Chinese Tire Recall Spurs Calls for Reforms
REHOBOTH, Mass. --- In the wake of a June recall of allegedly defective Chinese-made light truck tires, safety advocates and an attorney representing the families of three men involved in a deadly crash have asked members of Congress to make automotive defect information public. Last month, Foreign Tire Sales of Union, N.J., appealed to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for help in recalling an estimated 450,000 light truck tires after the company allegedly learned that the manufacturer, the Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Company, had left a critical component out of the tire. The steel-belted radial light truck tires, sold under the names Westlake, Telluride, Compass and YKS, were implicated in the August 2006 deaths of Rafael B. Melo and Claudeir Jose Figueiredo in a rollover crash, and Carlos Souza, who was seriously injured. The Melo, Figueiredo and Souza families sued FTS and Hangzhou Zhongce in May, which sparked the recall.FTS reported to the federal agency that the company suspected that something was wrong with the tires as early as October 2005, when it examined a tire involved in a property damage claim and found that the gum strip, a feature designed to keep the belts from separating, was missing. FTS said it was further alarmed by a sharp increase in the number of warranty adjustments on the tires. According to FTS' defect report, additional testing and evaluations continued to confirm their concerns about the safety of the tires.Initially, FTS said that it lacked the financial resources to collect, dispose of and replace the allegedly defective tires. But after NHTSA ordered the company to conduct a recall, FTS announced a consumer-remedy plan.Safety Research & Strategies, a vehicle safety consulting firm in Rehoboth, Mass., along with Jeffrey Killino, a Philadelphia product safety attorney representing the families of the men who were killed and injured in the August 2006 crash, are urging Congress to push for greater transparency in NHTSA's Early Warning Reporting data. They argue that such transparency is required under a provision of the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act.The TREAD Act was passed in October 2000. Since 2003, auto, tire and other equipment manufacturers have been required to submit certain types of data warranty claims, production numbers, property damage claims, injury-causing and fatal incidents, consumer complaints and field reports as part of an early warning system to alert regulators to defects. The rules themselves have been contentious, and manufacturers and safety advocates have fought in federal court over the data's accessibility.The recall also brings to light a gap in the regulations that allows an importer to sell an automotive component in the U.S. without having the financial capability to launch a recall if needed. According to NHTSA, FTS isn't the first importer to discover a major defect and then claim that a recall would bankrupt the company.