You Like Me. You Really Like Me.

Bob Ulrich delivered a bouquet of compliments to Sean Kane in Modern Tire Dealer's latest edition. Entitled, "Sean Kane's Passion Trump's the Industry's Inaction," Ulrich opines that Kane has been an amiable and effective, if misguided, advocate for tire aging. It opens thus:

"I like Sean Kane. Over the phone he comes across as a likeable guy with an admirable agenda: He wants to improve the tire purchasing experience for consumers."

The editorial notes Kane's successes in attracting media attention to the issue and the policy initiatives that have ensued - the California tire age bill that cleared a hurdle last month and NHTSA's slow turn toward acknowledging the importance of tire age. What's wrong with this picture? Ulrich says that these actions are not based on sound science, rather, on a small five-year database that Safety Research & Strategies has created correlating tire age and tire failure. The Rubber Manufacturer's Association stands alone in repudiating this connection.  Increasingly, they sound like tobacco-company executives insisting there's no evidence that cigarette smoking causes cancer, while the rest of the world is satisfied that the facts prove otherwise and moves on. Ulrich repeats these denials in laying out his case against emotion-based tire regulations.

Here is Sean's reply:

I am flattered that Bob Ulrich believes that my influence is so deep and widespread that I have singlehandedly aligned the media, state governments and a federal agency against the industry on the issue of tire age. But the consensus that has formed outside of the RMA and the TIA has more to do with the preponderance of scientific evidence than the force of my charisma.

Ulrich's editorial glosses over ample data dating back to the 1930s on the material properties and thermo-oxidative aging of rubber. And the link between tire age and tire failure was not forged in my company's database, it was known by the tire makers for decades from published scientific studies that date back more than 20 years.  It was these studies that led automakers, as early as 1990, to add warnings to their owner's manuals that indicated tires older than six years should only be used in an emergency and replaced as soon as possible.  And in 2001, the British Rubber Manufacturers Association devised this recommended practice on tire aging: "BRMA members strongly recommend that unused tyres should not be put into service if they are over 6 years old and that all tyres should be replaced 10 years from the date of their manufacture."

After the Firestone tire/Ford Explorer debacle in 2000, Ford Motor Company examined the material science behind tire aging and conducted a methodical evaluation of thermo-oxidative aging and its effects on radial tires.  This work led to the development of tire age test methods, published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and the company's recommendation to consumers that tires older than 6-years presented a greater risk for failure and shouldn't be used.  NHTSA also tested and analyzed field-aged and artificially aged tires, as did the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) working group.  While they have yet to issue any consumer level recommendations, their findings essentially mirror those found by Ford researchers.

It's puzzling that the RMA and TIA remain dedicated outliers on tire age, while many of their members know otherwise.  The industry's continuing denial that their products have a shelf-life appears to be rooted more in maintaining antiquated inventory and distribution systems than in defending science - or serving their customers, for that matter.

I wish I could say it was all me, guys. But it's really all about the facts.

Sean Kane


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