15 October 2010

Losses and Lessons: Maserati mishap

VEHICLE COVERED: 1972 Maserati Ghibli SS, valued at $85,000

WHAT WENT WRONG: A client decided to take his Maserati out for a spin. The car had been in storage over the winter, and the tires were flat and brittle – unbeknownst to the driver. When traffic stopped short, the Ghibli rear-ended the car in front.

DAMAGE: The crash put a serious dent in the Maserati’s front end.

LOSS: $24,852.06

LESSON: Inspect your tires and brakes before taking the car out of storage for a drive. The tires might have to be changed after a long winter since they get hard and brittle over time and lose traction when trying to stop.

Coker Tires recommends visual monthly tire inspections, including checking the pressure. “I can’t tell you how many people put the tire on and never check the pressure,” says Jess Hoodenpyle, the VP of sales and customer service.

Old tires can also pose a danger. The group Safety Research & Strategies Inc. says it has documented more than 150 incidents in which tires more than six years old experienced tread or belt separations resulting in crashes. These incidents were the cause of 128 fatalities and 168 injuries. The group has been pushing for the National Highway and Transportation Authority and automakers to issue recommendations to replace tires that are six years or older, regardless of use.

There’s a relatively easy way to determine the age of your tires, if you know where to look and how to read the jumble of letters and numbers on the side of your tire. You only need to worry about the last three or four digits.

The code begins with the letters "DOT," which indicates that the tire meets all federal standards. The next two numbers or letters are the plant code where it was manufactured, and the last four numbers represent the week and year the tire was built. For tires manufactured in the 1990s, you’ll find a three-digit code. For example, the numbers 317 means it was manufactured during the 31st week of 1997. After 2000, the number is a four-digit code. For example, 0301 means it was manufactured during the third week in 2001.

BOTTOM LINE: Just because your tires have plenty of tread doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re safe to take out on the road. Check the pressure often, and make sure you inspect the tires carefully for cracking or bulges – especially after winter storage and if the tires are more than six years old.

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