That old truck in your driveway…
Dry rot on your vehicle’s tires is a safety hazard that doesn’t receive enough attention. It goes without saying that when your tires have worn out to the point that you have little to no tread left, it is time to buy new tires. This is common sense; it’s an obvious hazard. What is less evident—but just as dangerous—are dry, rotted tires.
What is it?
Dry rot is cracking in the sidewall and tread of tires. The tires start looking a little chalky rather than jet black—the fading persists even after you’ve washed them. They’re much like the human skin. When we’re young, our skin is naturally full of moisture. As we age, we have to take measures to protect our skin so it will remain supple. There are steps you can take to minimize the likelihood that your tires will begin to rot, but it’s also important to recognize the warning signs of this issue—particularly if you’re purchasing a pre-owned vehicle, or if you’ve inherited a used vehicle.
Sunlight is the biggest cause of dry rot on tires. Cold winter weather, chemicals on the road, and egg-frying heat from the pavement are also contributing factors. If you drive your vehicle often and wear out your tire tread every two to three years, your tires probably won’t ever dry rot. It’s the tires on the old truck that you use only a few times a year to haul large items that are more susceptible to this issue; or the tires on your grandparents’ old car that you’ve kept sitting on the driveway for sentimental reasons, even though no one drives it anymore. These are typical conditions under which tires will begin to suffer from “old age.” Their tread looks fine, but decay has started eating the rubber. It starts in the form of slight fading of the sidewalls. That fading then turns into cracks that you might not easily notice. Before long, the structure of the tires has been compromised.
Are there any dangers?
Perhaps you’re hauling a load of mulch in that truck that you almost never drive. The pressure from the load—and that resulting heat that builds up inside the tires—can become too much for your tires to handle any longer. In the best-case scenario, you slowly lose air on the way home from the garden center. In a much worse case, your front tire blows out while you’re heading down a two-lane road, just as the elementary school bus is coming from the other direction. Rotting tires are not just a cause of inconvenience, but a significant safety hazard.
How can I keep this from happening to my tires?
- The easiest thing you can do to help prevent your tires from rotting if it’s not your daily commuter vehicle is to drive the vehicle regularly—at least once a month. This heats up the tires and keeps the rubber soft.
- Try to keep your car or truck from sitting idle day after day in direct sunlight. If you only use your vehicle occasionally, try to keep it parked in the shade or in a garage.
- Cleaning your tires regularly and spraying them with protectants can also help keep them from rotting.
- Most importantly, keep your vehicle’s tires inflated to the manufacturer’s recommended pressure.
This article has more helpful information on how to generally maintain and protect your tires.
Frank Anderson is an in-house expert at Car Pal.