Retail

Despite real problems, the tire valve scare is not all it’s cracked up to be

Bob Ulrich
Posted on March 6, 2009

How do we know if we have sold affected valve stems that fall into this recall?” asked a dealer via e-mail. Good question, so I decided to find out. The question stemmed from the recent recall of tire valves manufactured by Topseal Shanghai Auto-Parts Co. Ltd., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Shanghai Baolong Industries Co. Ltd., from July through November in 2006.

Tech International initiated the recall after receiving reports from the field about what it called “potentially faulty tire snap-in valves” manufactured by Topseal and sold under the name Quick Air. The company then notified the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Although it only had received complaints about one model number, TR413, Tech expanded the recall to include other imported valves produced during the same time frame.

By adding valve models TR414, TR415, TR418 and TR423 to the TR413 and 413CH models, the recall grew to nearly six million units. Tech says the recall encompasses the following lot numbers/production codes: 0610012-03, 0610019, 061002632-01, 0610028, 0610035 and 0610034-01.

Dill Air Control Products LLC, a subsidiary of Shanghai Baolong, also has been in contact with NHTSA about the Topseal TR400 series. Dill says the total population of valves in question is 30 million. (One news report out of Texas had the total up to 60 million!) Surface cracking on the outside of the rubber near the rim hole, caused by premature aging, was identified as the reason for air leakage.

Now for the answer to the tire dealer’s question. First, check the lot and model numbers of the Topseal valves you have in stock. Next, inspect any valve stems you may have installed from September 2006 through June 2007.

“The cracking is parallel to the rim,” says Bill Johnson, Tech’s global research and development manager. “If you twist the valve in a clockwise direction, the crack will open.” The twist test should work even if existing cracking isn’t visible.

The valves are unmarked, except for the Topseal triangle insignia on the rubber (the Dill valves are marked Dill APC).

Forgetting about the recall for a moment, how do you know if a tire valve is defective? Not all cracking warrants immediate removal, according to Johnson. Normal weather cracking, which also occurs with tires, may not be a problem.

Any cracking due to abuse or aging could lead to air loss. In those instances, the valves should be replaced, he adds.

“Valve stems should be replaced each time new tires are installed, or sooner if they show signs of aging, stiffness or cracks,” says Gordon Hoffman, a spokesman for Schrader-Bridgeport International Inc., a Tomkins plc company. (Schrader manufactures its tubeless tire valves in its own facilities, and does not purchase valves from Shanghai Baolong.)

Tech is confident that everything is fine now, and not just because of its problem-free past relationship with Topseal.

As the valve situation began unfolding, Tech asked Topseal to re-test the valves it had manufactured in 2007. The valves were fine.

On its own, Topseal was more stringent with its in-house testing procedures; it also hired an independent lab to test new valves.

The lab conducted an SAE J1205/1206 test, which includes testing for adhesion of the rubber to the brass; hardness of the rubber before and after aging; the sealing ability of the valve and the valve core; the force to seat to the rim; and the force to pull the valve out of the rim (i.e., the tensile strength of the rubber).

According to Tech, the 2008 valves passed all the SAE tests and met all the relevant Tire and Rim Association Inc. standards.

Based on its meeting with Dill, NHTSA, through its Office of Defects Investigation (ODI), has since opened a “Preliminary Evaluation” of the TR400 series valves. The ODI is not only studying the cause of the cracking, but also assessing “the scope, frequency and safety consequences of the alleged defect.”

Perhaps forgotten in all the discussion about valves is the importance of the valve cap. Make sure all tire valves leave your shop with one. They keep dust and dirt out, and help keep air in. ■

Bob Ulrich Editor
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