Auto and truck tires can't escape the problems



Chinese tires recalled:
Defective truck tires could come apart and cause a crash, according to safety regulators. 450,000 tires involved.

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, staff writer
June 26 2007: 3:39 PM EDT

NEW YORK ( -- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has ordered a recall of 450,000 light truck tires that could have an increased risk of tread separation.

No recall is actually taking place yet, however, because the company that imported the tires claims, in documents filed with NHTSA, that it simply can't afford the expense. The company has appealed to NHTSA for help.

The tires, made by China-based Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co., have an insufficient or missing gum strip, a rubber feature that helps prevent steel belts inside the tire from separating or from damaging the rubber.

"If you have gum strip missing, eventually the bond between the steel belts and rubber components will weaken and break," said John Rastetter, director of tire information for, an on-line tire retailer. does not sell any of the tires involved in the recall.

Without the gum strip steel bands could also cut into the rubber tire, causing damage, Rastetter said.

The tires involved in the recall are intended for use on larger light trucks such as heavy-duty pick-ups, large vans and ambulances. They are sold in the United States under the brand names Westlake, Telluride, Compass and YKS.

The tires were initially imported by Foreign Tire Sales (FTS) of Union, NJ under an exclusive contract. Later, however, the Chinese manufacturer began selling the tires to several other U.S. importers, according to documents submitted to NHTSA by FTS.

Calls to FTS were referred to the company's attorney, who has not responded.

Hangzhou Zhongce told the Wall Street Journal that, in its own testing, it has not found the alleged defects.

FTS contracted with Hangzhou Zhongce to make the tires beginning in 2000 or 2001. Initially, the tires included the 0.6 mm gum strip, as required by the tire's design. According to documents filed with NHTSA,

FTS began to suspect problems with the tires as early as 2005 as warranty claims began to rise.

A 2006 ambulance crash prompted FTS to hire an outside lab to test several sample tires, according to documents. Those tests revealed that tires were being manufactured without the gum strip or with a gum strip that was too narrow.

Other tests, performed in March, 2007, showed that the tire treads began coming apart at about 25,000 miles, according to documents.

In August, 2006, two men riding in a Chevrolet van died when the van rolled over after the tire tread separated, according to an announcement released by an attorney representing the men's families and Safety Research and Strategies, an auto safety research group. Another man in the van suffered permanent brain injury. The van was riding on a Compass Telluride tires made by Hangzhou Zhongce in 2004, according to the announcement.

FTS says it does not know how many tires, in total, were imported into the United States through other importers.

NHTSA is also contacting other companies that have imported these tires to alert them to the problem.

In 2000 and 2001, Firestone had to recall almost 20 million tires because of a manufacturing defect that resulted in the tread separating the from the tire. It occurred when the tire was used while under-inflated after the vehicle had been driven at high speeds on a hot road surface. That defect was blamed for more than 100 deaths.

In the case of the Hangzhou Zhongce tires, the vehicle would not have to be driven at high speeds or on a hot road surface in order for problems to occur, said Rastetter. Simply driving on the tires could eventually cause the tire to fail. Heat and underinflation could also aggregate the problems with these tires, he added.

Hangzhou Zhongce also manufactured medium duty truck tires and passenger car tires for Cooper Tire and Rubber Co. over several years ending last year. The Chinese company made only a very small percentage of the approximately 40 million tires Cooper sells annually in the U.S., said Pat Brown, a spokeswoman for Cooper. Those tires were made according to designs supplied by Cooper, she said, and the company regularly checked the tires being imported for compliance.

Those tires do not resemble the ones being recalled and were made according to designs supplied by Cooper, said Brown.

Neither Bridgestone, which also makes Firestone and Dayton tires, nor Michelin, which also makes BF Goodrich tires, has ever worked with Hangzhou Zhongce, according to officials for those companies.

The tires involved in the recall are the following sizes:

* LT235/75R-15
* LT235/75R-16
* LT235/85R-16
* LT245/75R-16
* LT265/75R-16
* LT3X10.5-15