Dill Finally Launches Tire Valve Stem Recall

Reprinted from The Safety Record, V5, I6; Nov/Dec. 2008

OXFORD, NC-One year after a fatal crash and seven months after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched a defect investigation into 30 million Chinese-manufactured tire valve stems that could crack prematurely, Dill Air Control Products has finally announced a recall.

In early December, the North Carolina-based distributor agreed to recall 1.8 million tire valve stems, acknowledging that three models of valve stems, the TR 413, 414 and 418, were manufactured without an additive to protect the rubber from deteriorating under exposure to ozone. The recall covers a fraction of the population that could be affected by the defect. An estimated 30 million tire valve stems were manufactured during the period in question.

The announcement closes a NHTSA Engineering Analysis into the defective valve stems.

Dill claims that the defect affects fewer than 200,000 valve stems confined to two lots manufactured by Topseal, a division of the Chinese conglomerate, Shanghai Baolong Industries Co. Ltd, in July 2006. (Topseal and Dill share corporate ownership. In March 2005, Shanghai Baolong and Zhongding Group purchased an ownership stake in Eaton Corporation's Roxboro, North Carolina plant. The Chinese manufacturer renamed the company Dill Air Control Products and relocated the facility to Oxford.)

But Dill said it would recall all the valve stems manufactured in 2006, because it is impossible to identify the suspect lots. This campaign follows a customer satisfaction program, a recall of the defective tire stems from another distributor, two separate defect investigations - all emanating from a wrongful death lawsuit. On November 11, Robert Monk of Orlando, Fla. died when the right rear wheel of his 1998 Ford Explorer failed, triggering a rollover crash. The tire failure was linked to a cracked Dill TR413 valve stem and in March, the Monk family filed suit against Dill. The following month, Dill officials met with NHTSA to discuss the potential snap-in tire valve defect. Dill described a problem with valves leaking from cracks due to apparent ozone exposure and indicated that an early investigation had traced the concern to a five-month manufacturing period in 2006 - even though discussions about the integrity of the tire valve stem had taken place within the company two years earlier.

Three days after its meeting with NHTSA, Dill sent a Technical Bulletin to some major tire retailers advising them that the company had received complaints of surface cracks appearing on the outside of the rubber near the rim hole in several models. Despite this acknowledgement to dealers, the company didn't initiate a recall to alert consumers.

In May, NHTSA's Office of Defect Investigations opened a preliminary evaluation into the safety of the TR413 and Dill announced a customer satisfaction program. In June, another distributor of Topseal valve stems, Tech International of Johnstown, Ohio filed a separate defect report recalling six million valve stems, after customers reported problems with premature cracking. Tech International also claimed that the defect was actually confined to only 8,600 TRI 413 valve stems, manufactured between July and November 2006, but, like Dill, offered free replacements for any of the 6 million sold -- and compensation for any tire damage caused by the defective part -- because it was impossible to identify the defective lots or the end users.

"NHTSA was not even notified until the Monk family filed suit against Dill. Sadly, it took this fatal crash, a great deal of publicity, and a federal investigation before the company decided to recall" said Rich Newsome, the Orlando, Florida attorney representing the Monks.

In its Safety Defect and Non-Compliance Report, Dill said that it and Topseal engaged independent rubber engineering experts to perform mass spectrometry analysis on samples from lots produced from June to November 2006. According to Dill, the analysis revealed that two lots demonstrated "substantially different chemical properties than samples from other control periods." Topseal admitted that, around that same time period, it had changed its distributor of the anti-ozone chemical agent used in the rubber compound. Dill concluded that the rubber used in the suspect lots was compounded using sub-standard anti-ozone chemicals.

Even before this NHTSA-inspired inquiry and the change in anti-ozone suppliers, Dill and Topseal were aware that its valve stems in 2006 had problems. In April 2006, the board of Dill Air Control Products Corporation met, with members from the U.S. and China attending. This was the first such meeting since Shanghai Baolong purchased the company. Amid the discussions about business strategy and future goals, the group discussed current challenges. At a technical exchange between Dill and Topseal, the managers discussed "problems such as tire valve leaking, core of tire valve not firm and so on," according to a Shanghai Baolong report of the meeting.

While the recall signaled the closing of one probe into Dill-distributed valve stems, other Topseal valve stems remain under investigation. In late September, Safety Research & Strategies requested that NHTSA open a defect investigation into the Topseal tire valve stems used as OEM equipment in some Ford vehicles.

SRS was persuaded by its brief field survey that found prematurely cracked TR414 valve stems on 2007 Ford models, all bearing the Topseal symbol on the base of the stem and all demonstrating the failure modes identical to those in the Dill-labeled models. SRS also conducted an independent analysis of the agency's complaint records and found that Ford was a standout among OE valve stem failure complaints, with 35 unique vehicle reports alleging valve stem failures on 2007 and 2008 Ford vehicles.

And on October 14, ODI opened a Preliminary Evaluation (PE08-060) into the valve stems, citing the possibility that they may crack due to poor ozone resistance. Although Ford claims that loss of tire air pressure doesn't represent a safety hazard, the investigation is still pending.

Copyright © Safety Research & Strategies, Inc. 2008

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