Independent tire dealers have a stake in the outcome of recent American crash tests pitting light trucks and sport utility vehicles against cars. The preliminary test findings of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration appear to show that in side-impact crashes with a passenger car, a mid-sized Ford Explorer SUV is twice as likely to cause death or serious injury as a typical passenger vehicle.
While the investigation is on-going, news reports quote officials of General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. as saying their companies will modify SUVs to lower bumper height.
Such modifications are intended to reduce the likelihood of SUVs overriding the bumpers and other safety systems of passenger cars during collisions.
If implemented, they could reduce wheel clearance and thereby limit the options for altering original equipment tire fitments and modifying suspension systems on SUVs—an area directly related to the tire dealer's business.
The controversy concerning the height of SUVs and light trucks illustrates the complexity involved in changing vehicle systems. It also highlights the importance of knowledge and professionalism in making such modifications.
As this issue of Tire Business illustrates, many dealers perform this work when doing plus or minus tire sizing or otherwise deviating from the original equipment specifications on tires, shocks, struts, springs etc.
Even installing dedicated winter tires on a vehicle can alter its overall handling and performance.
No matter how the NHTSA study winds up, tire dealers have a legal and moral obligation to ensure customers' vehicles are safe after having worked on them.
Consumers rely on their local tire dealer to provide professional advice and knowledgeable service, particularly where high performance and special application vehicles are concerned.
Such work offers high profit potential, but also carries heavy responsibility. Therefore, it should not be undertaken without proper equipment and expert personnel.
The recent NHTSA tests point out the relationship between vehicle height and automotive safety.
Tire dealers become part of this equation whenever they perform service that modifies a vehicle's performance and handling specifications, including height.
As dealers face customers wanting to modify their vehicles, this relationship must never be forgotten.