Tire labeling is a done deal

July 29, 2011

Did you know that our government has been working on a consumer tire rolling resistance label for almost 20 years?! In 1993, the White House Conference on Global Climate Change discussed tire labeling and asked the Department of Transportation to do something about it.

One year later, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) officially revisited the Uniform Tire Quality Grading (UTQG) System. It asked for comments on, in NHTSA’s own words, “replacing the temperature resistance grade with a rolling resistance grade.”

The industry has been fighting the proposal ever since, although without much success. After all this time, I think everyone opposed should just accept the inevitable and address more pressing matters.

How can you argue with a government agency armed with all sorts of data, charts and graphs essentially proving its point? You can’t. When NHTSA concluded it was doable, and passed its “final” rule saying as much in 2010, the fight ended.

All that’s left is to hammer out the details of the program, I guess so it can one day become, well, final. It should be good enough that the automotive aftermarket, including the Tire Industry Association (TIA), made sure NHTSA prevented a low-rolling resistance label from becoming a minimum low-rolling resistance requirement.

(Don’t laugh. At one time, California drafted legislation to that effect.)

This snail’s pace has been maddening to many. It took less than a year for Congress to develop and pass the last major piece of legislation affecting our industry, the infamous TREAD (Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation) Act, back in 2001. The government evidently moves either too fast or too slow.

Roy Littlefield, executive vice president of TIA, is one of the “maddening” crowd. He says there are industry proponents on both sides of the issue (TIA is officially neutral). For example, one side believes emphasizing lower rolling resistance comes at a price. “They say you are sacrificing safety for an environmental issue,” he says.

There is some truth to this argument, although NHTSA certainly addressed the issue when it examined the relationship between tire rolling resistance and safety, durability and fuel economy back in 2008.

The sooner the rulemaking process is completed, the better, according to Littlefield. Tire manufacturers can get started adjusting to new tire testing and labeling requirements. And consumers will have one more way to compare tires. I think that’s a good thing.

Besides, how many of your tire-buying customers actually compare UTQG ratings?

TIA should be more concerned with becoming the administrator of the consumer tire education component of the rule. That could bring in millions of dollars to the association, and is a realistic goal.

There are other matters that need attending to as well. Eventually, tire aging is going to be addressed in legislative form. New York has two bills prohibiting the distribution and sale of tires six years or older. If we could make it 10 years, and agree to prominently display the date of manufacture on the tire in some way, I would consider it a small victory.

The Federal Excise Tax (FET) on new truck tires is set to expire Oct. 1. Littlefield and the trucking industry say it should be renewed, and I agree. It has been around in some form since the 1930s, and trucking companies have learned to adapt to it.

The tax also encourages the use of retreaded tires. The average cost of a new truck tire last year was $335.52. That was 60% more than a comparable retread, which cost an average of $209.79. If a weight-distance tax is included in the Federal Highway Bill, however, the FET will be eliminated.

Maybe the time has come to tackle tort reform. “Right now, I think the Republican House of Representatives would look at tort reform,” he says.

It would be nice to get ahead of the curve for once. With the tire labeling debate, it always seemed like our industry was trying to play catch-up. And we need to work together: TIA, the Specialty Equipment Market Association and the Rubber Manufacturers Association. “This industry has got to speak in a common voice,” adds Littlefield.

If you have 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.