RMA Launches Feel-Good Tire Recall Database

Late last week, the Rubber Manufacturers Association launched online tire recall search tool, and The Safety Record asks: Why?

First, the RMA tire look-up website only contains tire recall information for its eight member companies, so recall information regarding all of the non-RMA made tires and tires that are imported and branded by U.S. distributors for sale here will not be in this database.

Second, the $300 billion, five-year comprehensive transportation bill, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act requires the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to create a web-accessible tire recall database that allows users to search by TIN, and any other information the agency deems useful.

“It was a good first step in a marathon but it’s hard to get excited by the first step,” says Roy Littlefield, executive vice president of the Tire Industry Association (TIA), who also noticed the bare patches in the plan. “One of the issues with it is that it’s only RMA members — it might be 80 percent of the market but there might be 200 other manufacturers out there from around the world that wouldn’t be covered, and it shifts everything to the consumer. We have to get back to the issue of electronic identification – this doesn’t solve all the problems.”

It does make sense when you consider that the announcement is a part of National Tire Safety Week – an entire seven-day period, invented by the RMA for the sole purpose of appearing in public to care about tire safety. (The RMA has also sponsored a bill in the Ohio state legislature to prohibit selling any unsafe used tires, under a host of conditions defined by the RMA.)

The historical record shows that the RMA has devoted most of its energy to fighting NHTSA regulations to improve tire safety. For example, the RMA press release on its fabulous new safety innovation states: “The recall search tool works by entering a tire identification number (TIN) that is found on the sidewall of every tire sold in the U.S.”

What the RMA fails to mention is that through the years, the trade group has fiercely fought NHTSA’s periodic proposals to force manufacturers to mold the full TIN on both sides of the sidewall. In June 2004, the agency adopted a Final Rule that required the TIN be molded on the intended outboard side of the tire to give consumers easy physical access to the TIN. Manufacturers also had the option of molding a partial TIN, minus the date code, on the other side of the tire.

Since tires don’t have unique identification they are distinguished by their date of manufacture. If the entire TIN is mounted on the in-board sidewall, one would need to crawl under the tire with a flashlight and a pen and paper to capture the full TIN or take it to a shop, to put it on a lift, to get the information to plug into a recall-look-up database.

And that brings us to another Grand-Canyon-sized hole in the RMA database: Where’s industry’s sincere concern for catching recalled tires in the service environment? Without automating TIN capture, through RFID tags, or laser etching of QR codes, or any other modern method of getting the data, it doesn’t matter how many databases you build. It’s still a paper-and-pencil system. Safety Research & Strategies president Sean Kane has been advocating for a more effective tire recall system for years and brought his message to the tire industry at 32nd Clemson University Global Tire Industry Conference in April. (See Safety expert pushing for improved tire recall system)

But, it makes good copy in the trade rags. PR – and making sure that others bear the burdens of the tire recall system is what it’s all about at the RMA.

In October 2014, at the National Transportation Safety Board symposium to evaluate the tire recall system, new technologies, tire age and service life, and consumer awareness, the RMA blindsided the TIA by announcing that it wanted a mandatory registration system requiring retailers to electronically register the tire at the time of the sale.

Awkward! The TIA, which successfully lobbied Congress three decades ago for a voluntary registration system that put all of the responsibility for tire registration on consumers, was furious. (Since 1983, dealers have only had to hand their customers a registration card to be filled out and returned to the manufacturer.) The RMA then out-maneuvered the TIA on Capitol Hill. In February 2015, and when the dust settled on the FAST Act, independent tire dealers, much to the chagrin of The Tire Industry Association. The required rulemaking will compel independent dealers to maintain customer tire purchase information and electronically transmit those records to tire manufacturers.

So, this redundant and incomplete database is another instance of image-polishing, but it doesn’t do much for consumers.