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These incidents illustrate not only the potential danger of buying used tires but also the perils of driving on aging tires — including those that have never spent a day on the road.

For years, people have relied on a tire's tread depth to determine its condition.

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They were originally put on tires to make it easier for NHTSA to recall tires and keep track of their manufacturing date.

To make matters worse, you might not always find the DOT number on the outer side of the tire.

Carmakers such as Nissan and Mercedes-Benz tell consumers to replace tires six years after their production date, regardless of tread life.

Tire manufacturers such as Continental and Michelin say a tire can last up to 10 years, provided you get annual tire inspections after the fifth year.

This cracking can eventually cause the steel belts in the tread to separate from the rest of the tire.

An animation on the Safety Research & Strategies Web site shows how this happens.

Keep the visibility of the DOT number in mind the next time you are at a tire shop and the installer asks if you want the tires to be mounted with the raised lettering facing in.

That potential inconvenience is going away, however.

But if you only drive 6,000 miles a year, or have a car that you only drive on weekends, aging tires could be an issue.

The age warning also applies to spare tires and "new" tires that have never been used but are old. Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies, Inc., compares an aging tire to an old rubber band.

In February 2008, the owner of a 1998 Ford Explorer in Georgia needed a new tire for his SUV and ended up buying a used one.

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