The U.S. recall of millions of tire valve stems made in China presents a big problem for independent tire dealers and other tire retailers.
While any recall is expensive and time consuming, there's an extenuating circumstance in this case. There is no clear way of identifying the suspected valve stems or even to tell if a tire valve stem is defective unless, according to industry experts, the tire is dismounted and inspected internally for damage.
This means all retail tire outlets potentially are at risk for having possibly installed some of these recalled products on their customers' vehicles, or for having serviced tires fitted with them.
To avoid any potential liability, dealers should take immediate action to establish a protocol at their locations to try and identify suspect valve stems and get them off customers' vehicles when discovered.
One lawsuit already has been filed involving a valve stem that allegedly caused a tire failure resulting in an accident and a death, so the potential risk for a dealership's customers as well as for the dealership itself is very real.
At issue are 6 million TR413 snap-in valve stems made by Chinese firm Shanghai Baolong Industries Co. Ltd. between July and November 2006.
The valve stems were imported and distributed in the U.S. by Tech International Inc., which voluntarily recalled them on June 2. Tech said the rubber portion of the valve stems may crack and allow air loss, leading to tire failure.
Tech is replacing the recalled valve stems free of charge as well as any tires that show damage.
More disconcerting for tire retailers is that the recall potentially could grow larger pending the outcome of a preliminary evaluation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of up to 30 million more suspect snap-in tire valve stems.
These TR400 series valve stems were made for Oxford, N.C.-based distributor Dill Air Control Products L.L.C. by Topseal, a subsidiary of Shanghai Baolong.
Dill officials already have met with NHTSA to discuss potential defects with some of the valve stems made during a five-month period in 2006 that seemed to have problems with cracking due to ozone exposure.
So what can dealers do? First, contact all parts distributors the company works with to try and identify whether the dealership ever purchased the valve stems in question.
Also instruct the dealership's tire technicians to be on the lookout for affected valve stems in tires that were purchased and/or serviced during the 2006 time frame and insist that these tires be dismounted and inspected.
Without any clear way of identifying potentially defective valve stems, this is about the best dealerships can do to keep their customers and their own businesses safe.