Sometimes you have to take a stand, even if it gets you in hot water. The Northwest Tire Dealers Association finds itself in that position after urging dealers to install four rather than two studded tires for safety reasons.
Despite what seems like a sensible policy, the action has triggered an antitrust investigation of the association by the Washington state attorney general's office.
Last September, the association began encouraging members to refuse customer requests for installing only two studded tires on front-, four-, or all-wheel-drive vehicles. The reason is that using four studded tires provides uniform traction at each wheel position, affording increased control.
The Rubber Manufacturers Association and its Tire Industry Safety Council as well as the AAA Safety Council all offer similar recommendations regarding the use of studded tires on all four wheels.
At issue is the wording of the NWTDA's literature, which states that these groups ``require'' rather than recommend the practice, NWTDA Executive Director Dick Nordness said.
Using studded tires only on front wheels, as requested by many owners of front-wheel-drive cars, can result in loss of rear-wheel traction on slippery curves.
The Washington attorney general's office began its investigation following a customer complaint. The customer wanted studded tires, but the dealership insisted on installing four based on the NWTDA's signs and literature.
The state decided to investigate, apparently suspecting the NWTDA's policy had more to do with selling studded tires than furthering public safety.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Mr. Nordness said the association wanted to warn drivers about the dangers of two-wheel studded tire use and protect tire dealers from potential litigation.
Ironically, one of the NWTDA's members, Les Schwab Tire Centers Inc. in Prineville, Ore., is facing a $1.3 million lawsuit involving studded tires.
In a 1995 accident, a woman died after a vehicle having only two studded tires went out of control and collided with her car.
The association may have overstated the case when it said four-wheel studded tire use is required by tire industry and auto safety groups. If so, it should change the wording.
But clearly, the NWTDA had the best interests of the public and its dealer members in mind when establishing this policy.
In doing so, it has increased public and dealer awareness of the importance of using studded tires properly.
The NWTDA took a stand much needed by the industry at large. It should be commended for its actions rather than taken to court.