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Tire aging: Sean Kane's passion trumps the industry's inaction

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I like Sean Kane. Over the phone he comes across as a likeable guy with an admirable agenda: He wants to improve the tire purchasing experience for consumers.

I just don’t believe in the way he is going about it. Kane, the president of Safety Research & Strategies Inc., says his accident data indicates a correlation between six-year old tires and tire failure.

He has been amassing the data since 2003. When we first talked in 2005, even he admitted the data he had collected wasn’t scientifically valid.

At the time, there was no scientific data establishing a cause and effect relationship between tire service life and tire safety performance.

Five years later, his data base has grown, and there is still scant scientific data proving him right — or wrong. “We have to get past the idea that there’s no science behind it,” he says,  not surprisingly.

Unfortunately, he’s right. It doesn’t matter anymore. Our industry has lost in the court of public opinion.

Kane’s not-so-subtle campaign questioning the safety of tires six years and older has struck a chord with the national media. More importantly, he has the ear of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Following its August 2007 report to Congress on tire aging, NHTSA warned consumers about the dangers of riding on “old” tires, particularly in hot weather. It also continued to evaluate “the feasibility of a regulation related to tire aging.”

California has gone a step further. The state appears to be on the verge of passing AB 496, a bill that requires full disclosure surrounding a tire’s age before it is purchased or installed. If the tire aging bill passes in its current form, California tire dealers will be required to inform their tire-buying customers of the following:
      
”Tires deteriorate with age, even if they have never or seldom been used. As tires age, they are more prone to sudden failure that can cause a vehicle to crash. This applies also to the spare tire and tires that are stored for future use.

“Heat caused by hot climates or frequent high loading conditions can accelerate the aging process. Most vehicle manufacturers recommend that tires be replaced after six years, regardless of the remaining tread depth.”

NHTSA is watching the legislation closely, influenced more by Kane’s “six-year-old tires are not safe” data than the tire industry’s “Yes, they are” rebuttal.

The media has been seduced by Kane’s cause. A report on ABC television’s “20/20” on May 9, 2008, was particularly damning. (For more information, see my video blog, “Tire aging: 20/20 hindsight,” on www.moderntiredealer.com.)

A recent report by KJCT News 8, an ABC affiliate out of Grand Junction, Colo.,  passed along as gospel the incredible statement that a “tire’s rubber is made to last six years.... You should never put on a tire older than four years.”

Bridgestone Corp. was the first tire manufacturer to openly recommend replacing a tire after 10 years. Other tire manufacturers have followed suit, although the Rubber Manufacturers Association is adamant that the service life of a tire “is not determined by chronological age.”

Discount Tire Co. Inc., the largest independent tire dealer in North America, also limits a tire’s useful life to 10 years. Kane thinks 10 years is too long, and many vehicle manufacturers, including Ford Motor Co., agree.

“Are all tires going to fail at six years? Of course not,” he says. “But at some point, you draw a line at risk.” He compares the issue to determining illegal blood alcohol limits. Some people are better at holding their liquor than others, but all of them have to be judged on a standard society thinks is fair.

In the short-term, Kane says he wants a non-coded date of manufacture on every passenger and light truck tire, “a fantastic step in the right direction.” In the long-term, he believes RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology will help retail tire dealers stay on top of the issue.

Somewhere in the middle, he wants tire dealers to disclose tire age to the consumer. He is sponsoring the California bill.

“I’m much more of a market-driven guy than a government solutions guy,” he told me.

I believe him. He says his company works with organizations and entities “interested in improved vehicle and product safety.”  I just wish our industry would work with him, and keep the government out of it. There’s still time — even in California.    ■

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