YARMOUTH, Maine (Dec. 23, 2004) — A grassroots effort in Maine to update tire replacement recommendations has been put on hold.
Instead, the New England Tire & Service Association (NETSA), which proposed a set of guidelines for tire dealers, has decided to defer to the updated guidelines the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) plans to issue in January.
NETSA began creating earlier this year a proposed set of guidelines after Maine enacted a law restricting the speed and load rating options for tire replacements. According to NETSA Executive Director Dick Cole, state officials were asking for written guidelines they could use to regulate tire speed and load ratings for safety.
But Mr. Cole said he found there was no uniform set of recommendations accepted by the whole industry. Rather, different organizations and manufacturers had conflicting or varying guidelines, and many were not in writing.
On Dec. 9, Yarmouth-based NETSA's executive committee was set to vote on a proposed set of recommendations but instead decided to let the RMA address the issue. Two weeks prior, the RMA issued updated recommendations concerning the proper speed ratings for snow tire replacements, and it plans in January to complete a revised tire replacement guideline last updated in 1995.
The latest revision was slated about a year ago, and the snow tire service bulletin was initiated several months ago, according to the RMA. Neither was prompted by NETSA's efforts, but they were part of the RMA's continuous program to review and update recommendations on various tire service issues, the RMA said.
Although the specific content is not yet finalized, “I think it will address a number of issues the tire dealers raised,” said Dan Zielinski, RMA's vice president of communications.
In light of the recent RMA action, “we decided not to step out and make a duplicate recommendation,” Mr. Cole said. However, the association will form a committee to follow the issue to fruition. “We won't let it die,” he said, adding that NETSA members will encourage tire manufacturers to address concerns about proper tire replacement guidelines.
Maine tire dealers are particularly concerned with the speed and load ratings of replacement tires under the state law. The law requires that vehicles be equipped only with tires that meet or exceed the load and speed rating of its original equipment tires—a requirement that limits options for vehicles with high speed-rated OE tires.
The state recently exempted snow tires since there is an insufficient supply of high speed-rated winter tires.
After the state exemption was announced in October, the RMA issued a service bulletin stating: “For cases where the winter/snow tire's speed rating cannot match the OE tire, it is generally acceptable to apply a winter/snow tire with a lower speed rating than the OE tire; however, the vehicle speed is to be restricted to that of the replacement tire.”
Mr. Cole said the RMA recommendation was close to what NETSA hoped for, although it also wanted guidelines for equipping vehicles with anti-lock braking systems.
Now NETSA wants to work with the Maine legislature next year to amend the 2003 state law to allow more leeway in selecting speed and load ratings. To strengthen their case, tire dealers want a written set of industry recommendations regarding proper tire replacements to submit to legislators.
A set of recommendations also would help tire dealers as they deal with customers who demand improper tire replacements.
“Now tire dealers are left on their own to make decisions on adjusting the speed rating,” Mr. Cole said, adding, “My question to (tire manufacturers) is, 'What is your recommendation on speed rating?'”
The lack of updated recommendations “puts the dealer at a tremendous disadvantage” when they don't have something in writing to back themselves up, he said.
“What is safe for the buying public?” Mr. Cole asked. “This is not just a New England issue, it's a countrywide issue.” When a customer wants certain tires installed a certain way, “we want the industry to say, 'These are the guidelines.'”
He added that “there are a great deal of questions about what they can and can't do. Ninety-nine percent of these situations should be identified easily as OK to do or not. About 25-30 percent of the situations now are up in the air.”
Mr. Cole said he's very enthused about the RMA approach to this but at the same time is disappointed that “we can't move faster.”