I like Ford and DaimlerChrysler's stance on tire aging. I like it a lot.
These auto makers now are recommending, via Web sites and owner manuals, that their customers replace their vehicle's tires after six years of normal use. Ford sums it up nicely: "Tires degrade over time, even when they are not being used."
Cool. Anything to sell more tires. "Sorry, Ma'am. Maybe you never drove anywhere but to church on Sunday, but these here tires are six years old. Gotta go."
Ford and DaimlerChrysler are basing their decisions on, uhànothing, as far as I can see.
A Ford official said the company's action is the result of its own researchùI look forward to seeing those unreleased studiesùbut the auto maker really doesn't believe tires collapse after six years. It all depends on how the tires are used, Ford said, and heck, that six-year deadline is conservative.
DaimlerChrysler obfuscated that what it really meant when it inserted that paragraph in its owner manuals is that vehicle owners should check their tires regularly. Because maybe they didn't realize this. Oh, and sure, there are aging studies going on, you know, and who knows what they might find.
Sounds good to me.
What I didn't hear the auto makers say, and I wouldn't expect them to, is this: "Well, if we can get people to believe tires degrade over time, whenever we get sued over a rollover accident, we can just blame the tires. Not our fault."
Certain lawyers trying to cash in on class-action suits against tire manufacturers would just love it if tires were painted with the aging brush. They certainly agree with the degradation theory, which hasn't gotten any traction in court as of yet.
The tire industry isn't too sweet on this tire-aging posture, however.
Tire makers and their trade groups seem to think it would be better not to condemn six-year-old tires until the completion of studies being conducted on the subject by the National Academy of Sciences, the California Energy Commission, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and some tire companies.
Wait? Silly tire industry.
A cheerful friend of mine, knowledgeable about the issue, told me this: "Existence on this earth is just a process of degradation. Why should tires be any different?"
I guess it's just the "when" everyone is concerned about. And who gets stuck with the bill.
Noga is the editor of Rubber & Plastics News