AKRON—The growing number of higher speed-rated tires in the U.S. has made the idea of tire repair a somewhat scary proposition for tire dealers. With the publicity surrounding a $22.8 million jury verdict in 2011 against a Ford dealership in California for a tire repair failure connected to a fatal vehicle accident, the message of proper tire repair has been gaining traction, according to Kevin Rohlwing, senior vice president of training for the Tire Industry Association.
While that may be the case, other dealers are simply trying to avoid repairs as much as possible. “People shy away (from repairing) nowadays—they really, really do,” said Mike Hamad, manager for Hamad Tire Inc. in Akron, whose business still repairs tires on a regular basis. “I think there're good reasons for it and bad reasons.”
Mr. Hamad said dealers in general are more nervous about repairing high-performance tires because “people are driving faster and the chance of that repair failing goes up substantially, which makes owners and managers nervous. That's the last thing they need is a liability.” In addition, he said, the younger generations are being trained to not repair anything, “if just for the sake of making a sale.” This is OK in some circumstances, he added, but there's always the potential for backlash.
“If a tire is perfectly repairable and that customer's told that by 15 people or 10 different shops or five different shops or three, and they've got a dealership or somebody else saying, 'No, it cannot be repaired,' that irritates people,” Mr. Hamad said.
“They don't like to go back to those places, and sometimes they will not. Sometimes they just take that as, 'Hey, I'm being ripped off.'” In reality, the considerations for repairing conventional tires and high-performance tires are no different, said Kurt Berger, a manager for Bridgestone Americas' consumer tire sales engineering team.
“Really, the inspection procedures and the repair procedures are the same,” he said. “One thing you need to keep in mind—and some tire manufacturers are consistent with our policy—our policy is that when a tire is repaired that it will lose its speed rating.” What that means, Mr. Berger continued, is that a repaired tire defaults to the capability of a non-speed-rated tire, which is still capable of reaching 85 miles per hour.
“For 99 percent of people out there—hopefully closer to 100 percent—that shouldn't be a problem,” he said. Mr. Berger said when it comes to running repaired tires at high speed, the plug and patch are not the problem. “The issue is when a tire is injured you can inspect the tire and make a good assessment as to the extent of the injury. However, even with the proper repair, you're doing an assessment of the tire's condition based on the external appearance,” he said.
“And the reason we recommend eliminating that top speed rating is because there is some potential for interior damage to the structure of the tire that may go undetected with a visual inspection. “In most cases with (a repair), that plug and that patch are not going to cause a problem,” he continued, “but when a tire incurs a road hazard there's always the question of how long it was driven at a reduced inflation pressure.
“The tire pressure monitoring system that all cars have now helps significantly from that standpoint, if the driver reacts quickly. But when the tire is driven at low inflation pressure, internal degradation can occur and in some situations it can be difficult to detect.”
Mr. Berger likened the scenario to food that's been sitting out for a while. “We've all been to summer picnics where you're outside for hours—having fun, munching on food—and we all know somebody that makes a killer potato salad. If you think of that lunch that you go to and you get talking for hours, and then you realize it's 4 p.m. and that potato salad is sitting on the picnic table looking as good as it did when it was put out there, you think, 'Oh, I need to get it in the refrigerator,” he said.
“Then you go to the refrigerator the next day: that potato salad might look the same as it did the day before, and it might be just fine, but it may not be.... “We kind of view a tire that's been damaged like that,” he said. “We think in most cases if you have a professional removing the tire from the wheel, inspecting it visually very carefully and repairing it properly we're confident that tire's going to perform well in service, but we always need to keep in the back of our minds that tire does have a damage history.
“Without a destructive analysis—dissecting the tire—one can't be 100-percent sure what happens.” Potential degradation from reduced inflation pressure is mainly detectable inside the tire, Mr. Berger said, which is why tires should always be removed from the wheel when being repaired. Generally, when damaged tires do develop a structural issue it's not at the actual puncture site.
“It's somewhere else in the structure of the tire that was damaged due to low pressure running that you simply can't detect with the naked eye,” he said. “And that's pretty rare. If it wasn't pretty rare I think most tire manufacturers would simply say tires are not repairable.”
According to Mr. Berger, Bridgestone's official stance on tire repair is that it's completely viable as long as tires are repaired under the guidelines set forth by the Rubber Manufacturers Association.
To reach this reporter: [email protected] crain.com; 330-865-6148.