WASHINGTON—After a 2 1/2-year wait, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has granted most of the revisions the tire industry sought to the final rule on light vehicle tire safety performance testing.
For the Rubber Manufacturers Association, the European Tyre and Rim Technical Organisation and the Japan Automobile Tyre Technical Association, the Jan. 6 final rule responding to their petitions means changes that will prevent chunking of snow tire treads during testing. Chunks coming out of a tread never occurs under real road conditions, the associations told the agency.
Also, the effective date of the testing requirements has been moved back three months, to Sept. 1 from June 1, 2007.
For Denman Tire Corp., the Leavittsburg, Ohio-based specialty tire manufacturer, the decision means its light truck radial tires with tread depths of 18/32 inches or greater will be tested under the less stringent requirements of the old testing standard for light truck tires, rather than the new rule.
This rulemaking represented a major victory for the tire industry—particularly for Denman, which argued the June 2003 testing rule changes would force the company to close. Its specialty radials couldn´t pass the new tests, and the company couldn´t survive making specialty bias tires alone, it said.
"We´re ecstatic," said Scott Tackett, Denman vice president of human resources and administration. "As we told anyone and everyone, our business hinged on getting that exemption."
Tackett thanked all the individuals and groups that supported Denman´s petition at NHTSA. These included the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Tire Industry Association, the United Steelworkers of America, the National Association of Manufacturers, and several members of Congress, including Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, and Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio.
In its Jan. 6 rule, NHTSA reduced the speed for the tire endurance and low-pressure tests for all PC and LT snow tires in Load Range C, D and E to 110 kilometers per hour from the previous 120. Slower speeds will prevent snow tire tread chunking during those tests, the agency determined.
The agency also specified an ambient temperature tolerance of 3 degrees Celsius during certain tests, because the associations argued it was impossible for testing laboratories to maintain a constant temperature during those tests.
The three-month postponement of the effective date is welcome for tire makers striving to meet the stringent new tests, according to an RMA spokesman. One of the most important technical changes, however, was that the agency no longer required tires to have exactly the same pressures at the end of a test as at the beginning.
"As originally written, the rule stated that if a tire´s pressure was off even a little at the end of a test, it failed," the spokesman said. "We showed them this was unrealistic, so they agreed instead that the pressure should be 95 percent of the original at the end of the test."
NHTSA also is removing all references to T-type temporary spare tires in the tire safety and performance rule. Temporary spares were never intended to be regulated under the new standard, the agency said.