With the recent heightened awareness of tire safety, more tire and service outlets are following industry-recommended tire repairing practices.
But not all are, according to several industry officials.
M. Duane McCoy, general manager of REMA Tip Top/North America Inc.'s tire repair material division in Northvale, N.J., said he's seen many tire outlets, particularly larger retail chains, returning to the proper way of repairing tires. This involves removing the tire from the vehicle, drilling out the injury, filling it and patching it with the correct repair materials. Done this way, the repair becomes a permanent part of the tire.
But Mr. McCoy said many outlets including service stations and smaller tire dealerships continue to fix tires using plugs or patches, a practice considered temporary and unsafe by most tire repair manufacturers, tire makers and industry associations.
The reason is that tire plugs are made from cord body, which won't vulcanize to the tire and create a permanent repair.
``When you stick a plug in the tire, the only thing holding it in is the cement on the plug,'' Mr. McCoy said. As a result, a plug can work itself loose.
Plugging from the outside in also makes it impossible to tell whether the tire's been damaged on the inside, he added. ``The damage could have cut the steel belts inside,'' he said, ``and you don't know it'' unless you remove the tire from the rim and inspect it.
Harvey Brodsky, managing director of the Tire Retread Information Bureau (TRIB) in Pacific Grove, Calif., and Bill Johnson, training director for Tech International in Johnstown, Ohio, have noticed similar trends in tire repairing.
Tire dealers are running scared, which is why more of them are making sure they properly repair tires, Mr. Brodsky said. ``They are very much afraid of the liability issue. As I've said many times, the Achilles' heel of the tire industry is tire repairing.''
This vulnerability is not because the knowledge and technology to make a perfect repair doesn't exist, he said. ``But unless (the repair) is done properly, you're creating a potential time bomb. That's why training is vital.''
Tech's Mr. Johnson said he has seen increased demand for tire repair training from both tire and auto dealerships. ``More people are trying to make sure they're doing it right and are getting trained in the latest repair techniques and in using the highest quality products,'' he said.
He also agreed that smaller tire dealerships and service stations tend to be the ones plugging tires or patching them. ``There's still too many people out there cutting corners, whether it's intentional or out of ignorance,'' he said.
Outlets plugging tires are doing it that way for the sake of competition, Mr. McCoy said. ``But in the end they're endorsing their own extinction.''
These ``smaller guys'' are doing whatever they can to get by, he explained. ``They don't want to apply the technology for fear of price'' and, as a result, possibly lose a sale.
One reason many outlets operate this way is that they are competing against larger chains that often fix flats for free for their customers, or include the service as part of their road hazard program, he said.
Another factor is location, Mr. Johnson added. ``In poorer neighborhoods, outlets tend to use a tube patch or plug repair because their clientele can't afford a proper repair, or don't think they can,'' he said. ``If you spent $15 for a used tire, you're not going to pay $15 to get it repaired.''
Many of these outlets also employ young people who aren't trained in tire repair, Mr. Brodsky said. He'd like to see an industry ad hoc committee formed to develop and send posters to these locations warning them not to plug tires and explaining why.
Properly done, a nail hole repair might cost between $15 and $25, according to Mr. McCoy, while those plugging a tire might ask for $6.
To improve the overall quality of tire repairing, Mr. McCoy said he thinks the industry should unite and agree on the specifics of tire repair so that everyone performs repairs consistently.
``Most of us agree on the standard type of repair for a steel-belted radial tire,'' he said. ``However, we should be more precise on the proper repair-which is the drill, fill and patch method-and for a more productive future, we should agree on the repairable area of a tire.''
One thing holding back the tire industry from achieving tire repair uniformity is that there is no official repair standard to follow, although several documents exist to guide companies about what constitutes a proper fix. These include a consensus document, entitled Industry Recommended Practices for Tire Retreading and Repairing, prepared by an ad hoc committee of the Tread Rubber and Tire Repair Material Manufacturers Association (TRMG) and sold through TRIB. The Rubber Manufacturers Association also has developed a series of recommended tire repair procedures, which can be found on its Web site at www.rma.org.
But a lot of firms don't know that these documents exist and don't realize they must follow them in order to repair tires correctly, Mr. McCoy said.
Some tire repair manufacturers don't even follow the tire makers' instructions regarding repairs to their tires, which causes confusion for the tire repair user, he added.
With passenger tires costing upwards of $140 apiece, ``you don't want a flat buster who knows nothing about the construction of the steel belted radial'' working on it, he said. ``You're putting your life in his hands.''
Tires have changed, he said. Besides being expensive, they're constructed of steel, which can rust if exposed to moisture. Repairers also must understand the differences in repairing speed-rated tires vs. standard steel-belted radials.
``It all gets back to the fact that the tire repair job is not looked upon as a professional position,'' Mr. McCoy said. ``He's looked at as a flat-buster. And that has to change.''
To upgrade the image of tire repairing, shop owners must be willing to have their tire technicians become professionals, Mr. McCoy said. And those techs have to be willing to learn the job and to do it so well so that the consumer is willing to pay to have their tires repaired correctly.
As consumers gain confidence in what constitutes a proper tire repair, they will spend the money, he said. But shops still have to sell customers on the value of a professionally performed repair.
It's ironic, he said, that ``people will pay $8 to $12 to get a car washed, but if they have to spend more than $6 for a tire repair, they holler.''