Changes to Recall Regs: A Ray of Sunshine!

When is a safety recall not really a safety recall?  When the manufacturer submitting the Part 573 Defect and Non-Compliance Report (49 CFR Part 573) says it isn’t.

The Recall Management Division’s files are dotted with many such non-admission admissions. For example, in February, Goodyear recalled nearly 41,000 of its Silent Armor Tires in six sizes. The company conceded that these tires had high rates of warranty and property damage claims, and that the tire’s lack of robustness could result in a partial tread separation and a crash. Three months earlier, two Texas college students died in a rollover crash, after the left rear Silent Armor tire on the pick-up truck suffered a tread separation.

Goodyear, however, “found no safety issues” and deemed its recall a “customer satisfaction campaign,” to NHTSA.

If NHTSA’s proposed changes to the recall regulations are eventually adopted, the practice of manufacturers making signing statements will end. The agency is also proposing to require automakers to file defect and non-compliance reports via the Internet, including notices of foreign recalls. The agency is proposing asking manufacturers to submit the specific Vehicle Identification Number for each recalled vehicle, so that consumers can search a recall by their vehicle’s specific VIN. Unfortunately, there appears to be no such provision for the Tire Identification Number (TIN). Manufacturers will continue to submit TIN ranges only, and there will be no Web portal, which the public can use to determine if a specific tire has been recalled.

It’s Tire Safety Week! Is There Anything to Celebrate?

In April, materials scientist John Baldwin bluntly schooled insiders at the annual Tire Industry Conference about things the rubber industry has known for decades from its own internal research. He pointed out that relying on tire tread depth to determine the viability of a tire is a bit of a crapshoot:

“In the tire industry, a lot of decisions are based on tread depth,” he said. “But what is the significance of tread depth? There is uneven wear on damn near every tire.”

He took note of the unsafe practice of rotating unused, but old spares onto vehicles:

“The average full-sized spare tire is nine years old,” he said. “You can tell your tire store to take that perfectly good spare tire and put it on your car. But if you’re in Yuma or Miami, do you really want that nine-year-old spare going on? “Meanwhile, the average mini-spare is 12 years old. That means you’re screwed.”

And he took exception to what he calls the Rubber Manufacturers Association’s (RMA) mischaracterization of his tire aging research for Ford Motor Company.

The Heavy Price of a Delayed Recall

Goodyear has notified the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that it is recalling 40,915 Wrangler Silent Armor flagship tires, more than a year after the company observed a higher rate of warranty and property damage claims, and three months after two Texas college students died in a tire failure that precipitated a rollover crash.

The August 1, 2011 incident claimed the lives of Matthew Smith and his passenger Kerrybeth Hall, as Smith drove southbound on U.S. Highway 67 in Pecos County, Texas. The left rear Wrangler Silent Armor tire on the 2008 Ford F-150 pickup de-treaded, causing the pick-up to skid and rollover. Smith was fatally ejected from the F-150. Hall, who was properly restrained, also suffered fatal injuries in the crash.

“I think Goodyear was getting lot of warranty claims, but said, ‘Let’s see what happens,” says David T. Bright, an attorney with Sico, White, Hoeschler & Braugh of Corpus Christi, TX, who represents Gerry Lynn Wilkinson, Kerrybeth’s mother, in the civil case against Goodyear. “Then Goodyear waited another 12 months, and decided:  Hang on. Let’s wait a while longer. And three months later, these two people got killed.”

According to documentation Goodyear filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on February 22, the tiremaker had first noticed elevated property damage and warranty claims for the Wrangler Silent Armor tire, during its May 2010 review of Early Warning Data. Over the next 12 months, the company would continue to see high levels of warranty and property damage claims specifically for six sizes of the tires produced at its Fayetteville plant. But Goodyear still resisted a recall, passing off the uptick as isolated cases caused by “stone drilling damage and other external damage to the tires.”

Tire Dealers Rally for RMA and Against Customers on Tire Aging Bill

It was all hands on deck yesterday afternoon at the Maryland House of Delegates Economic Matters Committee as tire makers and retailers tried to beat back another state effort to require tire sellers to disclose a tire’s age to consumers.

HB 729, Consumer Protection – Tire Age – Required Notice, requires tire sellers and distributors to place a label on the tire displaying the month and year in which the tire was manufactured and a statement about tire age and tire deterioration. The tire seller would also have to put the tire’s age on the receipt and have the customer sign a written disclosure about tire age. Customers would receive a copy of the disclosure, and the retailers would retain a copy of it for an unspecified amount of time. The penalty for violating the statute would be not more than $500.

Will Manufacturers Kill the Used Tires Biz?

Tiremakers have long held the re-sale market at arms length, out of a healthy respect for the boundaries of anti-trust regulations.  But a number of factors are aligning that may shift the market away from the re-sale of used tires for vehicles. The cost of selling used tires is going up – the scrap market is growing in tandem with the demand for used tires to be recycled into fuel to meet the energy requirements of rising economies, such as China’s. At the same time, tire litigation is getting more sophisticated and manufacturers have a keener understanding of their liability.

In 2007, Safety Research & Strategies kick-started this shift by publishing Used Tires: A Booming Business with Hidden Dangers. The report made the link between crashes, tire age and used tires, using data to show that nearly one-third of aged tire crashes investigated involve used tires. It also noted that inspections by used tire wholesalers are cursory and lead to dangerous tires entering the market and recommended used tire sellers adopt higher standards that included visual reviews and internal examinations, such as shearography or X-rays.

Tire Known Unknowns: Decoding the Date

Human Factors researchers at the State University of North Carolina have recently concluded that consumers can’t read the date of manufacture obscured by the week and month configuration dictated by the Tire Identification Number (aka the DOT number).

Researchers Jesseca Taylor and Michael Wogalter asked 83 test subjects to translate tire markings as represented by different date configurations, ranging from the conventional month/day/year (12/05/07) to the DOT code’s four-digit week-year (2205). Effect of Text Format on Determining Tires’ Date of Manufacture, accepted by Annual Proceedings of 55th Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, found that when consumers chose to translate the different four-digit representations into a month and year, they consistently failed to understand that the first two digits represented the week of manufacture.

The DOT number, an alpha-numeric code found on the tire sidewall, has consistently confused consumers and tire professionals. The last four characters of the 11-character code contain the week and year the tire was made. For example, 0302 signifies that the tire was made during the third week of 2002. (Tires made prior to 2000 used a three-digit date configuration at the end of the DOT code.  In those cases, 039 signifies that the tire was manufactured during the third week of 1999 – or the 1989.)  No participant in Taylor and Wogalter’s study correctly identified examples such as 03/01 or 1102. They confused the first two digits with the month itself, for example, identifying “03” as March, instead of realizing that the third week of the year falls in January.

Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing, Baby! The Pneumatic Tire

Have you heard the one about The Pneumatic Tire? If you’re involved in tire litigation, the defense may have waved this august tome in front of a judge claiming that it is the Tire Bible handed down from on high by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, itself.

And this would be somewhat true. In 2005 NHTSA did contract J.D. Walter and Alan Gent of the University of Akron to act as assembling editors for a low-budget update of the 1981 edition of the Mechanics of Pneumatic Tires. With a total project cost of $89,575, Walter and Gent recruited top-level executives in the tire industry – including the good folks at Cooper Tire—to serve as authors and members of the editorial board.  The work was to have been thoroughly vetted at the agency, but according to several sources, NHTSA passed a very light hand over the project and the final version consisted of a wholesale borrowing from the original, complete with decades old data, with some new chapters added to reflect technological advances.

Kane Calls Assembly Vote on California Tire Age an Important First Step

SRS President Sean E. Kane hailed the California state assembly vote yesterday on AB496 Tire Disclosure Age bill, which cleared the state assembly, 48-21. The bill requires retail tire dealers to disclose the age of a tire to consumers in writing before the sale or installation of a tire.  Along with the tire age, dealers must provide the following statement about the increased hazards of aged tires:

Surrender Dorothy!

The California Tire Age bill passed the state assembly yesterday 48-21 and that loud pop you may have heard was the sound of the Rubber Manufacturer's Association's head exploding.

While it wasn't as good as a rant as one from the Tire Industry Associations' Roy Littlefield, the immediate response from the tiremakers trade group wasn't far off (RMA Press Release). Dan Zielinski, RMA senior vice president of public affairs, panted about the bill's proponents using "fear-mongering to allege that tires reaching a certain chronological age are dangerous."

Tire Dealers Freak Out Over Consumer Education Program

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Tire retailers are in the midst of an oh-my-gosh-the-sky-is-falling meltdown over a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tire maintenance public education program. Specifically, the retail arm of the tire industry is quivering over the possibility that groups outside of the industry would be tapped to run it.

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