A new law in Maine has renewed focus on an issue that tire dealers in all states face on a regular basis.
That is: What to do when customers demand replacement tires that have a lower speed and/or load rating than their vehicle's original equipment tires?
There are no written, industry-accepted guidelines to follow in such situations, Dick Cole, executive director of the New England Tire & Service Association (NETSA), has found. So tire dealers are forced to make recommendations on a per customer basis.
But with the federal government's efforts to enhance vehicle and tire safety through the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act and heightened concerns about liability, we agree with Mr. Cole.
It's high time the industry establishes guidelines and practices that tire dealers in all states can follow when replacing tires with different speed ratings and load ranges than those that came with the vehicle when it was new.
Otherwise, tire dealers place themselves at risk every time they alter a customer's tires and wheels from the vehicle makers' original equipment specifications.
In Maine, the issue has come to a head as word has spread about a little-publicized state law enacted in September 2003. The one-sentence law states: ``A vehicle may be equipped only with tires that meet or exceed the load and speed rating of the original equipment tires.''
Nothing wrong with that. Except in the real world it's not so easy to comply.
What does a dealer do, for instance, if a customer with V- or Z-rated OE tires demands as a replacement an H-rated tire, which has a lower speed rating, is less expensive and lasts longer? Should the dealer go ahead and provide the lower speed-rated tire or not?
The same holds true when it comes to load ratings. What should dealers do when a customer wants to plus-size his or her vehicle with lower-aspect-ratio tires and larger wheels that provide a lesser load rating than is recommended for that vehicle? Should the dealer sell the customer the expensive set of tires and wheels or not?
While trying to get the Maine law amended, Mr. Cole and NETSA also are developing proposed recommendations for tire replacements that could serve as a standard for all tire dealers to follow. This is an effort all of the tire industry, and particularly the Rubber Manufacturers Association and the Tire Industry Association, should get behind.
As more vehicles come equip-ped with performance tires and the popularity of plus-sizing soars, dealers will face more of these issues every day. They need guidance they can rely on and that will stand up in court.
This is not just an issue of liability but one of safety.