WASHINGTON (June 26) — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has ordered a recall of an estimated 450,000 Chinese-made light truck tires that allegedly have been implicated in at least two road accidents in the past year, one of which resulted in fatalities.
NHTSA ordered the recall of tires bearing the names Westlake, Telluride, Compass and YKS after receiving information from Foreign Tire Sales Inc., the Union, N.J-based tire importer and wholesale distributor, of unusually high adjustment rates in 2005 and their suspected involvement in a Pennsylvania road accident that caused two deaths and a crippling brain injury.
The tires were manufactured by Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co. Ltd. of Hangzhou, China, starting in 2001 and originally sold exclusively by FTS in the U.S. Later Hangzhou Zhongce rescinded its exclusive deal with FTS and sold the tires through other distributors as well, according to an FTS filing with NHTSA. FTS said it stopped buying tires from Hangzhou Zhongce in June 2006.
FTS said the tires may lack belt edge or gum strips between the belts, which could cause them to wear out prematurely or fail. In statements to NHTSA, FTS accuses Hangzhou Zhongce of altering the tires´ design at some point after the parties entered into their manufacturing agreement. Hangzhou Zhongce could not be reached for comment.
Sizes involved include LT235/75R15, LT225/75R16, LT235/85R16, LT245/75R16, LT265/75R16 and LT31x10.5-15.
Foreign Tire Sales alerted NHTSA earlier this month to problems with the tires, but also said there are several other companies importing or selling the tires, including Tireco Inc. of Compton, Calif.; Strategic Import Supply of Wayzata, Minn.; Omni United USA Inc. in Jacksonville, Fla.; Orteck International of Gaithersburg, Md.; K&D Tire Wholesalers L.L.C. of Carlsbad, Calif.; and Robinson Tire in Laurel, Miss.
Foreign Tire Sales told NHTSA it alone cannot shoulder the financial burden of a recall and forcing it to do so would push the company into bankruptcy.
Complicating a recall is the fact that FTS does not know the manufacturing date range of the suspected tires nor how many tires of similar construction may have been imported by other companies.
In addition, FTS said it has received "very few" product registration cards from purchasers of the tires.
FTS has been sued in the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia by the families of those involved in the Pennsylvania accident. In turn, the company has sued Hangzhou Zhongce in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.
Safety Research & Strategies Inc., a Rehoboth, Mass.-based safety research group with close ties to plaintiffs´ attorneys, has asked NHTSA to issue a consumer advisory on the matter.
"This situation shows a crack in the system," said SRS President Sean Kane. "When a foreign tire maker imports tires into this country, there is no mechanism requiring them to fund a recall should one become necessary."