tires have been in temperature-controlled storage, they may have more wear on them. When considering whether to replace your tires, knowing how old they are can save you a good amount of money.

Especially on motorcycles, the front and back tires can wear out at different rates. Of course, their structural decay depends on how you use each, but because they sometimes wear unevenly, you should determine each tire’s age before you replace them both. If one tire is bald while the other still has tread on it and is six years or younger, just replace the bald tire.

Overall, there are two primary signals for replacing a tire: age and condition. Any tire that is more than six years old should be replaced regardless of its wear. Younger tires that are showing signs of oxidation or that have low tread depth should also be changed out so that you can stay as safe as possible while on the road.