One of the most hotly discussed topics in these pages occurred about 10 years ago when Tire Business polled readers about the merits of offering free air at their dealerships.
Scores of dealers wrote and debated the issue through letters to the editor, with some in favor of providing free air to all customers and others advocating the pay model. A sizeable percentage took the middle road, stating that air should be provided free only to a dealership's customers. Others would have to pay.
What was clear from this debate is that airing up tires is an importantlest we say crucialtopic and there is no clear consensus on the best way to provide that service.
A decade later the issue of tire inflation continues to be debated and controversial, as California's Air Resources Board (CARB) tries to pass legislation that would require all auto service providers in the state to check and adjust tire pressures on every vehicle they service starting Sept. 1.
Just like the varying opinions generated by the free-air debate of years ago, the idea of mandating service outlets to check and adjust air pressures in all vehicles is not at all clear-cut.
No one questions the merits of providing this service. If tire dealerships and service shops aren't checking tire pressures on all vehicles in for service, they should be. Nothing on the vehicle is more important than maintaining the proper inflation pressure. After all, the only vehicle component that touches the ground is the small contact patch of the tire. Its impact on safety and vehicle performance is not debatable.
But requiring all service outlets to check every tire on every vehicle that comes into their shop is not as simple as it seems.
When should dealers check the tires? Does if matter if the tires are hot and the inflation pressure is likely to be artificially higher? Or must the shop wait a prescribed time to let the tires cool down?
What about the California bill's provision allowing consumers to decline tire pressure service if they inflate their tires with nitrogen and the shop in question has no nitrogen available? How does the dealership know the tires actually are filled with nitrogen and how does it determine if the tires are aired to the correct pressure without checking them?
Customers, according to the proposed California bill, also can decline to have their tires checked if they have had the procedure done in the last 30 days or they plan to have them checked within the next seven days.
Who is going to follow up on this and make sure this service actually took place?
What about liability issues in the event an accident occurs and a determination of who actually checked the tires is uncertain?
There are simply too many what ifs with tire inflation to legislate the service. What California should do is require all service outlets to offer free air and then encourage everyoneservice shops and vehicle owners aliketo check tires regularly.
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