AKRON-``If one thing has caught the small retailers' and the large retailers' attention, it is the liability issue,'' said Tech International Inc.'s Buck Blair. ``It's a shame it takes something like that to do it.'' But the ever-present fear of being socked with a million-dollar-plus lawsuit has prompted a number of dealerships to train or retrain their personnel on proper tire repair.
Cassidy Tire Co. of Chicago, for example, called on its Rema Tip Top/North America distributor to provide a ``refresher'' course for personnel at all its 14 outlets following the much-publicized $12.7-million lawsuit award last year against Army Trail Tire & Service in Carol Stream, Ill.
Army Trail was blamed for doing an outside-in repair on a tire that later blew out, causing its vehicle to overturn and seriously injure one of the passengers.
Cassidy Tire co-owner Tom Ahern said the dealership had always repaired tires correctly, but after hearing about the lawsuit, ``we wanted to emphasize all the more the proper repairs we normally do.''
Tire manufacturers, under the auspices of the Rubber Manufacturers Association, have issued a joint statement on what they consider to be proper tire repair procedures.
However, many repair shops still are simply plugging a puncture while the tire is on the wheel-an alternative they view as quick, easy and cheap.
``There's a lot of misunderstanding of what's a proper repair. They don't understand that there are guidelines,'' said Dan Hunstiger, director of sales and marketing for Truflex/Pang Rubber Companies.
Mr. Blair, Tech's national account manager, claims a majority of tire dealerships in the U.S. are doing improper tire repairs.
Tech and a number of other repair materials manufacturers and distributors operate training centers and/or provide on-site training for tire repairers.
The training usually includes a lesson on the potential legal ramifications of improper repairs and the fact that some new-tire warranties are nullified if the tire is incorrectly repaired.
They also try to dissuade repairers from catering to customers' demands for cheaper, outside-in plug repairs. ``If you want the guy to own your shop next week, go ahead and do it,'' Mr. Hunstiger advised.
Aside from all the negative consequences, there is an incentive for doing proper off-wheel repairs. According to Mr. Blair, taking tires off the wheel opens the door for additional service work, such as balancing, valve stem replacement and brake and suspension service.
``In the U.S., there is a definite trend away from on-wheel repairs,'' according to Bob Hendry, Group 31 Inc.'s vice president of sales and marketing.
Two factors are adding momentum to this trend, Mr. Hendry said. ``First of all, the products that are manufactured now make proper repairing more simple than in the past,'' he said, noting his firm's patch/plug combination units.
``Second, more people are involved in proper tire repair training,'' he added, with companies also disseminating literature on proper repair procedures.
Some large tire dealerships conduct their own in-house training, and many repair manufacturers and distributors send their sales reps to conduct classes at customers' locations.
Group 31, for example, trains its distributors to disseminate information on correct repair procedures and provide field training to its customers, including Western Auto and Tire America.
Likewise, Patch Rubber Co. offers on-site training, via its field representatives, to any customer or non-customer who requests it.
But a few companies, such as Tech and Truflex/Pang, as well as the International Tire and Rubber Association (ITRA), maintain training centers open to all.
Truflex and Rema Tip Top each operate specially designed trucks that take equipment and classes to dealerships' doorsteps.
Tech International uses TECH as an acronym for ``teach each customer how,'' and the Johnstown, Ohio, firm has been actively doing just that. ``We've committed ourselves to it,'' said Mr. Blair.
Tech's training course involves 50-percent classroom, 50-percent hands-on training in nail-hole and section repairs, as well as homework and tests.
The ITRA, formerly the American Retreaders Association, provides a three-day tire repair course at select times throughout the year at its training center in Louisville, Ky. Unlike the other schools, though, the ITRA charges for its program, which is heavily geared to retreading.
Meanwhile, Rema Tip Top changed its approach from providing a stationary training center to traveling to the dealerships.
``It is very difficult to get dealers to commit to sending their people away,'' said James McMillan, Rema's vice president of sales and marketing, explaining why the company went mobile.
Rema was training 250 people a year when it operated training facilities in California, Georgia and New Jersey. But with its Mobile Training Unit (MTU), Rema now teaches 1,800 people a year.
The MTU provides a three-hour course on puncture repair at times convenient to the dealership. The course includes hands-on and classroom instruction on everything from tire construction to puncture repair techniques for passenger and truck tires, Mr. McMillan said.
Truflex has provided repair training for 30 years but recently has decreased the number of classes at its Los Angeles facility and taken its training on the road via two mobile units.
``It was hard to get people in the Midwest and East to come to Los Angeles for two to three days,'' Mr. Hunstiger said.
Taking a mobile training vehicle to a dealership also makes it possible for trainees to work with their own tools and equipment.
But training the technicians won't change anything if the supervisor doesn't support the change in procedures, according to Mr. McMillan.
``Where (training) falls down is when the dealerships don't send the managers,'' he said. In the past, some shops continued improper repair methods simply because a manager who didn't attend the training course wanted to stick with old methods.
``Now we require service managers to be there (at the training session) so they can see what we are teaching their people-and they can walk away with the same ideas,'' Mr. McMillan said.
Despite a number of training programs available to them, many dealers are reluctant to participate due to the industry curse of high employee turnover.
Tech's solution: ``We try to urge the dealer to send a shop foreman or supervisor they think will stick around,'' said Tech's Bill Johnson, technical training manager. ``Send that person (to training) so they can train the other employees.''
But all these efforts won't make much of a dent in the use of on-wheel tire repairs, some say, because many tire repairs are performed by individuals outside the tire dealer community.
Group 31's Mr. Hendry said that while the industry cannot reach every arena where tire repairs are conducted, it must continue to disseminate information.
Many repair materials manufacturers and distributors offer wall charts, brochures and references describing step-by-step the industry standard tire repair methods.
Truflex promotes its training program through mailings, Mr. Hunstiger said, ``and every time we walk through a potential customer's door, we discuss training.''