While it will add to production costs, the tire industry should get behind a new proposal to tie the identity of each original equipment tire to the vehicle.
If any good comes out of the hullabaloo over tire safety that has accompanied the recall of Firestone P-metric light truck tires, it may be the auto makers' newly kindled interest in tracking the cradle-to-grave performance of OE tires in this manner. The positive results of doing so far outweigh the costs and could have profound ramifications for tire and auto makers, tire dealers and consumers alike.
The Automotive Industry Action Group, a voluntary service organization made up of auto industry suppliers, is about to release the first stage of a proposal that would tie the serial number of each OE tire to the car's Vehicle Identification Number.
The purpose of this project-which reportedly has the enthusiastic support of some major auto companies and could happen as early as this year-is to make it easier and faster to detect, and thereby lessen the scope of tire-related difficulties.
Initially, the proposal calls for placing a two-dimensional bar code type label on each tire to identify it. Later, tire makers would make use of a radio frequency identification tag or so-called ``smart chip'' embedded in each OE tire for that same purpose. But the chips also could conceivablytrack such factors as inflation pressure, temperature and whether the problem is limited to a specific vehicle.
This type of information would be invaluable in helping investigators determine causal factors in tire failure and getting problem tires off the road quickly and economically.
One of the big issues that surfaced during the recent tire recalls has been the inability to determine which tires in a line are potentially defective. As a result, manufacturers have had little choice but to recall all the tires in a suspect line, even though many, or even a majority, were perfectly safe. This is not only costly for tire manufacturers and dealers, but is inconvenient and disturbing to customers.
``Smart chips,'' estimated to run between 80 cents and $2.25 each, not counting the cost of the receiving device or that of inserting them in tires during production, could provide an effective way to single out those tires that should be removed from service. Some auto makers apparently believe the cost of tracking tires in this manner is less than that of the legal exposure of not doing so.
The tire industry has come under tremendous scrutiny as a result of the recent tire recalls and investigations by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. By taking advantage of smart chip technology, tire makers can improve tire and auto safety while reducing their exposure should a recall occur.