Who’s Interested in ‘Doing The Right Thing?’

Nov. 1, 1994

Along time ago I worked for a newspaper managing editor who ended most staff meetings with a question: “What can we do for the good of the order?”

The question had nothing to do with covering the news or beating the competition or increasing the profits.

It was an invitation to discuss things that we could do to help ourselves or others or our community in personal, more than business, ways.

Somehow this man — in the midst of the hectic activity of a daily newspaper — made all of us pause to think of others.

I believe it helped make each of us a better person and, collectively, to give the newspaper a conscience and a deeper sense of responsibility to the community.

Sure this was something you couldn’t measure. But I still believe it made a difference in the way we all did our jobs.

Perhaps that was a different era and the man who made us pause and think was one of a dying breed.

All I know is that since then I have covered hundreds of meetings held by dozens of organizations — tire companies and tire trade groups included.

But I rarely recall hearing anyone ask what good thing can be done — not for publicity or votes and not for profit or a competitive edge — but because it will make the community or state or industry a better place in which to live or do business.

What the tire industry badly needs today is someone who will ask, “What can we do for the good of the order?”

Competition is intense — and that’s healthy.

But back-biting and recriminations are rampant and — in some instances we’ve heard about — juvenile.

Such contentiousness has all but paralyzed the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) where any one member can veto any proposal.

One reflection of this I’ll-get-mine attitude is the tire industry labor contract negotiations that had turned nasty at the time this was being written.

Both sides appear to have adopted a take-it-or-leave-it attitude.

There appears to have been heavy-handed tactics by some tiremakers. And there seems to have been political jockeying at the top level of the United Rubber Workers (URW).

For whatever reason, the URW has issued some vitriolic statements charging — among other things — that there has been a “conspiracy” among foreign-based tire manufacturers to screw their workers. The union calls it “War in ‘94.”

Considering the acrimony that exists in the tire industry, that charge is ludicrous on the face of it.

Tire manufacturers haven’t even been able to get together on issues you’d think they’d find to be of vital importance to their well-being.

We’ve commented previously about their inactivity on the “zipper” problem that causes truck and light truck tire side- walls to explode without warning and with the potential force of three-quarters of a pound of dynamite.

Some lawyers are getting rich suing tire manufacturers for the injuries that result.

And don’t forget tire dealers sometimes get sued, too!

Yet manufacturers appear to believe that if they ignore the problem or contend there’s nothing that can be done about it perhaps they’ll avoid acknowledging it might be their fault.

It will be interesting to see if a task force organized by the American Retreaders Association (ARA), now quietly meeting in Louisville, will come up with any answers that will reduce or eliminate zippers.

Ed Wagner, president of Tire Technical Services and a world-renowned expert on tire retreading and repairs, raised the zipper issue nearly a year-and-a-half ago in an article in Modem Tire Dealer.

He is currently defending tire manufacturers, retreaders and tire dealers as an expert witness in about two dozen lawsuits, and more keep popping up all the time.

From his hands-on view on the legal firing line, Wagner raises another issue on page 37 of this MTD.

Don’t miss it!

“Why,” he asks, “don’t tire manufacturers clearly identify load and speed limits on their truck tires’ sidewalls and clearly identify the age of truck tire casings?”

More and more truckers and trucking companies who misuse truck tires are taking tire manufacturers to court after serious mishaps and asking, “Why didn’t you tell us about the risk?” In legalise that’s known as “failure to warn.”

Some manufacturers decided years ago to mold speed ratings and load limits into the sidewall of truck tires using a series of codes instead of plain English.

To decipher them you must consult tables — hardly a likely exercise for a harried tire technician or repairman or truck driver.

So when these people go to court after an accident and ask, “Why didn’t you tell me?” the tire manufacturers may have a hard time convincing a judge or a jury that they adequately did.

The federal government also requires tiremakers to mold the month and date of the casing’s manufacture as a three- digit number into every truck tire.

But only the last digit of the year is included.

So when a lawsuit hinges on the age of the casing, there’s always the chance somebody will be surprised to find that — instead of being two years old — the casing may have been built 12 or even 22 years before!


Not so!

Wagner has seen it happen.

Adding one more digit would clear up the confusion.

So why, if they’re a problem, aren’t these things changed?

Isn’t there someone somewhere who can look at these issues and ask, “What can we do for the good of the order?”

Surely the tire manufacturers can put aside their differences long enough to do something that will benefit everyone concerned, including themselves.

Will it be the RMA, which has shown little sign of life in recent years?

Or will it be the government?

Nobody wants that!

But who can blame the bureaucrats if they decide to protect tire dealers and the public when the tire industry apparently isn’t interested in doing that itself?