WASHINGTON—The lack of federal safety standards or guidelines for tire repair is not a particular cause of concern for tire makers, despite their firm stand against any kind of on-the-wheel repair. ``We're not aware of any call for government guidelines, and we wouldn't necessarily desire any, although we're well aware of the degree of the problem,'' said a spokesman for Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.
BFS, like all other tire makers and the Rubber Manufacturers Association, issues its own guidelines regarding proper tire repair. They all make the same points, including:
Always remove a punctured tire from its rim and inspect it before attempting a repair.
Never try to repair a tire from the outside in.
Never try to repair a tire with a puncture anywhere other than the tread area.
Never try to repair a tire with a puncture larger than 1/4 inch or tread depth lower than 2/32 inch.
Some guidelines also include warnings about aerosol fixers. Tire repairers, they say, should always ascertain if an aerosol sealant or inflator has been used. If it has, the tire's valve core must be removed outdoors, away from any source of heat, flame or sparks, and the flammable aerosol gas must be removed completely before inflation.
Sources estimate there are 40 million repaired tires on U.S. roads at any one time, and as many as 60 percent of those have potentially dangerous, outside-in repairs.
Yet neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the Consumer Product Safety Commission ever has proposed rulemaking to establish federal tire repair guidelines.
NHTSA said its agency deals only with safety and performance standards for new vehicles and tires; the CPSC said it leaves all automotive issues to NHTSA, except when an automotive product has a non-automotive use.
``It isn't quite true that NHTSA deals only with new tires, since it has regulations covering retreaded and regrooved tires,'' said Bill Hession, director of product assurance for Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. ``They did issue a consumer warning about aerosol inflators. But as far as NHTSA is concerned, I think it's just that they don't want to get involved. The burden of this thing has fallen on trade associations.''
Neither Cooper nor any other tire maker or industry association has files on accidents or complaints involving improper tire repairs. Not even the Center for Auto Safety (CAS), the foremost consumer advocacy group in the U.S. for tires and autos, has such a file.
``We know there have been some litigated cases involving tire repair, but we don't know the extent of the problem,'' said Clarence Ditlow III, CAS executive director .
Similarly, the only apparent time any organization petitioned a government agency to create guidelines on tire repair was in 1990, when the RMA wrote the CPSC. The agency never answered, and the association no longer has a copy of its letter, said the RMA's Gloria Bartholomew.
Tire makers do put clauses concerning improper repairs in their new-tire warranties. ``If a tire is returned to us bearing an outside-in repair, that is not covered under the warranty,'' Mr. Hession said.