No news-at least for the time being-may be good news.
At least that's what commercial tire dealers are hoping is the case of the yet-to-be finalized rules that will dictate how the TREAD (Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation) Act will be applied to truck tires and retreads, as mandated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
``They understand they can't just make a rule on truck tires, and they don't have the urgency they did with passenger tires,'' said David Laubie, executive director of engineering at Bridgestone/Firestone.
During the tire maker's annual commercial dealer meeting April 23-25 in Las Vegas, Mr. Laubie offered his predictions for how the TREAD Act may be enforced on commercial tires as well as how tire dealers need to respond to the possibilities.
He said NHTSA is looking into updating the minimum performance standards for truck tires, with evaluations under way, and may begin compiling results soon. Specific tests so far have focused on durability and high-speed endurance. The agency also is conducting crash causation studies on about 1,000 cases involving commercial trucks. In addition, the agency tested 11R22.5 tires-180 new tires and 270 retreads-in February and March.
``NHTSA is hunting for a one-test-fits-all'' for drive, steer and retread tires, Mr. Laubie said. ``That's going to be tough, but that's what their goal is.''
Mr. Laubie predicted that new and retread tires will have the same or close standards, though he does not expect the agency to rule retreads out of existence.
``They do not want to punish retreads, they don't want to eliminate retreads,'' he said.
That comes as a relief to John Snider, president of Snider Tire Inc., a commercial dealership and retreader in Greensboro, N.C.
``They're not rushing to bad legislation,'' he said.
Tire labeling, which is likely to also apply both to new tires and retreads, likely will have the first seven or eight digits of the DOT code on both sides, with the last four on only one side, Mr. Laubie said. Tire pressure monitoring systems also are likely to be required on the original equipment level, but that gives commercial tire dealers several service opportunities, such as O-rings and slip valves, he said.
One point of probable contention is what constitutes a tire defect and how the various manufacturers categorize them. For example, Mr. Laubie said, different listing standards by two tire manufacturers could mean one reports far more ``defects'' than the other though the second had just as many repairs.
Greg McDonald, a senior field engineer with Bridgestone/Firestone, said the effort by manufacturers to collect, analyze and justify repair data may just drive the price of tires up.
``It's good that something is being done, but it has to be done smartly,'' he said.
The potential discrepancy between manufacturers is the main concern for Doug Reed, an owner of W.D. Tire Service Center in Columbus, Ohio. He said a major mission for him will be to train his service technicians to recognize the difference between tire defects and other uncontrollable factors such as irregular wear and road hazards. Educating the customer-who has to pay for those inevitable problems-is equally important, he added. ``That's going to become more critical,'' he said.
The entire system will take time to digest, Mr. Reed said. ``A lot of the things we used to handle for (customers) now are in gray areas (and) are going to be more controlled,'' he said.
But until the final rules are handed down for commercial tires, Mr. Snider plans to stay optimistic. ``It could be a catalyst to raise the bar for how we do things,'' he said.