AKRON-Makers of tire repair materials stress over and over again the importance of repairing tire punctures in accordance with tire industry recommendations. So why do many of these same companies sell so-called ``string plugs'' used for on-wheel repairs? ``There's a lot of money in it,'' replied Tech International Inc.'s technical training manager, Bill Johnson. Other distributors agree that plugs are very popular and are a vital component in filling a nail hole. But they say there is little they can do to avoid improper use of the product. Many provide written directions, diagrams and training on proper use of their products-but it's up to the user to follow their recommendations, according to the manufacturers.
Retreading/repair industry consultant Ed Wagner estimated that around 60 percent of the 40 million tire repairs done annually are done on the wheel, contrary to industry recommendations.
Ironically, Tech International, which offers tire repair training and advocates off-wheel repairs, began selling string plugs just two years ago.
``There was a large demand from our distributor network,'' Mr. Johnson explained. ``They wanted an additional method of getting new accounts.''
String plugs represent about 2 percent of Tech's sales and most are sold to service stations, he said.
``We instruct our people to capture business with that repair, then convert them to a more professional manner of repair.'' However, the distributors only have about a 50-percent rate of conversion to higher-end repair products, Mr. Johnson said.
Insert plugs are part of Group 31 Inc.'s permanent repair systems, said Bob Hendry, vice president sales and marketing.
Its catalog for inserts includes a statement that the company does not recommend ``on the wheel'' repairs and that its inserts ``perform the function of filling the injury as recommended by the RMA (Rub-ber Manufacturers Association).
``There is no `temporary repair' mentioned in our catalog,'' Mr. Hendry said.
Truflex/Pang Rubber Companies markets its cord plugs as a filler material under a patch. The plug inserts make up a tiny percentage of sales-on purpose, according to Dan Hunstiger, director of sales and marketing. ``There are better ways to do it and there is the propensity of misuse.''
The plugs serve a purpose in the overall repair of a puncture and Mr. Hunstiger predicts plugs will be around forever.
``We'll continue to sell the product. There is no reason not to,'' he said. ``The way to avoid problems, as much as you possibly can, is to offer training.''
Truflex, Tech and many manufacturers and distributors promote and conduct extensive repair training, either at their own facilities or at the dealerships.
Repair materials are ``a highly technical business,'' according to Mr. Hunstiger. ``We try to get the knowledge out to the user. It's up to the buyer to take the training we offer.''
Distributors claim that many large tire dealerships use combination plug/patch systems and follow industry repair standards.
It is often the low-income, single-outlet dealerships or small service stations that have a penchant for offering inexpensive and quick string plug repairs.
The plug manufacturers often warn in writing, on packages, catalogs and other printed materials, that a damaged tire should be repaired from the inside and that a plug repair should include an internal patch.
Catalogs and brochures often include instructions on proper off-wheel repair methods recommend-ed by the RMA.
Yet despite directions and warnings, products can be misused-and without training, the entire repair can ineffective.
Mr. Wagner, who offers his expertise in litigation cases, said that even an off-the-wheel tire repair can fail if the technician does not follow the recommended procedures of cleaning the hole, buffing etc. ``All repairs are dangerous if not done properly,'' he said.