A plug for the tire plug?

Oct. 18, 2012

Many years ago, shortly after I joined Modern Tire Dealer, I had to get one of my tires repaired. It had a nail hole in the tread, so the dealer gave me a choice of repairs.

I chose the one-piece plug repair (by that I mean no accompanying patch) for $9, only because I didn’t know any better.

The industry wasn’t recommending plug repairs without a patch at the time, but they were still available to tire dealers. I also decided to have it repaired with the tire still on the rim.

Fortunately, I never had a problem with the tire.

Now, before your brain spontaneously vulcanizes, I’m not saying it’s safe to go against industry standards. I, too, promote proper two-piece, off-the-wheel repairs. I’m just passing along my one experience with the issue as background for what is to follow.

That brings me to the recent announcement that the Tire Industry Association (TIA) and Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) are working on a “model” tire repair bill. I’m against it.

I may be colored by my positive experience, but I doubt it. I think legally banning tire repair on the state or national level is unnecessary.

At least one state already has tried. Earlier this year, the New York State Legislature appeared close to passing the Proper Tire Repair Act. Essentially, Senate bill S 7082 died when it was not voted upon before the New York State Legislature ended its 2012 session.

The bill would have imposed a $500 penalty on any repair shop that attempted to repair tires without 1) removing the tire from the rim, 2) inspecting it for damage and 3) “ensuring that a repair conforms to repair procedures supported by tire makers.”

The RMA supported the legislation. TIA did not; it felt that for the bill to be effective, it needed to be more “proactive than reactive,” according to Executive Vice President Roy Littlefield.

Now for the reasons why I’m against similar legislation.

1. How in the world would you enforce it? I don’t see how it could be managed effectively, short of setting up another agency or department that would need to not only supervise repairs (with spot checks, perhaps?) but also determine if a repair was improper.

Doing so would be both costly and unwieldy. My guess is the extra bookkeeping alone would cost more than the fine itself. Tire repairs might be priced out of existence, like passenger retreading. Regardless, with no enforcement, there is no gain.

2. I don’t necessarily see one-piece plug repairs as the problem. They work, at least in the short term.

Tire repair material manufacturers still sell one-piece plug repairs, but only — and they all told me this — as “temporary” repairs. That’s what it says on their boxes or packages. They also support industry standards of what constitutes a proper repair.

TIA wants to make these repairs illegal for over-the-road vehicles. In an emergency, however, they still have a purpose. They are temporary; if the end-user or tire dealer treats them as permanent, then they are responsible for the outcome.

3. If we start legislating every improper use of a product, then our cost of living would skyrocket. Reality television might also disappear (although that might not be a bad thing).

Even TIA admits tire dealers who improperly repair tires are in the minority. That is thanks, to a great degree, to the association’s ATS (Automotive Tire Service) training program. Modern Tire Dealer is one of the sponsors of the ATS Training Tour.

“By making improper repairs illegal, the thousands of tire retailers who follow industry recommended practices will... refuse to install illegal repairs and advise their customers to be cautious when dealing with automotive service providers who are willing to illegally repair tires and endanger themselves and other motorists,” says Kevin Rohlwing, TIA’s senior vice president of training.

Perhaps this trend to legislate is the result of  the verdict in last year’s wrongful death suit against Mossy Ford.

The San Diego, Calif.-based car dealership and the technicians who worked on the repair paid $22.7 million to three children whose parents were killed because a year-old “faulty” tire repair failed. The plaintiffs’ attorney claimed that the repair should not have been made, and that the tire should have been taken out of commission.

A failed tire repair is never good. When it leads to a fatality — if, indeed, it did in the Mossy Ford case — that’s one too many. But legislating proper tire repair or illegal tire repair is not the answer. Continued training is.    ■

If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail me at [email protected].

About the Author

Bob Ulrich

Bob Ulrich was named Modern Tire Dealer editor in August 2000 and retired in January 2020. He joined the magazine in 1985 as assistant editor, and had been responsible for gathering statistical information for MTD's "Facts Issue" since 1993. He won numerous awards for editorial and feature writing, including five gold medals from the International Automotive Media Association. Bob earned a B.A. in English literature from Ohio Northern University and has a law degree from the University of Akron.