AKRON (April 28, 2008) — Tire manufacturers and others in the industry may disagree over what the optimum allowable minimum tire tread depth standard should be, but tire dealers shouldn't let themselves become confused by this debate.
The brouhaha now taking place over the minimum tread depth standard is basically an industry discussion about the subject. There is no federal effort under way to change the rules as they now stand.
So dealers must abide by the standards set in the states in which they operate.
Still, it would be wise to pay attention to the rhetoric being expressed. The dialogue is enlightening and can help dealers as they assess their customers' tire needs and whether or not it is a good time to replace a set of worn tires with new ones.
Admittedly, the minimum treadwear standard is somewhat confusing.
Since 1968, the federal government has mandated tire manufacturers mold minimum wear indicators into the tread of tires at 2/32 inch, but it doesn't set the tread depth standard. That's up to each state. While the majority of states require tires be removed when the tread depth reaches 2/32 inch, a few, including California, have a 1/32-inch standard and several others have no minimum requirement.
There's also disagreement about whether change is even necessary.
Some proponents of raising the standard—such as Harold Herzlich, president of Herzlich Consulting Inc. in Las Vegas, and technical editor of Rubber & Plastics News, a sister publication of Tire Business—have gone so far as to petition the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to increase to 4/32 inch the height of the wear-out indicators on tire treads. “My only concern is tire safety,” he said.
Continental A.G., Internet and mail order tire retailer Tire Rack and Consumer Reports magazine also favor raising the minimum tread depth standard for safety and performance reasons.
Meanwhile, Michelin North America Inc. maintains that raising the standard would be harmful to the environment, noting that as tread wears, rolling resistance improves, leading to better vehicle fuel economy. The head of the company's research unit, citing statistics and surveys, also maintains that changing the tread depth would not make an impact on road safety but would increase societal costs for recycling an estimated 65 million additional scrap tires annually.
It's unclear whether NHTSA will undertake a review of the tread depth issue. But as the discussion continues, tire dealers should pay attention. This debate is giving them more information and a better understanding about the impact tread depth has on the environment, fuel economy and vehicle safety. This will only help dealers do a better job of serving their customers—and keeping them safe.