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TANA addresses NHTSA tire pressure monitoring system proposals

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The Tire Association of North America (TANA) has responded to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) request for feedback regarding tire pressure monitoring system installation on new vehicles as mandated by the TREAD (Transportation Recall Enhancement Accountability and Documentation) Act.

NHTSA proposes that "vehicle manufacturers can mandate what tire and wheel combinations can go on their vehicles," according to TANA Executive Vice President Ross Kogel.

Such legislation "would hinder the ability of independent tire dealers to sell products," he says.

TANA also believes "that every consumer should have the choice of what tire and wheel combinations go on their vehicles."

Becky MacDicken, TANA's director of government affairs, sent the following letter to NHTSA earlier this afternoon:

"To Whom It May Concern:

"On July 26, 2001, NHTSA published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMSs). NHTSA is proposing to establish a new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 138 as a result of a mandate in Section 13 of the TREAD Act (Public Law 106-414) that requires tire warning systems be installed in new motor vehicles to indicate when a tire is significantly under-inflated. TANA is submitting comments on the NPRM on behalf of our members.

"TANA is the tire industry's largest association representing approximately 3,500 independent tire dealers -- and the tire industry at large -- in North America. TANA members are primarily small businesses (averaging $3 million to $5 million in annual sales) that sell, service and install new, used and retreaded tires on all vehicles, from passenger cars to heavy equipment and trucks. The majority of TANA members are independent tire dealers, and that group -- independent tire dealers -- sold 59.5% of the passenger tires in the United States last year. In short, TANA members represent the market that sells almost two-thirds of the replacement passenger and light truck tires in the U.S. each year. Many of our members also perform automotive service and repair work.

"TANA members are dedicated to educating customers. Consumer education will play a large role in the upcoming TPMS standard and we will be happy to work with NHTSA and our members to disseminate information about tire safety and proper maintenance.

"TANA supports the intent of the TREAD Act and the need for a TPMS standard. The following are TANA's comments on the NPRM:

"1. System Calibration and Resetting. TANA would like to ensure that in the rulemaking process, NHTSA writes a rule that allows TPMS service and maintenance work regarding calibration and resetting of TPMSs to be available to all automotive businesses. TANA asks NHTSA to ensure that when a consumer chooses any wheel and rim combination that is suitable for his/her car, amy mechanic be able to recalibrate the TPMS to the new minimum air pressure. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and their wholly-owned or endorsed stores should not be the only businesses with the ability to service or reset these systems, restricting the ability of consumers, tire dealers, aftermarket specialists and others to service these TPMSs by requiring codes, special equipment, computer software, or other methods of restricting automotive service...

"...It is critically important to businesses in the replacement tire industry that vehicle manufacturers are not allowed to mandate specific tire and wheel combinations on any vehicle. This would effectively end the freedom of choice that today's consumer enjoys when choosing tire and wheel combinations. By determining which tire and wheel combinations can be used with a TPMS on a given vehicle, vehicle manufacturers will change the very operational fabric of the replacement tire market -- a $20.9 billion business in the U.S. alone in 2000. The vast majority of TANA members would be affected, and the average TANA member is a family-owned business averaging $3 million to $5 million in annual sales. In simple terms, a regulation that narrows consumers' choice of tire and wheel sizes would have a significant negative impact on small businesses across the United States.

"TANA recommends changing the language found in the NPRM Section H and S4.3 to read, '...thus, the agency is proposing to require that each TPMS be able to meet the requirements of the new standard when any of the vehicle's original tires or rims are replaced with any appropriate optional or replacement tire/rim size(s)," and omitting "recommended for the use on the vehicle by the vehicle manufacturer.'

"2. Definition of 'Significantly Under-Inflated' and Minimum Tire Pressures. NHTSA is proposing two alternative definitions of 'significantly under-inflated.' The first would define 'significantly under-inflated' as a tire pressure in one, two, three or four tires that is 20% or more below the vehicle manufacturer's recommended cold inflation pressure for the vehicle's tires, or a minimum level of pressure to be specified in the new standard, whichever is higher. The second would define 'significantly under-inflated' as a tire pressure in one, two or three tires that is 25% or more below the vehicle manufacturer's recommended cold inflation pressure for the vehicle's tires, or a minimum level of pressure to be specified in the new standard, whichever pressure is higher.

"TANA believes that each TPMS should be calibrated for a specific car model and the tire on that car. The debate between 20% and 25% vastly oversimplifies tire pressures and the way it affects performance and safety of a tire. TANA recommends changing from an across-the-board approach to tire pressure levels to an individual study of each vehicle's proper tire inflation levels...

"'...NHTSA believes that tire manufacturers' definition (of the term significantly under-inflated) is overly strict.' TANA doesn not believe that the tire manufacturers' definition is overly strict. Tire manufacturers know their products and how to utilize them for optimum, safe performance. Last fall, the Ford/Firestone issue thrust the tire industry into the spotlight. One of the main debates in trying to uncover what happened with the tragic loss of life in Explorer roll-overs was that Ford and Firestone didn't agree on the minimum psi for the Wilderness tires found on the vehicles. Firestone recommended 30 psi while Ford recommended 26. If public safety is the question NHSTA is addressing, TANA believes it is better to be safe than sorry and follow the recommended psi of the tire manufacturers. TANA supports the Rubber Manufacturers Association's definition of 'significantly under-inflated.'

"TANA does not advise setting minimum levels across the board. There is too wide a variety of tires, rims, vehicles and vehicle uses to set a minimum standard. Also allowing OEMs to set a standard takes away consumer choices as to how they want to utilize their vehicles. If OEMs mandate what tire and wheel combinations are allowable, it will eliminate consumer choices in the aftermarket.

"3. Regulatory Flexibility Act. In the document outlining the proposed regulations, NHTSA cites the Regulatory Flexibility Act as amended by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996, saying: 'NHTSA has considered the effects of this proposed rule under the Regulatory Fairness Act. I certify that this proposed rule would not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. The rationale for this certification is that currently there are only four small motor vehicle manufacturers in the U.S. that would have to comply with the proposed rule. These manufacturers would have to rely on suppliers to provide the TPMS hardware and then they would have to integrate the TPMS into their vehicles.'

"TANA formally requests that NHTSA consider tire and wheel dealers when applying this Act to proposed regulations. An OEM-mandated tire and wheel combination on a vehicle would have a significant negative impact on small businesses in the tire industry. In TANA's opinion, these new regulations -- and the effects these regulations would have on small businesses and tire dealers -- are not in concert with the intent and purpose of the TREAD Act. The Regulatory Flexibility Act analysis does not go far enough as TANA believes the TPMS regulation will affect more than the businesses NHTSA cites...

"4. Written Instructions...TANA recommends the owner's manual educate the driver about the importance of repeated warnings from a TPMS system. In addition to the requirements of NHTSA's NPRM, language could resemble: 'If your TPMS continues to activate the pressure warning tell-tale, take your car to an automotive service professional for assistance.'

"Also, TANA encourages additional material describing how heat and tire use affect inflation and pressure in a tire. For instance, after being driven for as few as two miles, a tire's air pressure can change substantially.

"TANA recommends another addition to instructions to include a statement similar to the following: 'Consumers should take their vehicles to automotive professionals to determine the appropriate tire air pressure for the conditions under which the vehicle may be driven.' For example, if an individual wants to under-inflate their tires for going off-road or for a heavy load, the consumer should have that choice and any mechanic should be able to recalibrate the TPMS accordingly.

"5. Direct vs. Indirect TPMS. TANA supports the use of direct TPMSs over indirect TPMSs for the numerous safety benefits that far outweigh the costs. Direct TPMSs can detect loss of air pressure if all four tires lose pressure; small pressure losses; under-inflated tires when a vehicle is stationary; and which tire is under-inflated. Direct systems are also less likely to give false indications of a significantly under-inflated tire.

"6. Temperature Compensation....TANA recommends that any TPMS system include a temperature compensation requirement as tires heat up quickly once on the road. Temperature plays an important role in tire safety and maintenance as evidenced by the fact that tire manufacturers recommend tire pressure be measured when the tire is cold.

"TANA also asks MHTSA to require that TPMSs measure the temperature of a tire and warn the vehicle's operator when a tire is becoming too hot. Tires will increase in temperature as they flatten because heat cannot disperse through normal channels. Many direct TPMSs can monitor temperature as well as air pressure and TANA suggests that this fact be included in the final regulation.

"7. Tire Sensor Warning. TANA recommends that if a direct TPMS standard is used, NHTSA require that the tires or wheels be coded to let automotive service professionals, such as tire dealers, know if a TPMS sensor is in place. This could be done through a sticker at the site of the sensor or by color-coding the valve stem. Identification of these TPMS sensors would alert employees who are about to mount or demount a tire and help avoid damaging the sensors. It would also be helpful if the sensors were consistent in their location on a tire, perhaps at or directly across from the valve stem.

"TANA supports the TREAD Act and efforts that improve safety in the automotive and tire industries. TANA's main concerns regarding TPMS regulations relate to fair competition. First, that all automotive service businesses -- whether they are a manufacturer or an independent business -- have a right to service TPMS systems. And secondly, allowing an OEM to choose tire and wheel combinations for a given vehilce will negatively affect many businesses in the automotive aftermarket. This would result in decreased competition in the marketplace to the detriment of the consumer and would regulate the industry in a manner inconsistent with the intent of the TREAD Act.

"In closing, NHTSA has the opportunity to implement TPMS systems for the benefit of public safety. At the same time, TANA recommends that care be taken to preserve competition by ensuring that all businesses have equal access to the ongoing service of these systems and automobiles themselves. Regulations should allow consumers the full freedom of choice of tire and wheel combinations for their vehicles."

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