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How close is tire registration to becoming mandatory? Closer than you think

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Whenever I hear that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued a “Notice of proposed rulemaking” that potentially affects the tire industry, I get a little nervous. On Jan. 24, I prepared for the worst.

“Tire Registration and Recordkeeping” was the topic of the proposal, which appeared in the “Federal Register,” Vol. 73, No. 16. Tire registration has been a voluntary part of doing retail business since 1982.

When vehicle owners replace their tires with new tires, you, as independent tire dealers, are supposed to give them a registration form. The rest is up to them.

More than 25 years later, was the government going to change that, and mandate that tire dealers forward the names and addresses of their tire-buying customers, along with select tire information, to the manufacturer?

Thankfully, no. The new proposal wants to give new-tire buyers the additional option of registering electronically. If the proposal becomes a final rule — and there’s every reason to believe that it will — tire registration will remain voluntary. Whew!

This may not seem like a big deal, but it certainly could have been. And after reading the 15-page proposal, I don’t see why NHTSA isn’t making registration mandatory.

New tire registration became an issue in 1970, when the government required manufacturers to maintain records of the names and addresses of “the first purchaser of tires produced by that manufacturer.” The reasoning was simple: tire manufacturers needed to know who to contact in case of a tire recall. Safety was, and remains, the ultimate goal of tire registration.

The first “final” rule, which mandated that all tire dealers send the information to the manufacturer, lasted for more than 10 years.

In 1982, NHTSA re-evaluated the rule. The subsequent amendment changed the responsibility of independent tire dealers, who, to this day, are no longer required to send the information to the manufacturer. They simply have to “provide purchasers with standardized registration forms they can complete and mail to the manufacturer or its designee.” The tire identification number also must be provided.

Under Congressional order, NHTSA was required to conduct periodic evaluations to see how successful the rule was in meeting its objectives. Follow-up reports in 1985 and 1987 indicated that voluntary tire registration was, to put it bluntly, not working the way the government wanted.

Agency-published statistics showed that registration rates for independent tire dealers declined by half, from 18.1% under mandatory registration to 9.3%. And there were no records of any tire registrations for more than 70% of the independent tire dealers.NHTSA also concluded that independent tire dealers were breaking the law by not routinely giving out the forms to tire purchasers.

In contrast, tire company-owned dealerships, which always have been required to register the tires, had a registration rate of 86% during the same period.

At that time, NHTSA clearly wanted more independent tire dealers to register tires for their customers. But the agency did nothing despite its findings.

Fast forward to 2003. In a pro-active letter to NHTSA, the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) asked if electronic registration might be allowed. According to the RMA “no more than 10% of tire registration cards were being returned to the manufacturers,” and that the information returned “was often incomplete or the writing illegible.”

The RMA believes offering tire registration by electronic means such as the Internet or telephone will improve the registration rate and help tire manufacturers fulfill their notification obligations. NHTSA agrees.

I like voluntary registration because it puts the responsibility in the hands of the consumer, where it belongs. The government tends to favor the opposite when it comes to motor vehicle safety, however, instead putting the burden on everyone but the consumer.

Not in this case. And to keep it that way, I suggest that when the proposed rule becomes final, try to register your customers more often. Consider it a value-added service and promote it accordingly.

At the very least, remember to provide your customers with registration forms, and explain to them what they need to do.

When NHTSA next evaluates tire registration, my guess is that the numbers had better be better.    ■

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