New Rules Mean Safer, More Fuel-Efficient Tires

January 28, 2008

Think of them as the automotive equivalent of Rodney Dangerfield. Tires just don’t get no respect. But they certainly deserve it. For all the improvements in automotive safety, performance and mileage, over the last few decades, few technical developments have made more of an impact than what’s been done to those four rubber doughnuts. And new tire rules should yield even more improvements to safety and mileage.

Following the fiasco which led to an estimated 280 deaths linked to the failure of Firestone tires on Ford Explorer SUVs, lawmakers ordered the use of tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) to alert motorists when one of their tires might be lowing air. Last week, an industry lawsuit challenging that rule was tossed out.

The good news is that some of the newer monitoring systems have overcome problems with earlier TPMS technology, which often flashed false alerts, and even when working right didn’t advise drivers which tire was running low.

Rulemakers are going several steps further. Last week, they approved a national registry, which will allow motorists to register tire purchases. If there’s a recall, like Firestone faced, notification would go out far more quickly.

Separately, Congress had its eyes on tire technology when it passed the updated, 35 mpg fuel economy law. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been ordered to come up with a new mileage rating system for tires – similar to a system already in place that rates tires according to their maximum speed. You’ll be able to check those ratings whenever you go to buy new tires.

The NHTSA also has been ordered to come up with a national educational campaign to alert drivers to the need to keep tires properly inflated. Improper inflation was one possible reason for the Firestone/Ford tire disaster. Under-inflation, in particular, can reduce fuel economy and lead to premature tire wear and even catastrophic failure.

Tire rules to improve safety. Detroit News (1/28/08)

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