ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Feb. 14, 2013) — Tire dealers and association executives butted heads once again this week in a Maryland House committee with a delegate sponsoring a bill that would force dealers to inform consumers about the dangers of tire aging.
Maryland House Bill 580 would require a tire dealer who sells a tire more than three years old to give the buyer a written statement that the tire is not new, and that many automobile manufacturers recommend that a tire should be replaced after six years, regardless of the remaining tread depth.
Dealers would face a $250 fine for each failure to provide the statement. Violations of the law, however, could not be considered evidence of negligence and would be inadmissible in a personal injury lawsuit.
The Feb. 12 hearing before the Maryland House Committee on Economic Matters was a near-replay of the March 13, 2013, hearing there on the identical House Bill 1110. Both bills were sponsored by Del. Benjamin F. Kramer, D-19th District, who in both hearings accused tire manufacturers and dealers of being disingenuous about tire aging.
Tires degrade over time, no matter how carefully they are stored, Mr. Kramer said.
"The rubber material becomes more brittle, and at high speed when the centrifugal force gets to a point, the tread can separate, causing a catastrophic failure," he said.
Mr. Kramer scoffed at the insistence of tire dealers that they can tell when a tire has become too aged to be driven safely.
"They can examine tires 'til the cows come home, but the degradation is not visible to the eye," he said.
Mr. Kramer backed his position with the owners' manuals of car makers such as Ford Motor Co., Porsche A.G., Toyota Motor Co. Ltd. and Chrysler L.L.C., which recommend removing tires from service after six years.
He also accused the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) of making large political contributions to federal and state legislators to persuade them to vote against tire-aging legislation.
This prompted a response from Lisa Harris-Jones, an attorney representing the RMA, who said the association has no political action committee and has never contributed to any political campaign either in Maryland or on the federal level.
Dan Zielinski, RMA senior vice president of communications, said the association's studies show that tire adjustments don't spike with a tire's age.
"The claims rate from one to 11 years was virtually identical, a straight line across the chart," he said.
Kevin Rohlwing, senior vice president of training for the Tire Industry Association (TIA), said that tire failure rates have been falling steadily in light of revised federal safety standards, the new tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) rule, and TIA's ever-expanding technician training program.
"I don't want to you trust me, I want you to trust the facts," Mr. Rohlwing said.
Tire dealers testifying at the hearing agreed that heat, punctures and poor handling accelerate the degradation of a tire, but insisted that with proper storage a tire can last many years.
"A 10-year-old tire can be better than a newer tire that's sat out in the sun," said Ralph Schissler, president of Atlantic Tire in Baltimore.
"I own a Studebaker Avanti with tires from 1993," said Bob Wilson, president and CEO of Admiral Tire & Auto Service Inc. in Edgewater, Md. "I wouldn't be afraid to drive that car now."
Mr. Schissler estimated that the burden of hunting up a specific tire in inventory, recording its age and reporting its age to a customer would add $10 to the cost of that tire. Mr. Wilson estimated it would be closer to $20.
Mr. Wilson suggested that re-establishing periodic vehicle safety inspections in Maryland would accomplish everything House Bill 580 was supposed to accomplish — and much less intrusively.
The future of House Bill 580 is unclear. House Bill 1110 died in March 2013 after committee members decided they wanted to put it aside for further study.
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