Federal standards announced on Nov. 18, 2002 will require clearer labeling of tires and their recommended inflation pressure in an attempt to clear up the type of confusion that surrounded the Firestone tire recall.
The tire identification number, which includes information to help identify tires subject to a recall, will have to be on both sides of a tire in type at least one inch high. Previously, the number was only required to be on one side, making it difficult for consumers to tell if their tires were subject to a recall.
Many Firestone owners complained about the problem after the tire maker recalled tires over the past two years. Some of the tires were losing their tread, leading to accidents and at least 271 deaths in the U.S.
“Even if they knew where to find the number, it was often on the inside of the tire, making it difficult for people,” said Roger Kurris, who helped write the rule for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that will be phased in beginning in September 2003. “You were left lying on the ground and crawling under the vehicle with a flashlight.”
Many of the Firestone accidents may have occurred because the tires were not inflated to the recommended pressure. Under-inflation can increase heat buildup in tires and lead to tread separation and other failures.
A NHTSA study found that a quarter of cars and a third of light trucks on U.S. roads are driven with one or more substantially under-inflated tires.
Consumers are supposed to check their tire pressures at least once a month. But a survey conducted by the Rubber Manufacturers Association found that 55 percent of drivers did not know where to find the correct pressure recommendation for their tires.
To address that problem, NHTSA will require that automakers post the recommended pressures on a sticker inside the vehicle doorjamb. Many automobiles already have the sticker, but there is no requirement for it to be there, and it can be found in the glove box, behind the fuel door, or just about anywhere else in the car.
Tire makers had objected to NHTSA’s original proposal to require labeling on both sides of the tire. They said it would put their workers in danger by requiring to reach into a mold every day to change the date of manufacture.
NHTSA compromised by allowing manufacturers to put the date on the inside tire sidewall. The other information must be on both sides. That means some owners will still have to crawl under the vehicle to see if their tire is included in a recall.