Are Your Corvette Tires Unsafe?

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Are Your Corvette Tires Unsafe?

1965 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
1965 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. Getty Images/Car Culture

If you own a classic Corvette or you don't drive your Corvette very often, you may think that a quick visual inspection of your tires is all that’s required prior to setting out on your next adventure. Not only is this assumption incorrect, it is also potentially very dangerous.

While tire age and tread wear are most commonly used to analyze tire condition, it is possible that a relatively “new” tire with deep tread and no signs of wear is potentially damaged or compromised if you drive your Corvette infrequently. Subsequently, it is important to consider some lesser-mentioned variables that contribute to tire deterioration. Read on to find out how to tell if your Corvette tires are too old to be safe. 

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Corvette Tires Deteriorate -- Even During Storage

The chemical compounds of modern rubber are far more sophisticated than found in previous generations of tires. Regardless, tires are a consumable product, and not meant to last the life of your vehicle.

If your tires are on your daily driver, chances are you will wear out your tires long before the chemical compound in the rubber starts to break down. Treadwear indicator bars built into the tire become visible when you reach this critical point in the life of your tires. But if you never reach your indicator bars, how do you know when to replace your Corvette tires?

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How to Find Your Tire Date Code

Most manufacturers recommend that regardless of the condition of your tires, the best practice is to replace your tires every six to eight years. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requires all tires sold in the U.S. to have the date of manufacture stamped into the tire. The letters DOT followed by a four-digit number indicates this date code. The first two numbers denote the week the tires were made and the final two digits represent the year. Thus, a date code of “DOT 1515” would indicate that the tires were manufactured during the 15th week of 2015.

If you can’t find your date code on the outer sidewall of your tires, it may be located on the inner sidewall. This will require you to get under or raise the Corvette to accomplish this inspection. In some cases, the date code is stamped on the inside of the tire, necessitating the need to remove the tire from the rim to check its age.

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Why Tires Deteriorate

Elements such as heat, cold, moisture, exposure to ozone and UV light all can accelerate the degradation of your tires. This decomposition of the rubber is known commonly as dry rot. Dry rot becomes apparent when cracking of the rubber appears, most frequently visible on the sidewalls of your tires. However, something as seemingly innocuous as a slight vibration in your steering could actually be a sign that you have bad tires. As mentioned above, a visual inspection is not enough, as it is possible for dry rot to start on the inside of your tires and work its way out.

Cars that are not driven frequently are particularly susceptible to dry rot. Therefore, if you have a collector or classic Corvette that often sits in storage, it is even more urgent that you are aware of your tires’ age and condition.

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Damaging Effects of Long-Term Storage

Tires are not meant to stay in the same position for prolonged periods of time. Indeed, tires maintain their shape by rolling and being used. In other words, your tires are not designed to hold the weight of your vehicle in a stationary position; they are designed to move the vehicle.

Tread separation and flat spots in your tires are both a result of a vehicle staying in one position for too long. Because you can’t see flat spots on your tires, often you don’t begin to notice the problem until you’ve reached cruising speeds. Driving on tires with such damage is extremely unsafe and should be avoided at all costs. If you feel any vibration in the steering, notice any unusual handling characteristics and/or issues with breaking, these are all indicators of damaged tires and the problem should be addressed immediately.

If you do plan to store your Corvette for up to a year, nonprofit Motorwatch has a few tips on how to safeguard your tires, such as protecting the tires from direct sunlight and rolling the vehicle forward or back every few months to prevent flat spots on the tires.

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Always Buy New Tires

Many classic Corvette owners use older tires in an effort to maintain as “original” an appearance as possible. However, as the collector car hobby grows so do the offerings from tire companies. Most major manufacturers now make faithful reproductions of their older tires but with modern chemistry and technology. Because of these advances, buying used or “new old stock” original tires for your vehicle is strongly discouraged. When it's time to replace your Corvette's tires, always buy new.  

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Bottom Line

Regardless of if you have a new, old or classic Corvette, having your tires properly mounted and balanced by a professional is very important. Maintaining a regular schedule of tire rotation and balancing as well as monitoring and making sure you have correct air pressure greatly increase the life expectancy of your tires.

Marc Stevens contributed to this article.