Tires tend to be one of those things we easily forget about when driving. However, just like neglecting your axle, neglecting care for your tires can be disastrous.

We’ve talked a bit before about how important it is to maintain the axle and check it if you hears strange noises coming from your car. Tires are another one of those things that are easy to forget about.

Unfortunately, if you do forget about them, the possibility of ending up in  a car accident goes up pretty high. It can be a jarring experience to be driving along, hear a loud pop and then suddenly find yourself losing control for the moment.

The way tires age is similar to an old rubber band. If you have some lying about your house and you try to stretch them, you may notice cracks forming in the rubber. The same thing happens to your car tires. Eventually enough cracks form in the tire and the steel belts separate from the tread. The tire then just falls apart.

Now the question is, how long are car tires supposed to last?

The lifespan of car tires tends to differ depending on the material they’re made of, which chemicals have been used on them and who manufacturers them. Because of this, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not set any kind of specific guidelines on aged tires.

As for the manufacturers, companies like Continental and Michelin say a tire can last up to a decade if you get it regularly checked. However, certain things do affect this.

For example, the NHTSA has done research that shows that heat can have a dramatic affect on the life span of your car tires. This is a big concern for people, especially those of us who live in Colorado.

So how do you tell how old your tires are?

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) puts a code on every tire. Tires made after the year 2000 have a four digit DOT code imprinted on them. The first two number sin this code represent the week the tire was made and the second numbers are the year. So is a DOT code reads “1109”, that means the tire was made in the 11th week of 2009.

Finding this code may be a bit difficult since they are usually placed along the interior of the tire. If you  have a car jack, however, you can lift the car and check for it.