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Persistent RV Tire Problems Prompt Fifth Recall; NHTSA Investigation Focuses New Attention on RV Safety

Washington, D.C. - Country Coach, one of the nation's largest manufacturers of Class A motor homes, has launched its fifth recall in seven years to replace the tires on some of its motor homes, blaming the Toyo tire company for outfitting its recreational vehicles with tires unable to carry their weight.

Country Coach, a Junction City, Oregon-based subsidiary of RV Holdings Inc. told NHTSA that Toyo's M102z models were responsible for more than 50 tire failures since 2003 - a charge that Toyo has strenuously denied. This most recent safety campaign underscores what appears to be an industry-wide problem: RV manufacturers under-rating the axle weight of their vehicles and outfitting them with tires that cannot bear the load, particularly in the left front. In the last several years, at least five manufacturers, including Fleetwood, Newmar, Airstream, Four Winds and National RV Inc., have initiated recalls involving more than a dozen motor home models with incorrect weight or tire pressure ratings.

With government scrutiny increasing, this problem is also pitting tire manufacturers against RV-makers as both try to lay the responsibility for these accidents on each other. In March, Toyo issued a technical bulletin to its dealers sternly advising against outfitting any motor home manufactured by RV Holdings Inc. with a Toyo tire. The bulletin, in part, complains:

In multiple recalls and internal service bulletin campaigns conducted from 1999 to 2005, the manufacturer and the brand-name owner NRVH and CCI have repeatedly failed to warn Toyo about safety problems related to suspension components, and the installation of incorrect tire placards that led to tire failures. Based on this history, Toyo cannot be confident of receiving future communications from NRVH and CCI relating to problems on coaches that have been outfitted with Toyo tires.

In the meantime, RV owners have borne the brunt of these miscalculations in the form of sudden sidewall blowouts on the road. The Country Coach tire failures have mostly resulted in property damage accidents. But in other cases, motor home tire failures have resulted in injuries and fatalities.

Rick Morrison, an attorney with the Montgomery, Alabama based-Beasley Allen law firm is currently litigating two separate cases of left-front tire failures on motor homes manufactured by Monaco and Newmar that have resulted in fatalities.

"As far as I've seen, there is no engineering process, no testing, nothing that the RV manufacturers have done to make sure that the tires are appropriate for their vehicles and have the appropriate load-bearing capabilities," Morrison says.

Some of the recreational vehicles most vulnerable to weight and tire issues are Class A Motor homes, the largest, and usually the most luxuriously appointed RVs on the road. They measure 24-40 feet in length and feature a kitchen, cockpit, living area, a bathroom and a bedroom. Over the years, manufacturers have found a way to maximize the living space with motorized slide-out units. Some models have multiple slide outs. But, as other motor home manufacturers have discovered, slide-out units can also considerable stress on the front tires. In 2004, the Newmar

Corporation initiated a recall covering two of its models that had suffered front tire failures. In 2000, after two fatal accidents, the Fleetwood Corporation recalled the tires on 3,745 of its some of its models. In both cases, the manufacturers increased the load rating and replaced the tires with more robust models. One RV blogger captured the current trend on the enthusiasts' website www.rversonline.org: "We keep demanding goodies, i.e. four slide out design is not unusual today. I have had reports of overweight coaches with tires, wheels or some other component failures caused by too much weight. More than one manufacturer has had to do a complete tire recall because of overloading."

As the Country Coach case demonstrates, outfitting recreational vehicles with the proper tires can become a trial and error process, because some manufacturers have failed to determine the actual weight of a recreational vehicle, loaded with water, furniture and other accessories of motor home living.

Country Coach's tire problems date back at least to 1999, when some of its models began to suffer tire failures related to what RV-maker claimed was under-inflation. In October of that year, Country Coach announced a recall for certain 1998 and 1999 Allure and Intrigue models with slide-out galleys. Earlier that year, the company had received 12 complaints of steer axle tire failures due to under inflation. Country Coach's initial remedy addressed the tire tag specifications, which recommended a pressure that was too low for the tire to handle the load leading to a possible failure. It directed consumers to go to a Country Coach dealer for a replacement tag and to have the tires properly inflated to a higher pressure. Two months later, Country Coach determined that the RVs operating on under-inflated tires might have already been damaged and announced that it would replace the front tires of 448 units. According to quarterly reports filed with NHTSA, Country Coach replaced 438 tags and 394 tires.

That recall forced the company to take a closer look at the weight ratings of its motor homes, and in 2000, the company discovered that its Affinity Grande Chalet motor homes had been assigned an inaccurate front axle weight rating. An inspection of all of its products since 1990 uncovered more models with the same problem. In total, 289 1995-1998 Allure and Intrigue motor homes had been similarly misclassified. The vehicles were rated as 9,000, 10,410 and 11,000 pounds, when they should have been rated at 13,200 pounds. This time, Country Coach offered to replace the incorrect tire tags and replace the front tires and rims at no charge.

Later that year, Country Coach told NHTSA that it had found a problem with the weight distribution on its older vehicles. In April, the company issued a service bulletin notifying 994 owners of Allure and Intrigue motor homes-about half of whom were included in the first recall-that they need to change the configuration of the ride height control valve. This time, Country Coach proposed to swap the old ride height control valve design, which consisted of two valves on the front axle and one on the rear axle, with a new design. The original design put too much weight on the front left tire, Country Coach said. The new configuration located one ride height control valve on the front axle and two on the rear axle to more evenly distribute the weight.

In 2002, Country Coach launched a second, bigger recall for a tire under-inflation problem. This second action involved 550 Affinity, Magna and Concept motor homes in model years 1995-2000. Again, the vehicles' tire tags were incorrect and 301 of them had been assigned incorrect front and rear axle weight ratings. This time, Country Coach offered to replace the tire tags and the tires of all vehicles with incorrect cold inflation pressures and assigned correct axle weight ratings on those that had been miscalculated.

But the overloaded tire problems persisted. From December 2003 to March 2005, 32 of the recalled motor homes suffered one or more tire failures. Another 19, which were not included in the recall but used the same tire, also experienced tire failures. In 2005, NHTSA opened a recall query, after receiving two complaints of front tire failures for motor homes that had already received the reconfigured ride height control valve design. In its reply, Country Coach blamed the tire manufacturer, Toyo. "The root cause of the failure, in CCI's opinion is overrating of the 275/70R X 22.5 M102Z and M140Z tire's performance, durability and weight carrying capacities by the manufacturer."

Toyo, which sold 17, 252 of its 275/70R22.5 Toyo M102Z, H load range in the U.S. between 1996 and 2002, repeatedly denied any defect in its tires and blamed the problem on overloaded vehicles on under-inflated tires.

Neither response satisfied the government. In May, NHTSA received another consumer complaint of a tire failure on one of the recalled vehicles and raised the level of inquiry in July 2005 to an engineering analysis to determine if Country Coach's remedies were adequate. NHTSA conducted two field surveys as part of it's investigation, that checked weights and tire pressures on several Country coach models and found motor homes with disproportionate axle loading, overloaded and under-inflated tires, loads that exceeded the vehicles gross axle weight rating and some that remained unrepaired from prior recall campaigns.

Country Coach announced on June 30 that it would initiate a recall to replace the tires, but did not specify which models or model years would be affected.

Copyright © Safety Research & Strategies, 2006

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