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Unleashing the Clock: How Long Before Tires Lose Their Mojo?

How Long Do Tires Last if Not Used?

Storage and Environmental Conditions

Tires, even when unused, have a lifespan. Official manufacturers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) suggest that a tire is 100% safe for use up until it turns 5-6 years old. Beyond this point, even if stored tires appear operable, their safety diminishes. Storage conditions play a crucial role in this. Tires kept in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight can last between 6-10 years. However, environmental conditions like heat and humidity can accelerate degradation. It’s important to check for issues annually, especially after the 5th year.

Personal Experiences with Old Tires

I once had a 10 year old RV with only 5000 miles on it. The tires looked good, but I was warned about their age. I didn’t listen, and on my first trip, a tread flew off, damaging the vehicle. It was a lucky escape; it could’ve been worse. Another time, I borrowed a motorcycle for a shop run. The loaner, a sport-touring bike, seemed fine until I leaned into a sharp left hand turn at 20 MPH. The front tire, which I later discovered was an eight-year-old tire, gradually lost traction and I low-sided. Thankfully, I was in full gear (ATGATT) and not hurt, but the bike suffered scratches.

Tire Aging: A Closer Look

Old tires are a hazard to any car. I once kept a brand new set of tires for sentimental reasons on a car I was hardly driving. Bought in 2010, they had only 500 miles on them but started cracking and showing filaments on the sidewalls despite the treads being OK. This is a classic sign of tire aging; the sidewalls were weakening, posing a hazard.

Motorcycle tires follow a general rule of thumb: for a sport bike, replace every 2 years, for sport-touring, every 3-4 years, and for a cruiser or touring bike, when they start to lose their stickiness or after 10,000 to 15,000 miles. But remember, even if the tread looks fine, old tires offer less traction.

Polymer Degradation in Tires

The synthetic rubber and artificial elastomer polymers in tires are susceptible to polymer degradation. Over time, the long chains in the rubber break down into shorter, less stable chains. This change makes the material different from the original material, leading to cracks and reduced tensile strength.

The Cliff Effect in Tire Aging

The cliff effect in tires is real. Around five years, tire aging can accelerate, much like going downhill. It’s crucial not to trust tires that are older, especially if they are to be used on an exhibition vehicle or for regular driving at street speeds.

What Can Make Tires Last Less: Factors Tire Aging Depends On

The durability of stored tires is influenced by two sets of factors.

Environmental conditions
Storage conditions.

Environmental Conditions

This category comprises factors such as oxygen exposure, ultraviolet (UV) light, ozone, and heat damage.

Oxygen

Oxygen is the main element behind rubber deterioration in tires, affecting them from both the outside and the inside. When tires are inflated with compressed air, which contains about 21% oxygen, this element accelerates the aging process. It’s not just UV and ozone damage; oxidation happens twice as fast from the inside. However, manufacturers infuse special antioxidant compounds into the rubber to slow this aging process. Over time, the polymer structure of the rubber is altered, leading to noticeable results in the tire’s performance and safety.

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UV Light

When tires are exposed to sunlight, the rubber begins absorbing UV radiation, a process that affects both natural and synthetic polymers and compounds in the tire. This deterioration is due to photo degradation. To counter this, manufacturers often fight back by adding carbon black to the tire’s finish. This substance absorbs UV rays, transforming them into heat and acting as a shield. However, over time, the tire loses its ability to stabilize these destructive rays, and eventually, the tire will last less time due to this exposure.

Ozone

Ozone, a type of oxygen with an extra atom, found in both the stratosphere and troposphere, can be particularly destructive to rubber. This was first noticed in the 1950s, when tires in areas with heavy manmade pollution were deteriorating faster than those in small towns or rural areas. The impact of this gas on tires is evident in the cracks caused not just by weather but also by ozone exposure. To fight this damage, manufacturers have developed special compounds, including products like waxes and oils. These additives help protect the tire when used and are brought to the surface through circulation during use. However, when stored, tires can still become useless if not properly cared for, lasting far less long before becoming irreparable due to ozone damage.

Heat

Heat, when combined with oxygen, significantly accelerates the rubber aging process in tires, a phenomenon known as thermo-oxidative degradation. According to research data from the NHTSA, tires tend to last less time in hotter climates and are more likely to fail quicker, whether they are being ridden or stored. This accelerated aging can pose a serious risk to tire integrity and overall vehicle safety.

Storage Conditions

This category encompasses factors such as temperature and light, ozone exposure, humidity, and deformation.

Temperature and Light

For optimal longevity, it’s recommended to store tires in a cool place, ideally not warmer than 77 F and not colder than 32 F. When considering storage, it’s crucial to hide the tire from direct sunlight and strong artificial light, both of which can emit UV rays that accelerate tire degradation. Adhering to these temperature and light conditions can significantly extend the lifespan of unused tires.

Ozone Exposure

When stored, it’s vital to keep tires in a place without ozone-producing equipment such as electric motors, fluorescent lamps, generators, and areas prone to electric discharges. Tires should be taken away from any room where they might face excess exposure to ozone, as it can cause cracking when pressure is applied. Proper storage away from ozone sources is key to maintaining tire integrity over time.

Humidity

In storage settings, it’s crucial to ensure there are no water bodies or significant sources of humidity near or within the storage room. When exposed to excessive humidity, tires tend to last less time, as humidity can lead to covered condensation, which is highly undesirable for tire preservation. Additionally, liquids and damp environments can become potential sources of ozone, which is particularly destructible to rubber components in tires.

Deformation

When stored, tires should ideally be mounted and inflated, or placed vertically on a slightly elevated surface. This position ensures the least amount of pressure on the tire. However, it’s often impossible due to space constraints. In cases with too many tires and not enough room, avoid creating a pile higher than 6 feet. Stacking them too high can lead to extreme pressure on the sidewalls of the bottom tire, causing it to become deformed and potentially unable to regain its form once pressurized again. Contrary to some beliefs, excessive stacking can weaken the tire’s structure, making it more prone to break under stress.

How to Store Tires to Make Them Last Longer

To improve the storing conditions and make your tires last longer, start by thoroughly cleaning them before storing. Mounted tires should be brushed and washed with water and soap, ensuring thorough drying to remove any contaminants and prevent excess humidity. Avoid using surface tire dressings after cleaning, as they can degrade the rubber over time. When removing tires from a vehicle, check the pressure to prevent load and stretch that can deform and age them quicker. For best results, store tires in airtight plastic bags or tire totes to keep them clean and dry, preventing oils from evaporating into the air.

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Close the bag tightly for convenience and ease of carrying, but remember, these bags aren’t designed to counteract UV, humidity, or ozone exposure. Store your tires in a cool, dry place, away from sources of ozone, strong, direct light, and other environmental hazards. If possible, opt for a climate-controlled room. When stacking, arrange them white-to-white and black-to-black to avoid the white parts of one tire staining the rubber of the other. This is because the oil in the black portion can migrate and color the white side. Hang wheels if there are doubts about them being deformed when stacked.

Why Tires Age Even If They’re Not Used?

Tires have a service time that expires regardless of use, due to rubber aging. This material, when exposed to oxygen, both from the outside and inside, becomes harder and less flexible, leading to potential cracks. This isn’t just an external issue; it affects the tread and can lead to steel cord separation, a precursor to complete tire failure. When stored, tires have a limited time before they degrade. Unlike when in use, lubricated by a ride with heated oils circulating and acting as grease to the rubber, preventing premature drying, in storage, these oils and emollients eventually dry out. The consequences of using long-lasting but aged tires can be severe, hence it’s recommended to not use tires that are 10+ years old. To determine the age of your new tires, store them properly and make it a practice to keep reading the date code on the sidewall, which is counted from the year of manufacture. Neglecting this can mean purchasing tires from a shop that are already well into their lifespan, potentially wasting money.

How to Store Tires: Where to Get Started

Many storage customers often have questions about tire storage: How to store their tires and rims so they last longer after being used? If left outside, without a cover, on a road vehicle, their safety can be compromised. Garages, too, if exposed to shifts in temperature, can degrade tires eventually. To delay this process, since tires are sensitive to weather and sun, the best way to store them is in a dry, cool environment. This helps slow down the aging process. Storing your fresh set of tires under the right conditions can add years to their life. Proper storage can also help prevent dry rot, extending their life and maintaining their performance.

Should tires be stored vertically or horizontally?

When storing tires, whether to place them vertically or horizontally largely depends on whether they are mounted or unmounted. For mounted tires – those still on rims – it’s best to either stack them or store them using tire hooks where they can be hung without pressure. Unmounted tires, on the other hand, should ideally be stored upright, either leaning against a wall or next to one another. It’s important to never hang unmounted tires, as this can cause them to sag over time, affecting their shape and integrity.

What’s the best way to stack tires?

When it comes to stacking tires, one must be cautious. While hanging can cause deformities, especially when moved around or forced due to space constraints, it is important to avoid damaging them. A good rule of thumb is to stack no more than four high and keep them off the ground, either on a pallet or a shelf. To further protect them, place a piece of wood between each tire to prevent the bottom tire from developing flat spots. Additionally, rotate the tire’s position in the stack every month to ensure even aging and maintain their shape.

How to keep tires from dry rotting in storage?

To prevent dry rot – a condition where the rubber of a tire begins to break down, leading to cracking – it’s essential to store tires in a cool, dry place away from heat sources like radiators or engines. Exposure to certain chemicals can break down the oils in the rubber; thus, storing near oils, solvents, or gasoline in a typical garage is not ideal. The key to prevention is regularly inspecting and cleaning the tires to detect early signs of dry rot before it starts getting worse.

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How long do tires last in storage?

A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Agency and recommendations from various carmakers converge on the advice of changing tires every six years. Meanwhile, tire manufacturers often suggest to retire tires 10 years after their manufacturing date. It’s crucial to keep in mind that this timeline applies to tires that have been using and not those stored away for some time, as the aging process is affected by both use and storage conditions.

5 Tire Storage Tips So They Last Longer

Clean and dry tires thoroughly before storing

To remove all traces of asphalt, dirt, and brake dust from tires before storing, proper cleaning methods are essential. Always check the label on products marketed for tire cleaning to ensure they are right for the job. It’s important to avoid using petroleum-based tire dressings that add gloss but can be corrosive and speed up rubber breakdown, especially if the tires will be out of service for a few months or more. For clean tires, mix a solution of mild dish soap and lukewarm water in a bucket. Use a tire brush to scrub away all the grime, and ensure they are completely dried prior to storing. Remember, do not leave them to dry in direct sunlight.

Store tires in a cool, dry environment

The perfect cool, dry environment is key to keep your tires in optimal condition. Locate a place where both temperature and humidity are consistent, as dips and hikes in these can result in premature tire aging. Storing tires in a consistently warm environment is not good for the rubber, and freezing temperatures can be just as harmful. Ironically, storing a car in places with constant sunlight, weather exposure, or fluctuating temperatures like an unregulated garage, is known to damage tires over time. A climate-controlled storage unit is ideal to maintain a consistent environment. A basement is a common choice, but ensure it’s away from furnaces, water tanks, sump pumps, and other ozone producers.

Keep each tire in an airtight plastic bag

Sunlight is a leading tire deteriorator, but oxygen in storage also plays a critical role. While tires require airflow to breathe and stay in good condition, storing tires sealed tight in an airtight space effectively prevents oxygen from reaching them and slows the oxidation process. This also keeps the oil from evaporating and drying out. For best results, wrap each tire individually. Consider tire storage options like specialty storage bags or even large, black contractor garbage bags. Vacuum sealable plastic bags or thick tarps are also effective. Just be sure to tie or wrap tightly around the tires for a secure, airtight seal.

Remove tires from vehicles that you’ve been storing for a long time

When storing a car for more than a couple of months, it’s wise to consider removing the tires completely. Leaving them on the vehicle for extended periods can cause flat spotting, especially if the vehicle remains stationary. If you can’t remove the tires, at least take the car for a ride every few months. This minimal movement not only gets some use out of the tires but is also best for maintaining their condition. Regular movement keeps the oil evenly distributed within the rubber, which helps prevent it from drying out.

Professionally inspect the tires before remounting them on a vehicle

After tires have lasted several years in storage under the right conditions, tire experts generally recommend replacing them after six years from the production date, regardless of the tread left. This is because, old or not, the compromised rubber compound gradually breaks down. When you take out the tires from storage, look for signs of wear and check the date if unfamiliar with the age. Dry rot, often unnoticed, can be detected by a tire professional giving them a once over. After examining the sidewall, where the U.S. Department of Transportation Number is located, you can determine the age. Tires should be professionally inspected to assess aging and decide whether to recycle them if there are visible signs of dry rotting, cracking, or flat spotting.

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