The Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA), still smarting over the unilateral actions of Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler L.L.C. to advise consumers to change their tires after six years of service, regardless of the tires' condition, is asking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to do something about it.
The RMA wrote NHTSA June 10, asking it to issue a consumer advisory outlining the factors that affect a tire's service life and the benefits of proper tire maintenance. In essence, it asked the agency not to issue any immediate directives on tire aging-probably in view of the petition from a safety watchdog group, Safety Research & Strategies Inc., for the agency to issue a general warning about tire aging.
``We emphasize the need to answer the fundamental question-whether tire service life alone has an effect on real-world tire safety performance-before the agency settles on the appropriate course of action,'' the association said. ``Only by answering this question can NHTSA, the tire industry, the auto industry and others concerned with highway safety be assured that consumers are given the right advice.''
To speak of ``tire age'' is inappropriate on its face, the RMA argued, because the issue really involves a tire's length of time in use, not its date of manufacture. Service conditions vary widely, it said, as do storage conditions for unsold tires and the tire maintenance practices of individual motorists.
``Since service conditions vary widely, accurately predicting the serviceable life of any specific tire in chronological time is not possible with the data currently available to the RMA,'' the association said. ``Vehicle manufacturers may also recommend, but cannot determine when a tire should be replaced based on their understanding of the vehicle application.''
The RMA had not received a response to its letter as of Tire Business' June 16 deadline and does not expect one quickly, according to an association spokesman.
Sean Kane, president of Rehoboth, Mass.-based Safety Research & Strategies, was skeptical about the RMA petition.
``When I look at this, I see it as a bit of damage control,'' he said. ``The RMA always shifts it all onto the consumer.''
Since November 2003 Mr. Kane has lobbied NHTSA for a consumer advisory on tire aging. He has presented the agency with a list of 70 cases-all gleaned from court documents in product liability litigation-in which tires older than six years have allegedly failed and caused accidents. These accidents have resulted in 52 deaths and 51 injuries, according to Mr. Kane.
In his most recent submission to the NHTSA docket May 25, Mr. Kane referred to the Ford consumer advisory.
``As the agency knows, Ford's published research in the area of tire aging adds important data to the public realm and their conclusion that a six-year recommendation is appropriate sends a clear message about their findings,'' he wrote.
Mr. Kane quoted a June 1998 article, reprinted by the Tire Retread Information Bureau (TRIB) from the Goodyear publication Commercial Tire Management, titled ``Sleeping Tires Wear, Too.'' The gist of the article, he said, is that tires degrade even when properly stored. The European Union, he added, forbids retreading of passenger car tires older than seven years.
While Goodyear was still considering its response to Mr. Kane's statement, TRIB Managing Director Harvey Brodsky said the retreading industry feels exactly the opposite from Mr. Kane. It believes that too many trucking fleets, in fact, remove tires from use too quickly and don't get all the benefits they can from casings that can be retreaded multiple times.
``A tire is not cottage cheese,'' Mr. Brodsky said. ``I think the government will be making a real mistake if it has tires pulled after a certain age.''
The Tire Industry Association said it supports the RMA letter and doesn't plan to write its own. Similarly, Ford, DaimlerChrysler and General Motors Corp. all had no comment except that they stand by their stated positions.
Chrysler said it will include the following language in all 2006 model year owner's manuals:
``Tires and spare tire should be replaced after six years, regardless of the remaining tread. Failure to follow this warning can result in sudden tire failure. You could lose control and have an accident resulting in serious injury or death.''
A Ford spokesman said his company never meant to suggest that tires have a hard-and-fast expiration date or age the same in all conditions. But the six-year advisory was a conservative recommendation based on the results of Ford's own research, he added.
Whereas Ford and DaimlerChrysler are advising consumers to replace their tires after six years, GM issued a statement saying it has no intention of doing the same. ``The fact is that most tires wear out before they age out,'' said James Gutting, director of GM's Tire and Wheel Laboratory in Milford, Mich.
NHTSA, meanwhile, is working on a tire aging performance test to add to federal tire safety standards. It could release a proposed version of the test as early as this summer.