NHTSA Says Electronic Tire Registration Feasible

A new National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report says requiring tiremakers to electronically identify tires is feasible, but the main technologies to achieve it – Radio Frequency Identification tags or two-dimensional bar-codes – come with plusses and minuses that would need sorting out to achieve a standard format across manufacturers.

The report was mandated by the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, and requested by the Tire Industry Association, which represents tire retailers. In this preliminary study, NHTSA reviewed past research, journal publications, press releases, applicable standards, and government regulations, and met with safety advocates, including Safety Research & Strategies, electronic identification technology companies, tiremakers, tire techs and tire sellers. The agency also conducted its own time/task study to determine how long it takes for someone to hand-record the four TINs on tires mounted on a vehicle.

The report’s conclusions are less startling than a long overdue catch-up on yesterday’s news. Tire manufacturers have been developing RFID technology in tires since 1994. The first tire and wheel tracking standard – B-11 – which included a protocol for RFID, and promulgated by the Automotive Industry Action Group – was unveiled in 2002. In 2006, Michelin was embedding RFID tags into truck tires; Goodyear put them in NASCAR race tires. 

The idea of using electronic tire identification to improve the tire registration and recall system is, similarly, an old idea. In 2007, SRS, long an advocate for tire registration reform, published a white paper titled “Tire Recalls and Tire Safety: The RFID Solution,” pointing out that the tire registration and recall system was broken because it continued to depend on a 50-year-old pencil-and-paper system. The Tire Identification Number (TIN) – the alphanumeric linchpin of the system, used to determine tire age and tire recall population – was not well understood by the average consumer and often inaccessible, if mounted on the inner sidewall. And despite the technological advances, there was still no way to identify and track individual tires once they left the manufacturer.

As part of the study, NHTSA demonstrated to its own satisfaction something SRS has been arguing for years – hand-recording Tire Identification Number takes too long to be practical in the fast-paced retail and service environment. NHTSA testers, recording TINS on 33 vehicles, took anywhere from nearly three minutes to nearly 6 minutes to write down the TINs. The most time was spent on vehicles in which the full TINs (with the date codes) were mounted inwards on all four tires. 

For the study’s purposes, electronic tire identification was defined as an electronically-readable marking or tag within or on the sidewall of a tire that could be captured and transmitted electronically with a hand-held scanning tool. NHTSA found that RFID and 2D barcode technologies – either separately or used in concert – appear to be suitable for implementation and for a standard data format. But each has advantages and disadvantages. 

RFID tags only require the scanner to be within two feet of the tag to be read, so they are readable regardless of which sidewall is facing outward. But current RFID tags don’t have enough memory to store the TIN, so higher-cost tags with additional memory would be necessary. In 2013, Korean tire maker Kumho began including RFID tags in its tires and currently installs them in passenger and light truck tires made at all of its plants except for those made in China, claiming it as an inventory management tool. In 2017, Michelin announced that it would be adding RFID tags to all its commercial truck tires and retreads. A June 2018 opinion piece in Rubber and Plastics News, authored by Jos Uijlenbroek, a founder of Firm RFID Solutions, claimed that the industry was “rapidly adopting” RFID “in a growing number of tire industry processes.”  

According to the report, 2D barcodes are  “two-dimensional optical arrays that represent data using many small, contrasting geometric shapes, such as squares and circles,” used to identify and track items. 2D barcodes had only a 1-foot range and required a clear line-of-sight to be read, but they have greater capacity to present the TIN. They also have a higher up-front machine cost, but are cheaper per-tire than RFID tags. 

Some tiremakers currently etch 2D barcodes into tire sidewalls post-manufacturing, the report said. Officials from 4Jet, a German-based tire laser engraving technology company who met with NHTSA researchers, characterized laser etching as “a mature, well established, and widely used process in the tire industry,” used for serial numbers and TIN date codes.  4Jet reported, for example, that last year, some European vehicle manufacturers were requiring the Data Matrix Codes on both sidewalls of OE tires, and that two major tire manufacturers had “run successful pilot projects and are planning to implement QR codes for use in their truck tires starting in 2018.” 

NHTSA’s conclusions echo those of the National Transportation Safety Board, which identified electronic tire identification as a way to increase tire registration. Its 2015 Special Investigation Report noted that the process can break down at multiple points. For example, registration forms are routed from the manufacturer to wholesalers and importers that might not pass them along to tire retailers. The time it takes to hand-record paper forms can be a strain on large-volume tire dealers. Digital registration, it concluded was quick, easy and would increase the accuracy of the TIN records and tire registration itself: 

Scanning technologies that allow dealers to electronically read barcodes or radio- frequency identification (RFID) tags permanently affixed on a tire offer an alternative that could expedite the registration process. Using this technology, a tire’s TIN could be quickly scanned, recorded, and electronically uploaded to a computerized registration system. Such a system would reduce the time needed for a dealer to register a tire, thereby increasing the probability that tire registration would take place. Use of scanning technologies could also reduce transcription errors. Although resources would be required to create an industry standard for software that takes full advantage of this technology, such an innovation would also simplify the tracking, storage, and distribution of tires, resulting in significant cost savings for both manufacturers and dealers. 

Over the years, the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA)  and the Tire Industry Association (TIA) have competed for the title of “Tire Organization Most Indifferent to Tire Registration and Recalls.” The TIA was the winner for decades, having, in the early 1980s, persuaded Congress to remove tire dealers from the tire recall system – the regulations only required dealers to hand their customers a registration card to be filled out and returned to the manufacturer. Then, the USTMA surged ahead with some legislative jujitsu by lobbying for a FAST Act provision that compelled the agency to write regulations requiring independent dealers to maintain customer tire purchase information and electronically transmit those records to tire manufacturers. 

But at last year’s Clemson Tire Conference, an annual industry confab, the old rivals in apathy stood together declaring their allegiance to one another, to the idea that the tire registration system could stand some improving, and to the recognition that any solution would involve the introduction of modern technology. There was no discussion of how this would be achieved.

So, when – and if – the process gets down to the nitty-gritty of costs and implementation, we’ll see how committed the players really are.

NHTSA Gets Real on Tire Fatalities

Safety Fact: 733 is the total motor vehicle traffic fatalities in 2016 in which a contributing factor was tire malfunction.

Safety Fiction: On average, 200 people die each year in tire-related crashes.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration happens to be the purveyors of both tidbits, and the discrepancy is not just a matter of facts, it’s a matter of rulemaking and a matter of mixed messaging.

For years, the agency clung to the lower figure, based on a suspect methodology, and used this figure to forego a rulemaking on tire age and to educate the public about tire safety. In December 2014, Randy Whitfield, of Quality Control Systems Corp presented a statistical analysis of tire crash data, challenging this particular agency statistic  at the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) two-day Tire Safety Symposium in Washington, DC. The symposium gathered stakeholders to share information on tire age, the recall system, tire construction, technology and tire-related crash data with the NTSB. Co-authored by Alice Whitfield, the study criticizing NHTSA's tire-related fatality counts was commissioned by The Safety Institute.

And now, nearly four years later, NHTSA has apparently decided to revise its estimate of tire-involved crash fatalities to something more reality-like, and to publish it in at least one place on its website.

“Safety advocates and proponents of the scientific method who have been asking for accurate, tire-related crash statistics are going to have to come to terms with getting 'yes' for an answer,” says Randy Whitfield. “Why is this important? Now that we know these crashes aren’t going away, now that we know the tire aging problem may not have been resolved by existing regulations, what are we going to do about it? Why can’t we put an easy-to-find and easy-to-read date of manufacture on a tire's sidewall?  Why is that too hard?”  

There are several possible sources of tire-related crash information, including state accident reports, Early Warning Reports, the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Study, and the National Automotive Sampling System/Crashworthiness Data System (NASS/CDS).

In 2014, NHTSA relied upon NASS/CDS data to show near-miraculous results of an upgrade of FMVSS 139. In a report released in May of that year, the agency said that its most recent analysis of tire-related crash data from 2007 through 2010 showed “a 35 percent reduction in tire crashes (17,019 to 11,047), a 50 percent reduction in fatalities (386 to 195) and a 42 percent reduction in injuries (11,005 to 6,361) when compared with annual averages from 1995 through 2006. The overall fatalities decreased by 20 percent between 2007 and 2010 (dropping from 41,059 to 32,885 fatalities), and overall police reported crashes decreased by 10 percent between 2007 and 2010 (dropping from 6,024,000 to 5,419,000).”

The agency attributed these decreases to requirements for tire pressure monitoring systems in new vehicles, along with “a more stringent FMVSS No. 139” that helped “create better-quality and safer tires.”  It concluded: “At this time, the agency does not believe it is necessary for motor vehicle safety to add a tire aging requirement to its light vehicle tire standard.”

Safety Research & Strategies president Sean Kane, also the founder of The Safety Institute, said “I have no doubt that FMVSS 139 – which was the first real upgrade to the tire standards since its original promulgation decades earlier – improved tire robustness. But, tires are not impervious to age degradation and absent easily identified dates of manufacture and clear and accessible guidelines on service life, tire age-related failures will continue to cause death and injury particularly because old tires can look just like a new tires – it’s an invisible hazard.” 

In his presentation before the NTSB, Whitfield demonstrated that NASS/CDS was a weak foundation on which to base any claims of tire-related crash trends. NASS/CDS is a probability sample of police reported tow-away crashes involving passenger cars, light trucks, and vans. Whitfield argued that the relatively small sample produced annual estimates that were based on very few actual crashes, resulting in unreliable estimates and trends that were more likely due to statistical noise rather than to true yearly difference. The NTSB also pointed out that the sample was heavily skewed geographically – the vast majority of the fatal tire-related crashes in NASS/CDS during the period 1995‒2012 were located in Arizona (41 of 64 fatal crashes). 

In contrast, Whitfield said that FARS, as an actual census of all fatal crashes on public roads in the US which includes data about tire-related crash factors, provided a much more realistic view of tire crash trends.

The probability estimates that NASS/CDS produced didn’t come close to matching the FARS count, Whitfield argued. Nor did it reflect a basic tenant of the tire failures – that they are related to heat and climactic conditions and increase along with temperatures. NASS/CDS estimates did not show a seasonal pattern.   

The NTSB’s October 2015 report agreed that a comparison of NASS/CDS to FARS data showed “the NASS/CDS data appear to underestimate the number of tire-related crashes, injuries, and fatalities. Additionally, for this particular factor, NASS/CDS did not provide a representative distribution of tire-related crashes across the United States.” The Board recommended that NHTSA go back and determine the actual level of crash risk associated with tire aging since the new FMVSS 138 and 139 came into effect; and “if it appears that the aging-related risk should be mitigated, develop and implement a plan to promote the tire-aging test protocol to reduce the risk. (H-15-33).” 

In 2016, then-Administrator Mark Rosekind made a head-scratching reply. He told the NTSB that NHTSA had already done the analysis in 2014, and suggested that since the new requirements of FMVSS 138 and 139 came into effect in September 2007, and since manufacturers recommend that vehicle owners replace tires after 10 years, there wasn’t “a significant amount of crash data currently available with which to analyze FMVSS No. 139 compliant tires that have aged significantly past a manufacturer's suggested lifespan.” 

So in 2016, NHTSA didn’t have enough data to determine if FMVSS 139 is effective, but two years earlier it had enough to show amazing results and to decide there was no need for a rulemaking. Okay, Mark.

The Safety Institute, which originally sponsored Whitfield’s statistical analysis of tire-related crash trends, has sent a letter to Acting NHTSA Administrator Deputy Administrator Heidi King to request that NHTSA fix that annual tire-related crash fatalities figures in its other educational materials to match the actual figures. (Read The Safety Institute's letter here.)

That would not be welcomed by the Tire Industry Association. In April 2014, its president Roy Littlefield sent a snippy letter to NHTSA declining to promote NHTSA’s In the Garage Infographic and educational video. (Read the Tire Industry Association's letter here.) While the TIA approved of NHTSA refraining from making any specific tire age recommendations, opting instead to urge consumers to have annual tire inspections,  it took extreme umbrage at NHTSA downgrading its annual estimate of how many people die in tire-related crashes each year from 400 to 200: 

“It is one thing to say that '400 people die every year as a result of tire failure due to improper inflation' and something completely different to just say any number of people die as the result of tire failures. The message as it stands tells consumers that tires are dangerous products because they kill hundreds of people each year.  The actual number is inconsequential because it does not tell the whole story unless it is tied directly to the lack of maintenance. Nothing has changed since September of last year because lowering the number to 200 doesn’t make it any less misleading.  Two hundred people die every year in tire-related crashes as a result of what?” he wrote. 

So how many people die each year in tire-related crashes? 200? 400? 700? It’s hard to get a grip on reality when your agendas inform your figures, rather than the other way around.

Tire Industry Declares End to Era of Recall Apathy

If one listened closely in the Sonesta Hilton Head Resort meeting room at the 2018 Clemson Global Tire Conference, one could hear the strains of Kumbaya, as the Tire Industry Association and the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association announced a new alliance to address the longstanding problems of the tire recall system. They didn’t announce much else.

The occasion was a half-hour presentation on the tire registration and recall system at the mid-April conference by David Martin, category director of tools and supply for American Tire Distributors Inc., and the current TIA president and John Evankovich, director of Sam’s Club Tire and Battery Centers, and TIA board secretary.  

TIA Executive Director Roy Littlefield introduced their talk with a confession: “Tire registration the most emotional issue for tire retailers. We now have over 10,000 members and we have seen an incredible increase in membership because of the emphasis on tire registration and recall. We have to look at how current technology can improve a system that has been outdated from the beginning.”

Then, Martin and Evankovich devoted most of their talk to recounting the regulatory history of tire registration. Nearly a half century of TIA and USTMA indifference to the system that is the foundation of the recalled tire recovery effort has produced correspondingly dismal rates – an average of 30 percent, compared to the 72 percent and above rates for recalled vehicles, equipment or child restraints. That’s because for most of the regulation’s history, the two lobbied to offload their responsibilities onto each other, or dump everything on the consumer. For example, in the early 1980s, tire dealers persuaded Congress to remove them from the tire recall system – the regulations only required dealers to hand their customers a registration card to be filled out and returned to the manufacturer.

But in 2015, the Fix America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act brought their existential struggle out into public view. The FAST Act compels NHTSA to write regulations requiring independent dealers to maintain customer tire purchase information and electronically transmit those records to tire manufacturers. The former Rubber Manufacturers Association (now USTMA) lobbied hard for that. The TIA won a provision requiring the Secretary of Transportation to examine the feasibility of requiring tire manufacturers to include an electronic TIN on every tire.

“You would not think you would see the TIA and the USTMA standing together,” conceded panelist Jay Spears, Continental Tire’s Director of Standards and Regulation, during a Q & A session. “We did not have the same opinion and we fought it out in public, which is not a good look for anyone.” 

While NHTSA quietly works on its Congressional to-do list, the USTMA and the TIA decided to it might be better to work together. Their discussions, described as “eye-opening,” led to the revelation that understanding each other’s perspectives was critical toward reaching a solution.

Interspersed with the history lesson were a number of comments on the system’s failures. Evankovich noted that the system is still basically a paper-and-pencil system: “The fact is if you look at it today and where we started – it’s basically the same – we are using the same technology. Things have not changed very much.” (In 1970, advanced technology consisted of liquid crystal displays and pocket calculators.)

Martin admitted that the industry had not done a good job training tire techs and sellers to properly register tires: “Education and outreach – There’s been a lack of real lack of getting the information out to installers so they will understand the proper process. We’ve just been sending out cards and it hasn’t been effective.”

But the session did not focus on solutions. When asked if a unique identifier for each tire would benefit the recall process, Martin only noted “it was a consideration that has been discussed,”

The group agreed that the solution would be rooted in technology which would impose costs on manufacturers and retailers alike, but no one would venture an opinion on what either would be.

“Both sides know that technology isn’t free,” says Evankovich. “There is going a cost associated with  whether it’s from technology that goes into a tire, whether it’s from [point of sale systems] that can handle advanced capabilities, whether it’s a scanner to scan TIN numbers, I don’t think any one answer is 100 percent right today.”

For the consumer and for the service technicians, the bottom line is this: there are too many ways for old or recalled tires to stay or be mounted on a vehicle, with catastrophic consequences. This is a problem created by both the tire sellers and the tire manufacturers, who have not supported a workable system to accurately register all tires, to ensure that manufacturers have all the data, and to provide a comprehensive, easy or quick way to determine if a tire has been recalled.  While the FAST Act requires NHTSA to create a tire recall Tire Identification Number (TIN) look-up, it has not done so yet. In the meantime, the USTMA launched one in November 2017, but only its eight members participate, so it’s not complete.

And on the subject of tire age, consumers and tire techs can choose from a set of confusing options. Most auto manufacturers have set six years as the recommended service life limit on tires. Some in the rubber industry argue that tires are ageless; some have declared a 10-year service life.

In a March deposition, a TIA official testified that if a full-size spare will be used as a replacement tire, the shop should check to see if it has been recalled. Really? Only check the full-sized spare? What about the rest of the damned tires?

These are flimsy, ad-hoc standards of care, being created in the vacuum left by the flimsy, ad hoc tire registration and recall system.

The Safety Record Blog has been writing about aged tires and the broken tire recall and registration system, if you want to catch up, follow the links below for a sampling:

RMA Launches Feel-Good Tire Recall Database

Improving the Recall System for the 21st Century

The Wrong Fix for the Broken Recall System

"Aged" Tire Case Numbers Grow: Spares and Used tires Top the List

Not Very FAST Act Tackles Recall, Tire Issues, Closes Rental Loophole

The Safety Record Blog means it sincerely when we say that it’s nice to see that manufacturers and tire retailers finally admit that the current system sucks and that it hasn’t advanced technologically since (if you are old enough) you played Pong. But we are less jazzed about the Goldilocks-like looking-for–the-technology-that-is-just-right attitude toward action. Consumers have been waiting 48 years for the industry to commit itself to taking unsafe tires off the road, and we guess they’ll have to wait some more.


Is Goodyear Headed for NHTSA Sanctions?

Six years after Goodyear’s efforts to conceal the defects of its G159 truck tire enraged a U.S. District Court judge, NHTSA appears ready to take its own bite out of the tiremaker’s hide.

To close out 2017, the agency opened a Preliminary Evaluation into the field performance of the tire, based on claim and complaint data obtained via “a court order authorizing the release of Goodyear records to NHTSA.”

As loyal readers of this blog know, that case is Haeger v. Goodyear, one that we’ve written about in our decade of coverage on the G159s trail of destruction. (See links below to The Safety Record’s G159 coverage.) 

In June 2003, LeRoy and Donna Haeger, along with their son and daughter-in-law, Barry and Suzanne Haeger, of Tucson, Arizona were on their way to a medical symposium in New Mexico, when the right front tire – a G159 275/70R.22.5 – on their Spartan Gulfstream Class A motorhome, suffered a catastrophic tread separation. The steer axle failure caused the motorhome to become uncontrollable and it careened off Interstate 25 and down an embankment, where it came to rest on its side. Barry Haeger escaped with minor injuries. But his parents and wife were all pinned under parts of the collapsed motorhome and all suffered major injuries that included multiple fractures, head trauma and nerve damage.

The case, filed in Arizona U.S. District Court in 2005, morphed for more than a decade from a mere product liability case to an indictment of the G159 tire on a motorhome, and of Goodyear’s sleaze-ball trial tactics. (For an easy-to-follow outline of the case, read our Haeger v. Goodyear Timeline.)

At the heart of the controversy was a titanic discovery battle that resulted in fraud charges, career-ending attorney sanctions, a U.S. Supreme Court decision, multiple settlements, and it rages on, still.  In the meantime, LeRoy died of cancer in 2008, still blamed by Goodyear for the crash. Donna Haeger is now in her 80s, and Suzanne Haeger still struggles with partial use of one arm, a permanent injury from the crash. All of the survivors are still coping with the stress of prolonged litigation.

What got NHTSA’s interest was a Moby-Dick of a fact that the Haeger’s attorney, David L. Kurtz sought for 12 years, as relentlessly as Captain Ahab hunting a whale: The failure rate of the G159 on motorhomes. It turns out to be phenomenally high.

Kurtz represented the Haegers in two actions against Goodyear. The first was a civil liability lawsuit filed in U. S. District Court in 2005 and settled confidentially in 2010 without any disclosure of significant Goodyear documents, even though Kurtz suspected that Goodyear had been less than forthcoming. The second lawsuit, filed in Arizona Superior Court in 2013 and, again, confidentially settled in 2017, alleged fraud. In June 2010, Kurtz learned through a Safety Record Blog story that Goodyear had disclosed internal heat and speed tests performed on the G159 in Florida case, Schalmo v. Goodyear  (See Goodyear G159 Tire Failures on RVs Finally Dragged into the Public Eye). Armed with that knowledge, Kurtz began to pry the most complete record of G159 failures ever seen outside of Goodyear’s General Counsel office.

By January 2017, Kurtz had forced Goodyear to disclose all of the liability lawsuits: 41, from 1999 to 2010; all of the deaths and injuries: estimated to be 98; all of the property damage claims: more than 600; and all of the warranty adjustments: 3,484. The last piece of the equation – how many out of the 160,000 G159s produced were placed on motorhomes – came a year ago.

In 2006, Goodyear submitted information about the G159 to NHTSA as part of an investigation into Toyo tires. The agency opened Engineering Analysis 05-011 in July 2005 to probe front tire failures in 1995-2000 Country Coach Allure and Intrigue Class A motor homes equipped with Toyo s 275/70R22.5, 275/80R22.S or 12R22.5 (load range H) tires. The Office of Defects Investigation sent peer information requests to Michelin, Goodyear and General Tire in search of a basis of comparison. The agency told Goodyear that it was trying to determine the approximate “failure rates” due to tire blow-out, tread separation, abrupt loss of air, and the like, for front tires manufactured and sold by Goodyear and installed on Class A RVs; and on other vehicle applications.

Hmm. What are the odds that Goodyear gave the agency complete information?

The agency also asked for the number of tires in the specified size or size ranges that Goodyear sold each year since 2000.

All of the peer responses were deemed confidential, so it took Kurtz a while to get Goodyear’s response – through NHTSA via a court order. With this information, Kurtz was able to estimate that only a quarter of the total universe of G159s sold to the motor home market between 1996-2003. With a denominator of 40,000 and a numerator of at least 600 publicly disclosed property damage claims, according to Kurtz, the parts per million failure rate – as typically expressed – of the G159 is somewhere around 15,000 Goodyear representatives have testified that a typical ppm is 3.4 ppm, so a ppm of 15,000 would be beyond extraordinary.

(Only NHTSA or the courts can reveal the data that will bring decision to the calculation. One thing is clear, the rate will be off the charts.)

A Brief History of the G159

Goodyear began producing the G159 in 1996, the design was intended for use on delivery trucks, predominantly traveling on in-town roads making frequent stops. But the tire was also marketed to the motorhome market, because like a delivery truck, Class A motorhomes had six tires and a similar weight capacity. But the reasons behind the dual-market decision are murky, because Goodyear engineers knew from internal testing soon after the tire was offered for sale that the G159 could not withstand the prolonged heat build-up of long-distance highway driving common to RV users.

Goodyear performed at least 26 tests on the G159: crown durability tests, bead durability tests, heat rise tests and DOT endurance tests – most of which were conducted after tire was put on the market. For example, four of the heat rise tests were conducted in April 1996 to “determine the dynamic heat build-up at specific loads, speeds, and inflations.” The tests were conducted on a “67.23 [inch] diameter flywheel.” at 35 miles per hour to simulate highway speed on a road surface and checking the temperature of the tire at certain intervals.

The G159 was developed to withstand temperatures of only 194° F. But testing showed that prolonged use at highway speed could cause the tire to reach temperatures of up to 229˚F, causing a loss of strength in the material components and eventually separation of the tire's structure.

The problems began to appear in the field, almost as soon Class A motorhomes were outfitted with G159 tires. Between 1996 and 1998, RV owners filed 25 tire failure claims Nonetheless, in 1998, as many states raised their highway speed limits to 75 mph, Goodyear raised the G159’s speed rating to keep pace.

In 1999, Goodyear implemented design and compound changes to make the tire more heat-resistant and less prone to tread separations. But this did not stop the flood of failures. Claims rose steadily from 54 in 1999, to 59 in 2000. By the end of 2005, Goodyear had fielded 540 death, injury and property damage tire failure claims, and faced 29 lawsuits.

The constant tread separations forced two motorhome recalls and one customer satisfaction campaign to replace G159s with more robust tires made by other manufacturers.

The tiremaker never told Goodyear about the results of its heat rise test data nor of the tire’s limitations, instead it erroneously advised one of its OEM customers, Fleetwood RV, that “running hotter can take its toll on rubber, and asserted that the average temperature at the belt edge was 160 F at 55 mph, and increased to 185 F at 75 mph.” In November 1998, Goodyear attempted to shift the blame for failure on drivers overloading and underinflating their tires, driving too fast and failing to avoid road hazards. In a letter to Fleetwood, which ultimately tallied 41 tread separations on a G159, Goodyear wrote:

“Fatigue and separation are somewhat allied properties of tire endurance. Both can be adversely affected by excessive conditions of load, deflection, inflation and speed. All of these conditions relate to heat buildup, and heat is the greatest enemy of a tire. Excessive heat will cause a degradation of material properties which in turn can impact the tire's endurance and durability. Tires are designed to perform at specific operating temperatures, which is sometimes called 'equilibrium temperature.' At equilibrium the heat generated within the tire structure is equal to the heat dissipated from the tire surfaces. Exceeding this temperature for short periods of time is not a problem but    exceeding it for long periods begins to cause loss of strength in the material components and eventually separation of the tires structure.”

When Fleetwood questioned whether construction changes in the G159 or the tire’s increased speed rating would account for all of the tread separations, Goodyear wrote:

“A question was raised relative to the possibility of 75 MPH compromising the tire's safety margin. Goodyear evaluates the test results and then determines whether to authorize 75 MPH or keep the tire at 65 MPH. To date if a tire did not meet our standards, the tire remained at a maximum speed rating of 65 MPH. In the case of the tire in question, the tire performed to the level that satisfied our high speed requirements and we approved the tire to 75 MPH.”

In June 1999, Fleetwood recalled 17 Class A American Heritage motorhomes because of inadequate total front tire weight capacity. The company replaced the G159s with a larger Michelin XZA 275/80R22.5. On October 1, 1999, Fleetwood again recalled its 275/70R22.5 Goodyear G159 tires, this time on some 3,400 Class A models made in 1996 to 2000 after four incidents involving two fatalities. The crashes Fleetwood reported to NHTSA occurred on September 15, 1998; July 7, August 29 and September 9, 1999.

According to pleadings in the Haeger case, the Monaco Corporation – another G159 OEM – received a similar set of explanations for the rash of tread separations its customers were experiencing (a total of 93) in August 2000. The failures eventually forced Goodyear to release a Product Service Bulletin announcing that the Monaco Coach Corporation would be issuing a letter to owners of 1999, 2000 and certain 2001 Windsor model Class-A motor homes offering to replace their G159 275/70R22.5 tires with 295/80R22.5 LR H, G391 tires.

Again, Goodyear blamed consumers:

“The letter will inform the customer that it has come to Monaco’s attention that in a number of instances, it was found that tire air pressure was being reduced in order to gain better ride comfort and in doing so tires were operated in an under-inflated and overloaded condition,” the Goodyear bulletin said. “In the interest of customer satisfaction, Goodyear and Monaco are offering to replace the original 275/70R22.5 LR H, G159 with 295/80R22.5 LR H G391 tires. The higher aspect ratio tire will allow customers to operate at a lower inflation pressure that will give a more comfortable ride while maintaining tire loading that is within the operating range of the tire.”

By the first month of 2003, Goodyear stopped making the G159. But they continued to fail on motorhomes, accruing deaths and serious injuries.

Defending the G159

Goodyear’s main line of defense from Day One has been concealment, because the tests showing the G159’s unsuitability for motorhome applications and the huge number of tire failures made any other strategy untenable. During its period of manufacture, it failed to inform its OEM customers of the tire’s limitations. The Safety Record doubts Goodyear has been honest with NHTSA. But it has been in the courtroom where Goodyear did everything it could to keep the real story of the G159 under wraps.

Consider the fate of the deposition of Kim Cox – a Goodyear claims administrator who testified in Phillips v. Goodyear, a 2002 injury and property damage case in San Diego.

During Cox’s June 19, 2003 deposition, Cox, allegedly admitted that Goodyear knew that the G159 tire did not “perform properly” on Class A motor homes.”  The admission was so damning, Goodyear’s attorneys swiftly shut down the deposition, negotiated a settlement and arranged for every scrap of the deposition’s existence to be destroyed. Goodyear even unsuccessfully sought sanctions against the Phillips attorney Guy Ricciardulli for even mentioning its existence to another attorney who had a G159 case in Arizona. (see Goodyear Destroys Testimony Admitting RV Tire is Defective; Court Rules Deposition is Not Protected)

Harold and Georg-Anne Phillips made their initial complaint in August 2000, when two of the tires on the left rear side of their Monaco Windsor motor home failed, damaging the rear of the vehicle. Goodyear reimbursed the couple for the cost of replacement tires and for repairs to the motor home. But a year and a half later, the Phillips’ were again the victims of a tread separation crash. While traveling on Interstate 10 in Arizona, the motor home's left front tire failed, causing the Phillips to crash into a roadside embankment resulting in serious injuries and property damage.

Consider the trail of sanctions and frustrated judges who have dinged Goodyear for discovery abuses in at least seven cases involving the G159 and other tires.

Now consider the current NHTSA investigation – extremely late though it may be. Despite Goodyear’s Herculean obfuscations, a pretty good record of this crappy motorhome tire – which, by the way, an internet search shows that you can still buy – has accrued, even though much of the raw source material remains out of the public eye.

How are things likely to go?  

A G159 sells for upwards of $350 – so times 40,000 – that’s roughly $14 million in sales to the motorhome market. We know the Schalmos won a $5.6 million verdict against Goodyear. Now we’re down to $8.4 million. How much did Goodyear pay its National Coordinating Council, Basil Musnuff, and all of the lawyers who carried their water in local jurisdictions in 41 civil actions, or running things up the judicial chain? How much did Goodyear pay out in secret settlements? Warranty losses? How much will it ultimately owe for the Judge Silver’s sanctions in the Haeger case? How much will it pay in the forthcoming federal Consent Agreement?

The Safety Record doesn’t know. But we can guess that the numbers long ago wiped any profit Goodyear made from a boneheaded decision made in 1996 that left so much human damage in its wake.


The Safety Record Blog has been writing about motorhome tire failures, the G159 tire and Goodyear’s vicious trial tactics for more than 12 years. If you would like to get caught up, grab a beer, pull up a chair, and take a read:

August 2006 Persistent RV Tire Problems Prompt Fifth Recall; NHTSA Investigation Focuses New Attention on RV Safety

April 2008 Goodyear Destroys Testimony Admitting G159 RV Tire is Defective; Court Rules Deposition is Public

June 2010 Goodyear G159 Tire Failures on RVs Finally Dragged into the Public Eye

Nov. 2012 Pattern of Fraud Brings Down Goodyear

June 2013 The Wages of Fraud

Sept. 2013 Haeger High-Stakes Poker

June 2014 Litigating the Goodyear Way

June 2015 Federal Appeals Court Upholds Goodyear Sanctions




Decoding NTSB’s Tire Safety Report

Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board issued findings and recommendations following a 10-month long investigation into tire safety. The effort was launched after two February 2014 two deadly tire-related crashes in Louisiana and Florida. (The latter crash involved an uncaptured recalled BF Goodrich tire and the former an 11-year old Michelin Cross Terrain.) In December 2014, the NTSB followed up with a tire safety symposium to gather testimony from industry, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, advocates such as Sean Kane of Safety Research & Strategies, and researchers.

The final report, which will be released in the coming weeks, is focused on two key issues – the tire recall system and tire age degradation (service life). Tuesday’s hearing provided a pretty sturdy outline of the NTSB’s major conclusions. It amounted to a long-ignored to-do list for the regulated and the regulators (nine recommendations for NHTSA and two for industry) like implementing a web-based TIN look-up database and having the complete TIN on both the inboard and outboard sidewalls of a tire.

Board Vice Chair Dr. T. Bella Dinh-Zarr crystalized the tire safety problem with a simple question to the NTSB staff: Why tire techs can’t determine if a tire was recalled? 

And the answer is because no one has built the systems to do this, is best summarized in two of the NTSB’s most important and intertwined conclusions:

  • A computerized system for capturing, storing, and uploading tire registration information would expedite the tire registration process, reduce transcription errors, and encourage more dealers to register tires at the point of sale.
  • The guidance provided by the tire and automotive industries regarding tire service life and the risks associated with tire aging can be inconsistent and confusing, which may lead consumers to make inappropriate tire replacement decisions.

In other words, the tire identification and recall system, which have relied on manual review of hard to find information, must be automated in order to alert techs – and consumers – to tire service life recommendations and recalls. With automated tire tracking, these critical elements of tire safety come together, and service techs can tell a consumer with the swipe of a scanner if a particular tire is recalled and if it’s at the end of its service life – in addition to the typical visual inspection for tread and condition. No complex internet searching and document review, crawling under a tire to capture the full TIN, or pawing through desk drawers for ten-year-old tire technical bulletins – just useful safety information, in real time, quick and easy.

The industry stakeholders preferred to focus elsewhere.

According to Tire Business, the Rubber Manufacturers Association was as happy as clam: “Daniel Zielinski, RMA senior vice president-public affairs, said his association found it encouraging that the NTSB agreed with a number of the RMA’s recommendations, especially tire registration by dealers, recall search engines based on TIN lookups, and consumer education.”

(Although, having the TIN on both sides is the kind of suggestion that makes the RMA very cranky, having successfully fought off NHTSA’s attempts to require it since 1970.  But the RMA is totally in favor of recommendations that require others to assume their responsibilities like a TIN lookup and tire registration.)

And Roy Littlefield, vice president of the Tire Industry Association fretted about an NTSB recommendation to require all tire dealers to register tires at the point of sale. According to Tire Business: “I can’t believe this industry thinks that the best solution to this problem is to hand it over to a government agency,” he said. “This is 2015, not 1982. We have technology that works. To go back to that archaic system would be a disaster.”

Safety Research & Strategies, which has been studying the gaps in the tire recall system and the hazards of aged tires has long advocated for machine readability of tires as a practical way for tire techs and consumers to quickly determine a tire’s recall status and age. Regardless of the changes made to the tire registration system and the plethora of tire service life recommendations, without the ability to scan a tire, there is no efficient way for  service professionals or consumers to determine if a specific tire is recalled or is old enough to be replaced. No doubt, the recommendations for a TIN lookup website and full TINs on both sides of the tire would make it easier (also advocated by SRS), but tire techs and consumers still need to translate the 11 Alpha-numeric characters from each tire accurately into a computer. This is a task fraught with error and isn’t practical in a shop environment. Given the cost-effective and available technology – from RFID to laser-etched QR codes – and the magnitude of the safety issues at stake when recalled and aged tires stay in service, tire scan-ability is where the industry already headed. Most tire makers have added that feature to some lines of tires.  In June 2013, Kumho Tire Co. Inc. announced it would put RFID tags in all of its tires.

The NTSB also appeared to discount NHTSA’s contention that tires that met the new FMVSS 138 and 139 were so robust, that no rulemaking on tire aging was required. In March 2014, NHTSA released Tire Aging: A Summary of NHTSA’s Work, in which the agency announced that it had no plans to turn its tire aging research into a regulation. NHTSA cited 2007 through 2010 stats that purported to show a 35 percent reduction in tire crashes; a 50 percent reduction in fatalities; and a 42 percent reduction in injuries (11,005 to 6,361) when compared with annual averages from 1995 through 2006. A January 2015 study, sponsored by non-profit The Safety Institute, disputed that claim. It found that the number of tire-related crashes and resulting deaths has remained relatively constant since 1995. At the December 2014 tire symposium study co-author Randy Whitfield told the NTSB that the agency’s conclusions were based on a survey with a small sample size of crashes involving light passenger vehicles towed for tire-related damage, rather than evaluating all tire-related crashes.

NTSB concluded: “Further research is needed to confirm that the implementation of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard Nos. 138 and 139 has substantially reduced the risk of tire-aging, related crashes, injuries, and fatalities.”

Improvements to tire safety have long been stalled by the intransigence of the RMA, which puts all of its efforts into keeping the status quo firmly in place and NHTSA, which has not mustered the energy to overcome it. The NTSB has no authority to implement policy – but its pronouncements are influential. And here’s hoping that this round of safety recommendations gets the process moving.

NTSB to Release Long-Awaited Tire Safety Recommendations

In February 2014, there were two tragic, fatal, and high-profile tire crashes on U.S. highways that might very well constitute a tipping point for tire safety.

One involved an 11-year-old Michelin Cross Terrain tread separation on a 2004 Kia Sorrento that led to a crash into a school bus carrying 34 members of a Louisiana high school baseball team in Centerville, La. Four of the Kia occupants died, and the fifth was severely injured. Thirty of the bus passengers suffered injuries.

The other involved the failure of a recalled BF Goodrich tire that was on the left rear tire on a 2002 Ford 350 XLT 15-passenger on an interstate in Lake City, Fla. The driver lost control, and the van swerved onto an embankment and rolled over. Two adults died, and all of the other occupants, including several children, suffered injuries. The tire had been recalled for tread loss or rapid air loss from a tread-belt separation shortly after Sam’s Club put it on the vehicle in 2012. In November 2013, Sam’s Club mechanics inspected the tire, but failed to identify and remove it.

Deaths and injuries in crashes caused by aged and recalled tires are entirely preventable, but neither the tire industry nor the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been inclined to do anything to prevent them. On Tuesday, the public might finally see some leadership on this issue from the National Transportation Safety Board. The board is meeting to discuss its new report on tire-related passenger vehicle crashes, “and “the safety issues uncovered during these investigations and the December 2014 NTSB tire symposium.”

Within 10 months of those horrific crashes, the NTSB resolved to take up the issue of tire safety and convened, in lieu of formal hearings, a two-day tire symposium in which stakeholders presented information on tire age, the recall system, tire construction, technology and tire-related crash data. 

The symposium was notable, in part, for NHTSA’s decision to cite inaccurate tire data purporting to show that tire-related deaths and injuries have decreased by half since Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 139 was established, and the Board’s skepticism at the Rubber Manufacturers Association contention that it could do nothing to change the way it did business. Tracey Norberg’s (RMA’s Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and General Counsel) flat-earth argument that it would be too difficult to make tires that could be scanned for tire age and recall information, fell flat.

“That’s interesting because I think an awful lot of people in this audience have an iPhone,” said symposium chair Earl Weener, an aviation safety expert, and NTSB member since 2010. “That iPhone can read QR codes, can read barcodes, can read UBS codes. But somehow that is too much technology for the tire manufacturers and for the tire distribution process. You know, you go to the airport and about every third person checks in with their iPhone, with a barcode on them. So it seems to me that maybe some imagination is required.” (See Safety Research & Strategies 2007 whitepaper on tire RFID)

Safety Research & Strategies president Sean Kane presented an overview on the tire age issue, noting that rubber manufacturers have been publishing papers on thermo-oxidative aging as far back as the 1920s. In the last quarter-century, the debate over, the research on, and the official recognition of this safety hazard has garnered much more attention from automakers, tiremakers and the government. Automakers preceded U.S. tiremakers in issuing tire age warnings by at least a decade. Throughout the 1990s, the majority of vehicle manufacturers worldwide added warnings to their owner’s manuals about aged tires.  These warnings all focused on a six-year threshold.  In October 2005, that Bridgestone/Firestone broke ranks with other tire makers and issued a “Technical Bulletin” to its dealers advising them that tires should be inspected after 5 years and replaced after 10. Other major tiremakers, such as Cooper, Michelin and Continental-General followed.  Many tiremakers defer to auto manufacturers’ recommendations, a defacto service life of six years. NHTSA, which has studied the problem extensively since early the 2000s, has clearly stated that age is a hazard and a factor in tire-related crashes. While there are no state or federal tire age regulations, there is general consensus on when a tire’s useful service life is over. 

Despite decades of acknowledgement among all of the major players, the critical information about tire age has not been adequately conveyed to those at the retail level – consumers, and tire sellers and the tire and service technicians on whose advice and guidance the average motorist relies. Neither industry has taken responsibility for nor taken action to alert and train tire service professionals or consumers, which is why we continue to see old tires rotated into service with deadly results

The symposium was also marked by a rare open dispute between the RMA, which represents manufacturers, and the Tire Industry Association, which represents tire sellers. RMA chose the symposium to roll out its lobbying effort to implement a mandatory registration system requiring retailers to electronically register the tire at the time of the sale. Ever since, the RMA has been busy trying to get language to that effect wedged into a transportation bill. The TIA has argued that tire registration is already too big of a burden for retailers to have to stock registration cards from several manufacturers. Retailers should just provide the customer the TIN and tell them what website they can use to register the vehicles.

TIA Executive Vice President Roy Littlefield says that 80 percent of the tires retailers sell are registered and the group has been trying to keep any such mandates out of federal legislation. The TIA does support any effort to “take advantage of current technology. The industry can do a better job, and not only improve the tire registration system, but also focus on the more serious issue of recalls.”  

Safety Research & Strategies is hopeful that the NTSB will, at long last, move the ball forward. The Tire Identification Number (TIN) system is forty years old and showing its age. Just about every retail product can be and is tracked via automation – except for passenger car tires, and there is no good reason why techs and consumers are still relying on cards and complicated web searches to find out if a particular tire has been recalled and why isn’t the full TIN on both sides of the sidewall?  The excuses are as tired as the system itself.

See also The Run Down on NTSB Tire Symposium

Federal Appeals Court Upholds Goodyear Sanctions

The Safety Record Blog has been most pleased to inform our readership, from time to time, of the skullduggery emanating from the corporate offices of the Goodyear Rubber Company. Goodyear has made quite name for itself as champion discovery hardball player – years-long production delays, withholding relevant documents, offering less-than-truthful testimony from corporate reps and lying repeatedly right to the judge’s face about the evidence in its possession. At last count, we were aware of seven tire cases in which Goodyear’s fine counselors were reprimanded, or ruled against, or sanctioned for playing fast and loose with the rules of evidence.

This week, the tire manufacturer’s dubious legal reputation was further cemented by a U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision affirming a lower federal court decision that imposed some onerous sanctions on Goodyear, led by then in-house litigation chief Deborah Okey, Basil Musnuff, formerly of Roetzel & Andress and formerly Goodyear’s national coordinating counsel, and local counsel Graeme Hancock of Fennemore Craig PC. The three-judge panel voted 2-1 to uphold U. S. District Judge Roslyn O. Silver’s $2.7 million sanction against the trio for months of refusal to acknowledge the existence of and turn over G159 tire testing documents in Haeger v Goodyear, and an order requiring Goodyear to file copy of her order in any G159 case initiated after November 2012.

Judges J. Clifford Wallace and Milan D. Smith, Jr., both Republican appointees, voted to affirm Silver’s order. Obama appointee Paul J. Watford wrote the dissent.

The majority found that it was “clear the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that Hancock, Musnuff, and Goodyear acted in bad faith in this litigation. The Sanctionees, throughout numerous discovery dispute filings and hearings, convinced the district court that Goodyear had produced all test data relevant to the Haegers’ claims. The district court noted that

“[i]n fact, at various points the Court became exasperated with Plaintiffs’ apparently unsubstantiated claims that additional information must exist.”

The ruling, filed on Monday, comes a dozen years after the crash that seriously injured Leroy and Donna Haeger, and with their passengers, Barry and Suzanne Haeger, when the right front G159 tire on their Spartan Gulf Stream Coach failed, causing a rollover. In the 1990s and 2000s, Goodyear had specifically marketed the G159 for Class A motorhome applications, even though it knew from testing that the tire design was prone to overheat on RVs that typically travel at greater than 65- mph speeds for extended periods. Predictably, G159 tires on RVs failed, injuring and killing motorhome occupants and taking center stage in the lawsuits that followed. The Haegers filed suit in 2005. Over five years of litigation with more than 1,000 pleadings, they settled the case in 2010. During the litigation, the Haegers’ attorney, David L. Kurtz, asked for all G159 internal testing but Goodyear only turned over compliance tests to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, showing that the G159 met federal standards and swore to Judge Silver that there was nothing else.

In June 2010, Kurtz learned from The Safety Record Blog about a $5.7 million plaintiff’s verdict in another G159 case, Schalmo v Goodyear. At trial, the blog reported, Schalmo’s attorneys presented Goodyear documents including internal heat and speed testing and failure rate data showing that Goodyear knew the G159 was improperly approved for 75 mph continuous highway use. Kurtz wrote to Musnuff to determine if Goodyear had withheld those tests in his case. Musnuff admitted that Goodyear had, but argued that it wasn’t obligated to turn over any more than its NHTSA compliance test results.

Silver, the Chief Justice of the Arizona District Federal Court, had a different opinion. In response to Kurtz’s May 2011 motion alleging discovery fraud, she painstakingly re-created the twisted trail of trial tactics going back to November 2006. After two years of litigation over the fraud allegations, with numerous hearings and 14 briefs filed by the Goodyear lawyers, Silver found that Goodyear had deliberately thwarted the discovery while presenting to the court a “dizzying array of misstatements and simple falsehoods” to cover up the existence of Heat Rise, extended DOT, crown durability, and the bead durability tests. She also found that Goodyear, if forced to acknowledge them, lied about what they indicated about the RV application for the G159. She noted that similar behavior had taken place in two other Goodyear G159 cases: Woods and Bogaert.

She ordered Kurtz to tally the value of his time over the five years of trying to get Goodyear to comply with his requests. Hancock, Goodyear’s local counsel, was ordered to pay 20 percent of the total and Musnuff and Goodyear were to split the remaining 80 percent. Silver ordered Goodyear to file a copy of her Order in any G159 case initiated after November 2012, suggested that Kurtz mount a separate legal action against the trio for discovery fraud. and hinted that their behavior would have unfortunate professional consequences.

Judge Silver determined the final amount of the monetary portion of the sanctions order to be $2,741,201.16, with $542,240.83 coming out of Hancock’s personal pocket and $2,192,960.93 from Musnuff and Goodyear. Both Goodyear and Hancock got supersedeas bonds, covering the sanction amounts, plus two years of interest, to obtain a stay of enforcement during appeal.

Kurtz said that the Haeger family has been waiting a long time for justice. Leroy Haeger who passed away in 2008, did not live to see the conclusion of the litigation; Suzanne Haeger who was in her late 60s when the crash occurred is now in her early 80s.

“She is still waiting for her trial,” Kurtz said. “This is all about doing the right thing. The Haegers didn’t understand how justice could be so evaded and they are thrilled to see the system function. After that long wait they are thrilled to see that firm guiding hand and that this conduct won’t be tolerated.”

The hour-plus of oral arguments before the Ninth Circuit, published last March, make for interesting viewing. (Watch  Leroy Haeger v. The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.) Pierre H. Bergeron representing Goodyear argued that Okey couldn’t be held responsible, because she relied entirely upon Musnuff and Hancock – although her lawyer conceded that she “was not a potted plant” in the process. Hancock’s counsel, Andrew M. Jacobs, argued his client couldn’t be responsible, because he relied on information provided by Goodyear. And, Musnuff’s lawyer, Mark I. Harrison, argued that it was all Kurtz’s fault for not properly asking for the other tests in the first place.

Judge Smith appeared to be mighty disturbed by the record Judge Silver had compiled. Literally 10 seconds into Bergeron’s argument that there was no clear and convincing evidence that Okey acted in enough bad faith to justify those sanctions, Smith said: “Let me just stop you right there last night, I re-read Judge Silver’s documentation, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more thorough recitation of facts in a contempt situation than what she did… lies, misrepresentations, failures to state, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. At least speaking for myself, I respectfully suggest if your argument is the sufficiency of evidence you aren’t going to get very far with me.”

He later dismissed some of the defendants’ arguments as “sophistry,” and complained of an “epidemic” of these maneuvers used “by the big guys to beat up on the little guys.”

In Monday’s decision, the Appeals Court rebuffed Goodyear’s attempts to “argue that the district court abused its discretion in preventing Goodyear from passing the blame on to its attorneys,” or to argue the abuse of discretion “in concluding that Goodyear participated directly in the discovery fraud.” The appellate judges reminded Goodyear corporate representative “falsely testified during deposition that no additional tests were available beyond the High Speed tests that had been turned over to the Haegers; and Goodyear’s in-house counsel, Okey, maintained responsibility for reviewing and approving all the incomplete and misleading discovery responses.

Similarly, it found no cause to reject Silver’s order that Goodyear disclose its unethical behavior to future G159 litigants and calling her ruling “balanced,” “narrowly tailored, and imposes no sanctions beyond what is necessary to remedy what the district court properly perceived as an ongoing problem in Goodyear’s G159 litigation.”

Finally, the majority found that Silver had proceeded cautiously and fairly:

“The district court did not act as a prosecutor, but instead allowed the accused and accusing parties to file extensive briefs, and held extensive hearings to determine the truth of what had happened. It took great care in parsing and reducing the attorney fee claims of the Plaintiffs. The accused were granted full due process and afforded all the protections required in civil sanctions hearings.”

Kurtz says that the ruling will pave the way for the Haeger’s fraud case against Goodyear, Hancock, Okey and Musnuff. In May 2013, at Judge Silver’s suggestion, the Haegers filed a separate action alleging four counts of fraudulent misrepresentation, nondisclosure, concealment and negligent misrepresentation. Based on the facts of misconduct outlined in Judge Silver’s order, the suit zips right to punitive damages “to punish and deter defendants for their willful, outrageous and evil misconduct.”

Given the stakes – fines, and possible state bar association disciplinary proceedings against the individual lawyers — it seems likely that that the defendants will appeal the panel’s ruling and ask for a full review. Goodyear may have stopped making the G159 a dozen years ago, but the case against it and those employed in its defense, will apparently roll on.   

Prior Safety Record Blog stories on Haeger

Le Divorce?

For decades, the tire makers and the tire sellers have been a couple with an uneasy relationship – mainly because more than the Rubber Manufacturers Association, which represents the former,  loves the people who buy and sell their products, it hates change. And the RMA has ably defended its member companies against all kinds of proposals making it easier for consumers to read the Tire Identification Number for recalls or to automate the process of identifying tires as they move through the distribution chain, all in the name of never altering one thing about the way they do business. And, like a stay-at-home wife with three kids under the age of six who chooses to believe that her husband is always working late, the Tire Industry Association, which represents dealers, has been willing to go along for the sake of family harmony.

But the two might be headed to Family Court after all, over a couple of RMA-backed pieces of legislation designed to return tire registration duties to the independent retailers. One is an amendment to the next DOT authorization bill, the Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency, and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America Act” or “GROW AMERICA Act.” The second is the Tire Efficiency, Safety and Registration Act, which – along with compelling NHTSA to create a tire recall database and minimum performance standards for fuel efficiency and wet traction – would contain a similar mandatory tire registration.

“We’re disappointed,” says TIA Executive Vice President Roy Littlefield. “Everyone in industry should work hard to come together to find a solution. What’s happening here is just wrong.”

Sec. 4112, subsection B of the GROW AMERICA Act empowers the Secretary of Transportation to consider a rulemaking to require independent tire dealers to electronically capture the TIN and the name and address of tire purchasers, and transmit those records to the manufacturer of the tire or a third-party entity at no cost to the dealers. Tire dealers who decline could be fined $100 per tire per location for a maximum of $10,000. Bonus penalty: an enforcement scheme for tire dealers who use customer information illegally.

Well, that was apparently enough for the TIA to start shouting about lipstick on collars. After all, the dealers haven’t had to register a tire since 1983, when their lobbyists persuaded Congress to specifically exempt them from the tire recall system. At the time, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was laboring mightily to engage tire manufacturers and sellers in the system of identifying recalled tires and their owners, against strong and uniform resistance. According to the Federal Register Notice announcing that independent dealers would no longer participate, virtually all new tires and up to 90 percent of replacement tires sold by manufacturer affiliated retail outlets were registered. A House Committee on Energy and Commerce found that independent tire dealers only registered about 20 percent of replacement tires. And so: “In an effort to improve the registration rate for tires sold by independent dealers” Congress decided to bar the Secretary of Transportation from requiring them to do nothing more but hand the task over to the consumer to fill it out and send it off to the manufacturer – or not. This was a completely successful experiment – now, the tire registration rate is (drum roll, please!) still 20 percent!

The proposal had its roots in a National Transportation Safety Board two-day conference on tire safety. Symposium chair Earl Weener, an NTSB member since 2010 and an aviation safety expert, was completely unimpressed with the Rubber Manufacturers Association argument that it would be too difficult to build tires that can be scanned for the TIN.  “That’s interesting,” he said, “because I think an awful lot of people in this audience have an iPhone. That iPhone can read QR codes, can read barcodes, can read UBS codes. But somehow that is too much technology for the tire manufacturers and for the tire distribution process. You know, you go to the airport and about every third person checks in with their iPhone, with a barcode on them. So it seems to me that maybe some imagination is required.”

The RMA thought it would be way cooler to stick with a 42-year-old system, as long as someone else was doing the work and assuming the liability. Sticking the TIA and its dealer members with the onerous task of manually translating the 11 alpha-numeric TINs off each tire into a computer in a service environment also introduces a significant human error problem. At the NTSB conference, the TIA’s Kevin Rohlwing protested that it was already too much to stock registration cards from several manufacturers—instead, retailers should just have to give the customer the TIN and tell them what website they can use to register the vehicles. They also took their concerns directly to NHTSA, and pitched the idea of automation. NHTSA was reportedly sympathetic, but maintained that in order for tire registration to work, the consumer must come out of the equation.

Why isn’t anyone talking about bringing the companies that produce the product into the equation? Instead of squabbling over who will register tires, why not put some nifty old technology to use? Nothing will be resolved until manufacturers build in machine-readability of the TIN.  Technology like radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips can store the tire’s TIN which includes the age and recall lookup capability allowing dealers to easily automate registration. (See SRS’s 2007 white paper on tire recalls and RFID solution)

Right now, the entire Grow America Act has been stalled. With short-term transportation funding running out on July 31, our Republican-led Congress, which cannot agree that the sun rises in the East, has not been able to figure out anything more than a patch on the 2005 transportation bill. But the RMA, unwilling to wait, had presidential aspirant Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), along with Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss) introduce the stand-alone tire registration bill last week, which is apparently moving smartly through the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

The TIA is now interested in discussing real improvements to the system, and supports using scan technology to read DOT codes. Will it be able to stage a reconciliation before the D-I-V-O-R-C-E becomes final?

NHTSA to Tire Consumers: Google It

On Tuesday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration amended the Tire Identification Number, the alpha-numeric code used to identify specific tires in a recall. This time, the agency expanded the first portion of the TIN, known as the manufacturer identifier, from two symbols to three for manufacturers of new tires, because the agency is quickly running out of unique two-digit combinations. It also standardized the length of the tire identification number to 13 symbols for new tires and seven symbols for re-treaded tires to eliminate confusion that could arise from the variable length of tire identification numbers, to make it easier to identify a TIN from which a symbol is missing.

These changes will compel tire mold changes – dreaded and to be resisted at all costs by the tire industry. And, NHTSA accommodated tiremakers’ antipathy for changing the molds by setting the lead-time to 10 years into the future. The new rule will take root when today’s molds wear out and need to be changed anyway. With the pervasive mold problem addressed, the agency might have taken this occasion to make some significant changes to the TIN – such as requiring a non-dated code of manufacture, and placing the complete TIN on both sides of the tire – so that consumers could use the TIN to identify a tire that had been recalled.

After all, as the agency pronounced in the Federal Register, the TIN “plays an important role in identifying which tires are subject to recall and remedy campaigns for safety defects and noncompliances.”

Safety Research & Strategies and the National Transportation Safety Board, which has taken on tire safety as a priority recently, both made these helpful suggestions during the public comment period of the rulemaking. The NTSB pointed out that NHTSA had recognized the importance of determining the full TIN in “identifying a tire for safety recall management; enabling regulators, manufacturers, and safety advocates to process owner complaints; and tracking tire production.” It argued that standardizing the TIN to better distinguish between full and partial TINs rests on the erroneous “assumption that anyone looking for the TIN is aware that passenger tires can have both a full and a partial TIN molded on the sidewalls. It also noted that the date of manufacture code plays a significant role in identifying recalled tires. “Unless an entire tire line is the subject of a recall or investigation, the date of manufacture will often define the scope of an action. Because many tires can be mounted with either sidewall facing outward, placing the TIN on both sidewalls would ensure better access and identification, and NHTSA should consider expanding the scope of this NPRM to include this requirement.” The NTSB suggested that the economic impact could be mitigated by allowing the date code to be laser-etched into the TIN, negating the need to set the date code in the tire mold.

But, the agency said: People! We weren’t trying to fix the broken tire recall system, we just wanted some more plant codes, fer Chrissakes.

Longer version: “Given that we did not propose any changes to the date code portion of the TIN, nor did we discuss or request comment on any potential changes to the date code, such a change may be beyond the scope of this rulemaking. Even if it were in scope, however, we do not believe a change to the date code is necessary for consumers to determine when their tires were manufactured. NHTSA’s tire consumer Web site, http://www.safercar.gov/tires/index.html, explains in several places how to find and interpret the date code. Furthermore, a person should easily be able to determine the location of the date of manufacture on a tire is located either by querying an internet search engine or by asking a tire dealer.”

Shorter version: Google it.

You can tell that NHTSA truly believes that TIN “plays an important role in identifying which tires are subject to recall and remedy campaigns for safety defects and noncompliances,” by calculating how super effective it has been in the recall process. The last time we looked at return rates over a 10-year period of 1996 to 2006, the average historical rate for tires was about 30 percent – with wide ranges among campaigns. In contrast, vehicle recall completion rates hover in the low 70s.

And, we are compelled to note, the massive and high-profile Firestone Wilderness AT and ATX recalls of early 2000s boosted the tire recall repair average to as high as it was over that particular span. In 2000, the OEM tire failures shouldered the entire blame for the Ford Explorer rollover deaths and injuries. About 20 million P235/75R15 ATX and 15, 16 and 17-inch Wilderness AT tires were recalled. Using a fudge-y guesstimate method, Firestone claimed that it had collected 95 percent of the defective tires. But guess what? Recalled Firestone AT and ATX are still on the road, still being sold and rotated into service, and they are still killing people.

In fact, 45 years ago, when NHTSA’s predecessor, the National Highway Safety Bureau, established the tire recall system, the TIN was the linchpin: In 1970, the bureau noted : “An essential element of an effective tire defect notification system is a suitable method of identifying the tire involved.” But its suitability has always been shaped by the rubber industry, and the needs of consumers with a recalled tire they can’t readily identify has yet to rise to the level of an after-thought.

The rule’s history shows that every time the agency had an opportunity to improve the tire recall system so that consumers or tire professionals could reasonably use it, NHTSA chose to do nothing. Every. Single. Bleeping. Time.  But don’t take our word on it. The Safety Record once spent weeks assembling the rulemaking history of the tire identification number so you don’t have to.

Great Moments in TIN History


The National Highway Safety Bureau begins set-up of tire recall system. Proposes requiring manufacturers to keep tire consumer records and develop a standard identification number for tires that would be molded on both sides of the sidewalls. Industry begins amassing best batting streak since Ty Cobb. Recognizes that the date of manufacture is possibly the most important part of the code, but doesn’t want the consumer to be able to read it. Firestone sez: “tires are not perishable items. Therefore, a conspicuous disclosure of tire age would unavoidably introduce into the marketplace a totally artificial measure of quality unrelated to product performance and effectiveness.”  Agency drops the TIN on both sidewalls part of the proposal, because, it reasoned, under the consumer records part of the proposal, first purchasers of tires would receive notification of defects


U.S. Senator Warren Magnuson, chairman of the Commerce Committee petitions NHTSA on behalf of the independent tire dealers and distributors— to create an independent tire registry to collect the names and addresses of first purchasers and report them to manufacturers along with an agreement that indemnify the manufacturers if the registry failed to uphold the record-keeping regulations. Tiremakers go postal: We don’t want to pay for it and it will ruin the current system, which works just great.


NHTSA tries to establish a universal registration form for tire manufacturers, brand name owners and tire retreaders to provide to their distributors and dealers. Manufacturers crank Government Terror Alert Level to fire-engine Red:  Time and money spent developing their own systems! Wasted forms! Computer chaos!


NHTSA cops out by making the universal registration format optional. It drops the requirement to give a copy to the first purchaser, because manufacturers said that it served no purpose in facilitating recalls.


In response to a petition by the Center for Auto Safety, the agency proposes requiring that the TIN to be molded on the white wall side of the passenger tire, so that consumers could read the damned thing. Industry goes nuts. Uniroyal, for example, says that bringing consumers into the recall process would actually be detrimental to them, because consumers can’t read serial numbers.


NHTSA terminates rulemaking claiming it would not provide any safety benefits.

Congress prohibits NHTSA from requiring independent tire dealers and distributors from supplying manufacturers with names and addresses to first purchasers. Instead, consumers get registrations cards to send in. Tire dealers acquiesce to writing TIN on the form.


Agency determines that tire registration rates suck and proposes a bunch of changes to beef them up:  requiring prepaid postage on the registration forms; requiring dealers to give Uniform Tire Quality Grading Standards information to consumers highlighting the registration process; and establishing a tire registration clearinghouse. Industry refuses to click “Like” button.


NHTSA drops all proposals to require tire dealers to give consumers tire info about the Uniform Tire Quality Grading Standards at point of sale. Move all such information to the well-thumbed pages of the vehicle owner’s manual. Other proposals vanish.


TREAD Act requires NHTSA to improve tire recall process the tire labeling to help consumers identify tires in the event of a recall. Once again, the agency raised the question of placing the TIN on both sides of the sidewall to make it easy for consumers to locate and read.


NHTSA proposes new rule to require complete TIN be molded on both side of the tire, among other format changes. Tiremakers say “Hell no.”


Agency chickens out. Decides not to force manufacturers to mold the full TIN on both sides of the tire. However, does require the TIN to appear on the “intended outboard sidewall” and either a full or partial TIN –i.e. one without a date code—appear on the inside sidewall – perpetuating confusion that the current rulemaking – 13-years later – is supposed to address..


Major mold protest saves the day.  Agency eliminates the phase-in dates to put the TIN on the intended outward sidewall. Instead, manufacturers would have until September 1, 2009 – a concession to you-know-who who complained that it would cost too much to re-work all of the molds. By pushing the date ahead five years, it would give manufacturers time for current molds to wear-out, before their replacement.


Only 38 years after making the TIN a key element of the tire recall identification system, agency notices that it doesn’t actually require tiremakers to list recalled tires by TIN in the mandated Part 573 Defect and Noncompliance Notice. Proposes to close that loophole. Good catch!


Loophole closed.


MAP-21, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, becomes law. It requires rulemaking within a year to make vehicle recall information available to the public on the Internet in a searchable database. NHTSA complies. Safety Research & Strategies submits comments requesting that the agency also consider adding a TIN search function to its public Web portal and require tire makers, as well as automakers to maintain the recall remedy status by TIN.


NHTSA’s response to adding TINs to new recall database requirements: No. Congress didn’t make us do that.

In Conclusion

Here’s something you can Google. Anytime the agency says  the TIN “plays an important role in identifying which tires are subject to recall and remedy campaigns for safety defects and noncompliances,” type  “NHTSA to Tire Consumers: Google It” in the search box, and re-read the section of this blog entitled Great Moments in TIN History. This will remind you that NHTSA’s belief in the importance of the TIN has never been matched by its actions.

NHTSA Opens EQ Investigation into Hercules Tire Recall at Lawyer’s Request

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened an Equipment Query investigation into a defective Chinese tire sold in the U.S. under different brand names that was recalled by one importer, but not another – even though they share the same distributor.

In March, the agency sent an information request to Hercules Tire and Rubber Company, a subsidiary of American Tire Distributors Inc., to determine if it should have recalled its Hercules Radial A/T in eight different sizes manufactured by the Shandong Yongsheng Rubber Co., Ltd.

Tires that were essentially the same, but sold as Capitol Precision Trac II, were recalled by importer ITG Voma in October. The recall population of 94,890 tires included seven sizes for passenger cars and light trucks.  Both tires were manufactured by Shandong Yongsheng and shared a common green designation, defined by NHTSA as: “tires that are produced to the same internal specifications but that have, or may have different external characteristics and may be sold under different tire line names.” Both were distributed by American Tire Distributors.

The probe was opened at the behest of attorney Michael Cowen of the Cowen Law Group of Brownsville, Texas. (see Texas Attorney Asks NHTSA for Tire Investigation) Cowen represented Krystal Cantu, whose right arm was crushed in a rollover caused when the left-rear tire, Capitol Precision Trac II, suffered a tread separation. The August 2013 crash was a factor in ITG Voma’s decision to recall some Capitol Precision Trac II tires that lacked a nylon cap ply, which made the tires less robust and prone to tread separations. During Cantu’s lawsuit against ATD, Voma and Shandong Yongsheng, a manufacturer’s representative testified that the Capitol Precision Trac II shared a common green tire designation with the Hercules Radial A/T.

NHTSA’s March information request to Hercules, as the importer, manufacturer, or entity that “otherwise introduced for sale in the United States,” sought information on the similarities between the tires ITG Voma recalled and the Hercules Radial A/T, and “why Hercules has not yet made a defect decision and/or decided to conduct a recall of those tires.”  

In February 2013, Hercules recalled seven 10-ply Load Range E tires manufactured by the Shandong Yongsheng Rubber Co., but these tires were not the same size or load range as the Capitol Precision Trac. Hercules said in its defect report to NHTSA that the tires could experience in-service belt and tread separations.

In its latest probe, the agency also asked Hercules to explain why it did not include these tires in that earlier recall.

The EQ’s Opening Resume was a bit unusual, in that it acknowledged that the allegation came from Cowen:

On December 17, 2014, Attorney Michael Cowen of Cowen Law Group wrote to NHTSA alleging that certain Hercules All Trac A/T tires are substantially similar in design, construction, and performance as tires that importer (and manufacturer) ITG VOMA recalled due to a safety defect. NHTSA was requested to investigate.

This is a departure from past practice, in which the agency was loathe to acknowledge outsiders – unless it was to dismiss them in a Federal Register Notice. But, in these current and oh-so-challenging times of serving as a Congressional piñata and media whipping boy, NHTSA’s been forced to change a lot of its past practices. The agency is not letting manufacturers get away with so much blatant flouting of the regs. (Suddenly, filing the legally mandated detailed chronology of the discovery of a defect is very fashionable among automakers notifying NHTSA of a new recall.) NHTSA’s letters to errant manufacturers are getting down-right fiery; fines are bigger, and meted out more swiftly. And the agency has been signaling that the party is so over, directly to lawyers for the defense, and more recently for the plaintiffs.

And maybe, soliciting and acknowledging the cooperation from the attorneys who wrest important information about defects from manufacturers could help NHTSA fulfill its enforcement obligations. Here’s hoping.