Just about everyone knows that your tires need a good amount of tread on them in order to remain functional and useful on your car, but did you also know that tires can become bad and unsafe simply by virtue of their age, and even if you haven’t used them much at all. In this installment of Car Help 101, we’re sounding the alarm on old tires.

Pile o TiresIt’s true. The rubber on your tires can get old, hard, cracked and even rotted after a few years. That’s why it is important to check the age of tires before driving as well as before purchasing new ones. If you have a vehicle which hasn’t been driven in several years, you should inspect the tires to see if the rubber has dried or cracked. If so, they should be replaced immediately so head on over to the auto shop and get some new ones.

But, even when you are purchasing new tires you should check to see their age. After about 4-5 years, tires can start to harden which means they will be much less effective at stopping your vehicle and we all know that this is not a good thing. In fact, it can present a serious safety concern.

So, when shopping for tires at your nearest auto shop, always look for the DOT stamp on the tire. The DOT stamp will indicate the month and year that the tire was manufactured. It is printed on the outside of the tire in a 4-digit format, like ‘1813’. In the previous example, the tire would have been manufactured in the 18th week of 2013. It’s best not to purchase tires that were manufactured more than a few years ago. Otherwise you could see performance impacts based off of the age of the tire and not just the wear on the tread, especially for cheaper tires.

But, age is of course not the only determinant in how long a tire will last. The wear and tear that you put on your tires by driving (including how much you drive as well as what kind of driving you do) is also a factor. So for more car help, here are a few tips to keep your tires working for you longer.

Make sure that you get your tires rotated on a regular basis to prevent irregular and excessive wear. Also, check the pressure on your tires at least every month or so. Tire pressure can change quickly and this can make tires wear out faster, as well as significantly impacting your fuel economy as we discussed earlier.