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NHTSA issues final tire pressure monitoring system ruling

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued its final tire pressure monitoring system ruling months before it was expected. The Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) probably feels it should have taken more time.

The new federal regulation mandates tire pressure monitoring systems on all light vehicles. It requires that manufacturers install a system that can detect when one or more of the vehicle's tires are 25% or more below the recommended inflation pressure.

The RMA says a 25% drop in a tire's recommended pressure may leave the tire so under-inflated that it is unable to carry a fully loaded vehicle safely. (Driving on under-inflated tires causes excessive heat buildup in tires that, over time, can result in damage that can cause tire failure.)

Under NHTSA's standard, motorists could be driving for thousands of miles on tires that are appreciably under-inflated but still not receive a warning.

"We support tire pressure monitors that provide a timely low-pressure warning to motorists," says Don Shea, RMA CEO and president. "Unfortunately, this regulation may give motorists a false sense of security that their tires are properly inflated when they may be significantly under-inflated."

According to results from a 2003 RMA consumer survey, nearly two-thirds of motorists in the United States would be less likely to regularly check tire pressure with a TPMS-equipped vehicle. Other survey data shows that more than 85% of drivers do not properly check tire pressure.

"Tire pressure monitors are not a replacement for checking tire pressure every month with a tire gauge," says Shea. "Regular tire maintenance will become even more important now that the government has issued this tire pressure monitoring system regulation."

Phase-in of the new regulation will begin Sept. 1, 2005. All passenger cars must be equipment with tire pressure monitoring systems beginning with the 2006 model year. All new four-wheeled vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less must be equipped with the monitoring system by the 2008 model year.

NHTSA estimates that about 120 lives a year will be saved when all new vehicles are equipped with the tire pressure monitoring systems. In addition, consumers should see improved fuel economy and increased tire life. (NHTSA says the manufacturers' average cost per vehicle is estimated to be between $48.44 and $69.89, depending on the technology used.)

The tire pressure monitoring system was required by Congress when it enacted the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act in 2000.

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