Tire repair is an essential part of the tire business. No matter if you are dealing with passenger, light truck, medium truck or off-the-road tires, odds are you are going to have to repair them at some time for your customers.
In order for users to get the most out of their tires and lower their cost per mile, tires have to be repaired after they experience the injuries the road inflicts upon them. So this becomes part of your job and responsibility.
But what exactly is a dealer's responsibility?
Today, with the spread of litigation and product liability lawsuits as well as the difficulty and expense in obtaining and retaining insurance coverage, dealers can get confused about exactly what their roles should be when it comes to repairing their customers' tires.
To maintain customers-especially truck tire customers-dealers and retreaders have to repair tires. Their responsibility: Provide good, safe tire repairs that last the life of the tires.
When these repairs do not meet these qualifications, then liability becomes the overriding concern.
The tire business is more exposed to litigation than most, as it runs a close second to the medical profession in the number of lawsuits filed annually. In the last several years, there have been a couple of high-profile cases that have socked tire dealers with huge, multi-million-dollar lawsuits even though they had the shallowest pockets. In 1995, Army Trail Tires & Service in Carol Stream, Ill., was hit with a $12.7 million lawsuit award for doing an outside-in repair on a tire that later blew out, causing the vehicle with five college students to overturn and eject them. A 22-year-old man was rendered a quadriplegic.
In July of this year, Cassidy Tire & Service in Chicago settled a lawsuit for an estimated $3 million. The dealership was accused of negligence for ignoring Ford Motor Co.'s warnings about tires that should not be installed on the Ford Explorer. In this case, the sport-utility vehicle collided with another car, rolled over and all four passengers were thrown from the vehicles. Two teenage girls were killed.
In both of these cases, companies with deep pockets also were included in the legal battles. In the Army Trail Tire case, it was Goodyear, Ford and Bridge Products, the distributor of the repair material. Michelin North America Inc. and Ford also were held culpable in the case of Cassidy Tire.
But the dealers took a tremendous hit. Army Trail Tire took the brunt of the lawsuit award, while Goodyear had claims dismissed against it. Michelin was forced to pay only $500,000 in the Cassidy Tire case.
Why is this? There are several reasons:
1) The products we sell are of critical safety importance to those using them. Human lives depend upon the integrity of tires and the repairs made to them.
2) The tire dealer is the last one to touch the tire and is supposed to be the expert who knows how to do things the right way.
3) If you retreaded or repaired a tire involved in an accident, you are considered the manufacturer and you assume responsibility and liability for the retread or repair you made. Personal injury lawsuits mostly allege negligence either of manufacture or practice. If you are negligent in any way, you can be in deep doodoo.
4) In cases of repair failure, it is extremely hard to prove that the repair materials were faulty or defective. It's much easier to prove who installed the repair.
Training's a must
The cost of defending against even apparently ridiculous litigation can wipe out an individual or business. To guard against potential lawsuits, you must ensure that every service technician and retread shop employee is well-trained, knowledgeable and current in their fields.
Many tire dealers are retraining their personnel every year-both their technicians as well as their trainers. There are several ways dealers can do this.
Rema Tip Top/North America Inc was one of the first companies to bring tire repair training to dealer locations through its mobile training units (MTUs) in 1994. In 1998 it added another one of these trailers that were fully equipped to provide a three-hour course on puncture repair including hands-on and classroom instruction.
Last year Rema changed its approach and now uses five pickup trucks fully equipped to hold training courses inside dealers' facilities.
These vehicles are able to provide training to an even wider audience and concentrate on nail hole repair in passenger, light truck and medium truck tires. Their trainers can demonstrate section repairing using a spotter for curing.
However, due to popular demand, Rema will be refurbishing and bringing back one of its MTUs in 2002. The cost of training is free to dealerships that use Rema's repair materials. These dealers should contact their distributor to arrange for this training.
Tech International also provides free training to customers at its training school in Johnstown, Ohio, as well as in-house at dealers' facilities. Tech's training course in Johnstown involves 50-percent classroom and 50-percent hands-on training in performing nail hole and section repairs. The training usually includes a lesson on the potential legal ramifications of improper repairs and the fact that some new-tire warranties are nullified if the tire is incorrectly repaired.
Classes normally are held twice a month, with more courses offered between September and March and fewer courses held during the industry's busy summer months. Tech also provides the International Tire & Rubber Association's OSHA Compliance Training program and Commercial Tire Service Certification training to dealers who would like this training as well. The cost of this training is a pass through from ITRA that covers the cost of the books and tests.
Tech regional managers and distributors provide in-house training on Uni-seal, nail hole, section and OTR repairs. The company provides badges and certificates for technicians who pass the tests and become authorized technicians. Tech also provides step-by-step manuals, wall charts and videos on tire repairing. To schedule training, dealers can contact Bill Johnson at (800) 433-8324 or their Tech distributor.
Patch Rubber Co. also offers free on-site training. The company has trained approximately 200 Myers Tire Supply sales people as instructors for their ``Do It Right'' seminar on nail hole repair. These folks, as well as three Patch Rubber regional managers and three Patch Rubber trainers, provide training to any customer or non-customer who requests it. The Patch Rubber field personnel will certify technicians in OTR, truck, light truck and passenger repair through hands-on training and written tests. Certificates are given to technicians who pass the tests. Dealers can contact Myers Tire Supply at (800) 998-9897 or Jeff Young at Patch Rubber (252) 536-2574 to schedule training.
ITRA is offering several classes this year on tire repair also. These classes are three-days long and are held at the ITRA training center in Louisville, Ky. Unlike the other schools, though, ITRA charges for its program, which is heavily geared to retreading. All types of repairs (nail holes, sections, bead, spot and liner) are covered in this course. To receive training schedules and registration information, visit ITRA's Web site, www.itra.com, or call (800) 211-1779.
Follow-through also crucial
Training by itself accomplishes relatively little without the proper follow-through.
Keep in mind that only training the technicians won't ensure the job is done right if the supervisor isn't knowledgeable in the proper way to repair tires or doesn't support the changes in procedures. That's why it is critical that managers are trained as well. Not only will they support the proper methods of making repairs, but they are also able to spot check technicians to ensure all the proper procedures are followed when tires are being repaired.
Also, the corporate culture must constantly reinforce the need to follow all the proper repair procedures to ensure a quality and safe repair is made every time.
There are many shortcuts that can be taken when repairing tires and many people think that they won't ``really hurt'' the repair.
Things like thoroughly inspecting the tire before repairing it, cleaning the liner with buffer/cleaner fluid, applying both a patch and a plug and removing all the injury are steps that technicians often skip to get the job done faster. (They may not skip all of these steps, but it is common for at least one or two of these steps to be missed.)
One tire repair material manufacturer stated that he has passenger tire repair customers who routinely order more patches than stems. Obviously, these dealers must be aware that repairs aren't being made properly.
As everyone should know by now, outside-in, string repairs are totally unacceptable repairs in any size tire. They do not meet the Rubber Manufacturers Association's recommended procedures that call for removing the tire from the wheel so that it can be inspected, filling the injury cavity with a plug or cushion gum, then sealing the inner liner with the proper patch. Any dealer who allows these repairs to be made is invalidating the tire's warranty and will be totally on his own in a legal battle without the help of the tire's manufacturer.
In the Army Trail Tire case, a witness at the trial said dealership employees knew about the RMA standards that prohibit outside-in repairs and the proper way to repair tires, but chose to repair tires with string plugs if customers insisted on cheaper repairs. So much for cheap repairs.
What would you do if one of your large fleet accounts demanded that you make a questionable repair or he would take his business elsewhere? First, you should explain that the tire needs to be repaired properly (or not at all, if that's the case) and sell that to the account.
If he still doesn't buy it, give him directions to the nearest competitor. That's much smarter than giving him the keys to your business.
Peggy Fisher is president of Fleet Tire Consulting, based in Rochester Hills, Mich.