Does the average consumer interpret the word ``failed'' to mean ``defective'' when applied to tires? And if so, should the industry find a better word to describe the point at which a tire no longer functions properly?
Most Tire Business readers readily understand and accept the fact that tires, like most manufactured products, have their limitations. Even when properly cared for, tires eventually wear out. And if neglected or abused while in service, they not only will wear out sooner but also are likely to fall victim to other conditions that render them unusable.
When no longer able to support the weight of the vehicle and provide mobility to its occupants, tires are said to have ``failed.'' This in no way implies they were defective.
However, that distinction can be less obvious to anyone not knowledgeable about tires. Consider, for example, how the word ``failed'' might be interpreted by non-industry persons reading the news account of a traffic accident in which a tire was said to ``fail,'' causing the driver to lose control and sending the vehicle into oncoming traffic.
Most industry-related readers simply will wonder how and why the tire failed. But non-industry readers-particularly those skeptical of business in general-may respond quite differently. In their mind's eye, they may envision a poorly manufactured tire suddenly going flat, thereby causing death or serious injury to those involved in the accident.
In an effort to determine if there is a better word than failure to describe the stage in which a tire no longer functions properly, Tire Business sought the counsel of tire company technical and development experts.
Tire makers regularly test their products on laboratory pulley wheels ``until failure'' in order to determine their durability and high-speed capabilities. So, what description do they use and what would they suggest in order to lessen public confusion over the word failure?
If you don't want to say a test tire was run until failure, TB asked, what do you say it was run until?
``Destruction'' responded Larry Toops, Goodyear's manager of global product performance and industry standards. His colleague, John Rumel, Goodyear manager of global product standards and regulations, talked about ``testing tires to the limit.''
``Structural breakdown'' was a term used by J. Steven Carpino, director of research and development for Pirelli Tire North America Inc. Mr. Carpino said he too believes many people confuse the word ``failure'' with ``defect.''
Pirelli's R&D director likes to delve into this subject whenever talking with visitors at the company's tire test lab. ``They see tires sitting in a rack that look like they have been destroyed,'' he said. ``I'm careful to point out that the objective of testing tires on a pulley wheel is (first) to run them until they meet whatever requirements have been set either by the government or your own internal standards.
``Then you continue running the test until you see some structural breakdown in the tire. The objective always is to meet the required performance level with some additional safety margin.
``You don't want to develop a tire that's required to run 100 hours and runs only 101 before some sort of breakdown occurs. So you always want to run the tire until there's some sort of breakdown. Whether you're conducting high-speed or durability tests, it's always the same. Typically, you learn the most when you run the tire until there is a structural breakdown.
``Usually, when we talk about a tire failing a test, it's because the tire has had some sort of structural breakdown before meeting the minimum requirement,'' Mr. Carpino said.
Mike Wischhusen, director of industry standards and government regulations for Michelin North America Inc., said it's helpful to think of a tire as a ``consumable'' product-in other words, one that gets ``used up.''
What many consumers don't realize, he said, is that there are several ways to use up a tire. It can be driven until there is no more tread on it. It also can be damaged by such things as an impact, underinflation, penetration or ozone exposure.
For that reason, it's not possible to say categorically how long a tire will last in service, Mr. Wischhusen said. ``What I can tell you is that tires that are well maintained (given proper pressure, alignment and rotation) will last longer than those that have been poorly maintained.''
Raymond J. Labuda, vice president of tire technology at Hankook Tire Co. Ltd.'s Akron Technical Center, said there's a ``very substantial public misconception'' regarding the words ``failure'' and ``defect.''
``Failure does not equal defect,'' he said. ``Anything can fail, and most things do either due to time or use. But that's not to suggest that simply because tire failure occurs there necessarily is a defect in the product. And conversely, just because a tire has a defect doesn't mean it's going to fail.''
As a means of reducing the public's confusion, Mr. Labuda suggested it might be wise to stop talking about failure in tire testing and instead come up with other terms that better address the specific reason why the tire was removed from testing or service (such as due to rapid air loss or a tread separation).
``I think because of improvements made over the years the public expects no problems with almost anything they buy regardless of the abuse they give it,'' Mr. Labuda said.
``We, as a consumer population-especially those of us in America-expect not to have issues with anything we buy. I'm not saying that's bad, just that it's fundamental to our psyche.
``But let's face it,'' he said, ``anything that is used or misused on a continuous or long-term basis eventually will have something happen to it. Batteries will wear out, magic markers run out of ink, windshield wipers start rattling, the refrigerator will go on the blink. Are those failures?
``There is an expectation of perfection and anything short of that is called a failure, and it's really not a proper term. The public equates tire failure with a defect, and that's not appropriate.''