NTSB: Tire recalls need overhaul

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday the U.S. system for tire registration is ineffective and called for mandatory tire registration, saying that at least 500 crash deaths a year are linked to tire problems.

Unlike car recalls, tire recalls face many problems. Independent tire dealers are not required to register tires on buyers’ behalf — and tire makers can’t contact those drivers if their tires need to be recalled. “Our investigation revealed that very few tires are actually registered for recall purposes,” said NTSB chairman Christopher Hart.

Between 2009-13, 3.2 million tires were recalled – but just 44 percent were replaced. And in a typical tire recall, just 20 percent are fixed. Dealers controlled by the tire manufacturer must register replacement tires, but not independent tires.

The NTSB called for a “computerized system for capturing, storing, and uploading tire registration information would expedite the tire registration process, reduce transcription errors, and encourage more dealers to register tires at the point of sale.”

NTSB wants the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to require the registration of all replacement tires – and wants to require tire manufacturers to put safety recall information on their websites in a format that is searchable by tire identification number.

The Obama administration in March proposed giving NHTSA the authority to require all tire dealers to submit vehicle owner information. The Tire Industry Association – representing mostly companies that sell, recycle, service or repair tires – has lobbied against mandatory registration. Earlier this year, the group said the legislation has no timetable for requiring the registration and “no specific language regarding how long the records must be maintained.” TIA wants a solution that doesn’t involve the government.

The Rubber Manufacturers Association -- representing major tire manufacturers -- supports the Obama administration proposal.

Before 1982, federal law required all tires to be registered. The law was changed then to allow for voluntary registration, which dropped registration rates from 50 percent to less than half that.

The NTSB also said “modifying the tire registration form to include fields for the purchaser’s email address, telephone number and vehicle identification number would provide additional means by which tire manufacturers could notify tire owners of recalls and recover more recalled tires that would otherwise continue in use.”

Tires should also have a complete tire identification number “on both sides of a tire would help consumers to accurately identify a recalled tire and to conduct maintenance as necessary and appropriate to the tire.”

As a result, tire recalls often get as little as 20 percent completion compared with 75 percent for most vehicle recalls.

The other big issue is tire aging.

Tires degrade over time and most consumers don’t understand the issue, NTSB said.

“The tread may show minimal wear, but as the tires age, they can lead to problems such as tread separation,” Hart said Tuesday. “We must more vigilant about maintaining tires for our own safety. We need to know what actions to take. How often should we gauge tire pressure? How often should we rotate tires? How often should we replace them entirely?”

NTSB also wants NHTSA to consider writing regulations to address tire aging issues create a plan to reduce risks.

NTSB said in 2013 there were 33,000 crashes linked to tire failures that led to 18,000 injuries and 539 deaths. Last year, NTSB investigated four tire-related crashes. One deadly SUV crash was caused by a faulty recalled tire that was never replaced. The owner was never notified.