Articles Posted in Tire Safety

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Florida drivers need to be aware that the spare tire may be a hidden time bomb. Heat is a factor that makes tire failures more prevalent in Florida. When old tires heat up, the likelihood of a catastrophic tire failure increases.

There have been repeated cases throughout the country and in Florida, involving failures of tires which look brand new but are chronologically so old that the rubber properties have deteriorated so that the tires fail shortly after being placed into service.

Some of these tires have even been tires that have been the subject of previous recalls. How does this set-up for tragedy occur? In many cases, the tire in question was originally a spare tire while the tires in service were repeatedly changed out. Over a period of many years the spare tire inconspicuously remained unused in the spare wheel position. Ultimately, the spare is placed into service with deep unused tread and the appearance of newness. In fact, the qualities of the tire rubber may have deteriorated to such an extent that the component parts of the tire do not remain unified and the tire experiences a tread separation resulting in a rollover.

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When one rents a car, there is a certain level of consumer expectation that the vehicle will be delivered in good mechanical repair, and with safe tires which are relatively new. Florida roadways are packed with leased vehicles from numerous rental car companies with very recognizable names. While rental car vehicles are typically washed and vacuumed, and delivered with the fresh scent of “newness”, they are not always delivered in a fashion that is consistent with consumer expectations.

We have handled more than one case against local rental car companies in connection with accidents which we alleged were caused by low tire tread resulting in a hydroplaning event. Imagine the surprise and dismay experienced by those who were injured, or their family members, when it was learned that the tire tread on the rental vehicles had been worn down below the level recommended in the safety manuals generated by the very rental car companies that had leased the vehicles.

Tire maintenance issues, including tire tread depth, penetrating objects in tires, improperly repaired holes, or low air pressure are safety issues that are supposed to be dealt with by the car rental company through a process of inspections and preventative maintenance services. Because of our experience, at Jay Halpern and Associates, in handling tire defect cases and other product liability cases, we have been referred to handle tire maintenance cases involving Budget Rent-A-Car, Hertz, and Enterprise Leasing Company. It is surprising to find that the recommended vehicle maintenance schedules, and the car rental companies’ own preventative maintenance schedules are not always followed as prescribed. We believe that these breakdowns represent a violation of consumer expectations when it comes to vehicle maintenance and tire safety.

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Old tires have been responsible for a trail of misery and grief on Florida roads. Because old tires fail and the date of manufacture is virtually impossible to find and de-code by a lay person, a proposal was submitted to the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee (SB 1482) that would have required consumers to receive an explicit written disclosure revealing the date of manufacture of any tire sold in Florida.

According to the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau (March 29, 2011), the bill was submitted by Senator Greg Evers, a Republican from Crestview, who disclosed that he had been involved in two accidents requiring numerous surgeries and loss of sight in one eye when automobile tires failed because they were too old.

The bill, which would have ensured that consumers obtain clear information about the birth date of a tire, was rejected by the committee. Senator Evelyn Lynn, a republican from Crestview explained that the bill was rejected because the Florida Legislature is trying to impose deregulation, and this bill imposes more regulation.

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Tread separations are a type of tire failure that occurs in warm weather climates like Florida. Tread separations are a specific type of tire failure where the tread peels away from the carcass of the tire.

It is quite common for vehicles to veer out of control and rollover when tread separations occur, and this is especially true when the tread separation occurs on a rear wheel position on an SUV.

One tactic used by tire manufacturers to deflect attention away from manufacturing and design defects is to blame the driver for causing the rollover. While it is true that driver input contributes to the vehicle’s response, it can hardly be considered the cause of the rollover.

When a tread separation occurs the vehicle dynamics change dramatically. The vehicle will begin to pull to the side where the tire failure has occurred. In order to keep the vehicle straight, avoid other vehicles and/ or veering off the road, it is necessary to steer in the opposite direction of the side of the vehicle where the tread separation is located and where the pull is occurring. Unfortunately, once the tread is gone the vehicle will over-react (over-steer) to any steering input and cause the vehicle to rotate out of control. This was seen repeatedly in the hundreds of Ford/Firestone tread separation cases.

Obviously, the drivers would not have veered off the roadway and rolled over without the tire failure. Nevertheless, tire manufacturers point to track tests that show professional drivers who are able to control vehicles that undergo a tread separation. These events are pre-arranged and the drivers know they are going to occur.

The National Traffic Highway Safety Administration set out to study driver response to tread separations and made the following conclusions:

“When drivers had prior knowledge of the imminent tread separation, they were significantly less likely to sustain loss of vehicle control following the tread separation. This implies that: Findings from test track studies in which test drivers were aware of an imminent tread separation may underestimate the extent to which tread separation occurring in the real world leads to instability and loss of vehicle control.”

These studies were conducted in the National Advanced Driving Simulator (NADS, see image below) which is similar to the simulator that teaches pilots to fly. This type of study allows for data without exposing participants to injury or death from dangerous track testing involving tread separations.

Tread separations are dangerous events because the vehicle suddenly and unexpectedly becomes unstable and reacts differently from the way it was responding just moments before. We believe that blaming the driver under these circumstances is a deflection away from the real culprit – manufacturing and design defects in the tire.

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An issue that has lead to confusion within the tire industry and the general public is the placement of new tires when less than a complete set of four new tires are purchased. The placement of tires is an essential safety element in South Florida because of heat and wetness.

In general, while tires are in service they wear down and have less tread. As the tread depth diminishes the tire’s ability to provide proper traction also decreases. Therefore a new and unused tire should have the deepest possible tread, and the best the traction.

The Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) recommends when buying two tires in the same size and construction, the newer tires should be installed on the rear. By placing the newer tires on the rear, your car will have better grip on the road and prevent fishtailing or hydroplaning. This recommendation has been adopted by many tire manufacturers, including Cooper, Michelin, and Goodyear/ Dunlop.

In addition, local, regional and national tire dealerships, such as Tires Plus , Wal-Mart , and Tire Rack , have all adopted the RMA’s Guidelines.

Yet it is not uncommon to find many cars on South Florida roads with two new, recently purchased tires in the front wheel positions, and older, worn out tires on the rear. These vehicles are exposed to potential hydroplaning and oversteer conditions which could result in serious injury and death.

 

 
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759846_old_and_worn_out_tires.jpgRecently, a popular issue of debate has been: at what point should tires be taken out of service due to lack of remaining tread depth? This topic is of particular importance in areas such as Miami, Florida, where there are heavy rains and wet roads, which may lead to hydroplaning – phenomenon where tires lose traction and vehicles lose control.

The federal minimum standard allows for tires to be worn down to 2/32nds of an inch as set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Remember this is a minimum standard.

However, this standard has been disputed as a tire replacement guideline because it represents insufficient tread depth for a tire to remain safely in service. This is especially relevant in wet weather areas like South Florida, due to the increased likelihood of hydroplaning as tread depth diminishes. Many of the industry leaders, such as Continental Tires, Consumer Reports and Tire Rack are now recommending changing tires when the tread depth reaches 4/32nds of an inch as opposed to 2/32nds. They argue that more tread provides better traction and shorter stopping distances on wet roads, thus making the vehicle less likely to hydroplane and safer.