Rubber products, in this case tires, degrade over time, this process is called dry rot. Oils and chemicals in the rubber compound evaporate and breakdown due to UV exposure. The tire rubber loses its flexibility and begins to crack at the surface. The structure becomes more and more brittle (imagine an old rubber band), leading to sidewall damage and eventual failure. The general rule of thumb is that a tire will last for roughly seven years. If you see signs of cracking have a professional evaluate your tires.
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