(Editor's Note: This story is part of our #TireBiz30 in which we feature one archived story every day of September to celebrate Tire Business' 30th anniversary. Each story represents one of the most relevant news story published in our pages for that year.)
WASHINGTON — Only one of 10 retreaded tire samples so far has passed the test to qualify for federal procurement, and the government official in charge of the retread procurement program is puzzled and worried as to why.
"The only thing I can think of is that the whole program came on so fast, and everyone had to gear up so quickly, that perhaps not everyone was prepared for the testing," said Kenneth L. Collings, technical manager for tires at the General Services Administration's Automotive Commodity Center.
Under the GSA program to get retreaded tires on the Qualified Products List for government procurement, retreaders may submit tires on their own for qualification testing, or supplier companies with dealer networks may get their dealers qualified through random testing as long as the suppliers certify their dealers all use the same process.
In the latter instance, GSA inspectors visit dealers at random from the suppliers' certification lists. The inspectors identify themselves and ask for samples for QPL testing.
The dealers select the casings themselves and perform the retreading work in the inspectors' presence. Since the program began last fall, two companies have submitted passenger retreads for testing; two have submitted light truck bias retreads; three, radial light truck retreads; three, bias medium truck retreads; and four, radial medium truck retreads.
"All the big companies have submitted so far-Goodyear, Bandag, Oliver, Long Mile through Oliver, and Lakin-General," Mr. Collings said. "We had some inquiries from smaller companies, but when they found out how much the tests would cost, and what would be expected of them in federal contracts-that they would have to supply vast amounts of tires by a certain time and would be held financially responsible if they didn't-they didn't pursue it."
The QPL test for retreads is the same that has been run for new tires since 1972. It is a 20,000-mile test for highway performance, carcass durability and tread wear, run on a pre-approved test route on actual highways.
To remove as many variables as possible, the tests are strictly standardized: always the same vehicles, tires always loaded to 85 percent of capacity according to the Tire & Rim Association handbook, tires rotated and the vehicles realigned every 800 miles etc. Of the retread tests so far, Oliver Rubber Co.'s dealers passed their bias light truck tests, and three of the radial medium truck samples are still being tested. In all other cases, the retreads failed the government test.
"I don't know what happened," Mr. Collings said. "It was no one thing; casings failed, tread rubber separated, section repairs in the casings blew out, the grooves cracked in the tread rubber. In the case of passenger retreads, it was always the same thing-a flatly unacceptable wear rate."
Casing failure was the crux of the truck retreads' problem, according to Mr. Collings. "Some casings were immaculate, others were not so desirable," he said. "There were cases where one tire in a sample failed and the other passed with flying colors. Both have to pass to qualify for the QPL.
"You can't help but think, 'Is this what they give a commercial truck fleet?'" Mr. Collings said. "I don't think it is. All I know is that the retread companies are just as horrified and angry about this as I am."
For passenger retreads, failure was caused by treadwear which was inadequate in comparison with the government control tire. Retreads are expected to perform to the same specifications as new tires in government testing, but as Mr. Collings noted, the passenger retreads submitted so far for testing weren't designed to keep up with the government's test control tire.
"Dick Gust of Lakin-General told me he builds his passenger retreads to run 30,000 to 35,000 miles," he said. "But the government control tire is built to run 50,000 to 60,000 miles. He flunked before he started ... We may need a separate test for passenger retreads if they're to get on the QPL."
The Environmental Protection Agency is not going to rescind its retread procurement requirement, Mr. Collings noted, nor does he want it to. "I know that retreads are indeed a valuable source for cost savings and for retarding the growth of the nation's scrap tire problem," he said. "I know independent trucking fleets use retreads very successfully. But if we continue to go down the same road as now, I don't know what will happen."
Mr. Collings is enthusiastic about the upcoming Federal Tire Conference April 24-26 in Carson City, Nev., and its potential for educating both retreaders and government officials about the retread procurement program.
Retreaders will get to see QPL qualifying tests at the Nevada Automotive Test Center and also will have an opportunity to learn the ins and outs of federal contracting and bid applications.