Published on May 27, 2014

TB EDITORIAL: Analyzing tire aging, recall data

AKRON (May 27, 2014) — Recent reporting by ABC News on tires and tire safety, while incomplete in many aspects, raises valid points about shortcomings in this nation’s tire registration and recall system.

The most disturbing aspect of the reporting was that two recent fatal traffic accidents are being tied to tires that had been recalled and should have been removed from service. The broadcast also showed clips of ABC reporters buying recalled tires in three locales—and in one instance being reassured the tire was OK.

Does this mean the current voluntary tire registration system—in place since 1982—is flawed? The broadcast included a clip of a deposition of a woman identified as an employee of the company that handled sending recall notices for Bridgestone Americas’ recall of the Firestone Wilderness in 2000, who claims recall notices were sent third-class mail.

The result? Notices were not forwarded to individuals who had moved, the wom¬an said.

In cases such as this, one has to ask who’s responsible for making sure recalled tires are removed from service. Is it the manufacturer/importer? The wholesale distributor? The retail dealer? The recall system itself?

The industry may be getting answers to these questions from an unlikely source—the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which launched an investigation in March into two fatal traffic accidents, one of which involved a tire subject to recall.

In its statement on opening the investigation, the NTSB said it would be “reviewing the effectiveness of the product recall process….”

How effective is the voluntary registration and recall process? The most recent data we could find was for 2006, when CIMS Inc. estimated 59 million registrations had been processed that year. Balanced against U.S. consumer tire shipments that same year of about 230 million, the rate would be 25 percent.

Since then the regulations have been modified to allow electronic registration, a path many tire makers and distributors have embraced in the hope of improving on that.

In the ABC News broadcast, reporter Brian Ross pointed out that 5.2 million tires have been subject to recalls in the past 10 years, according to ABC’s analysis of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. Of those, NTSB Director Donald Karol estimated only about 20 percent had actually been recovered.

Assuming his estimate is accurate, the number of tires not recovered would represent less than 0.2 percent of the 2.2 billion or so consumer tires shipped over the same period.

Dan Zielinski of the Rubber Manufacturers Association told Mr. Ross in an interview : “I think the recall system does need improvement. Certainly the notification systems need improvement.”

The NTSB’s involvement in this matter almost certainly assures the recall process—designed for consumer safety—is in for scrutiny. Considering this, the stakeholders in this matter—tire makers, distributors, importers, dealers, etc.—would be advised to be prepared to provide relevant data on the subject and come up with concrete ideas for improving the recall process.

This editorial appears in the May 26 print edition of Tire Business. Have an opinion on it? Send your comments via email to tirebusiness@crain.com.

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