Almost everyone agrees that tires deteriorate as they age and should be replaced after six years. As I’ve talked about here before, it’s a fact that old tires continue to fail and cause unnecessary deaths and injuries every year. During the last few years legislation has been filed in three states to warn consumers about this problem and save lives. In all three states — California, Maryland and Florida — the legislation has failed. Hard. Why?
First a little background. The bills that were filed in the three states were all similar. The bills required any retailer selling a tire to give consumers a written statement telling them the age of the tire, and a warning that manufacturers recommend that tires over six years old be replaced. Simple, right?
Same solution has been used for decades with other dangerous products. Think cigarettes. They’re dangerous but have a clear warning. You smoke? You know they cause cancer. Same goes for many dangerous consumer products: ATVs, U-Haul rented trailers; airbags and children; the list goes on.
So why isn’t there a similar warning for the known hazard with old tires? You’d think that with tires there would be an ever greater call for a warning because when a tire fails it doesn’t just affect the person who made the purchase decision. When a tire fails it often affects other motorists who happen to be near another car that has a tire failure; tire fails causing driver to lose control, driver then runs into car in the next lane. But proposed legislation requiring warnings for tires can’t seem to get off the ground.
The politics seem to break down like this. On one side, you have first the Tire Industry Association (Firestone, Cooper, etc…), the Retail Federation (Walmart, Cosco, etc…) , the auto dealers and the tire dealers. All of these players sell tires. And all of them have inventory. Which is the big issue.
If consumers are told about how tires become more dangerous as they get older, they will want to buy newer tires. And that’s a problem for the folks who have a tire inventory. What is Walmart supposed to do when they have tires sitting on the shelf for three or four years, and suddenly consumers only want fresh tires? Or want a discount for older tires? Will older tires have to be sold at a discount?
We live in Orlando where Merita Breads has a huge bread factory. Merita also has a factory shop next to the plant where it sells ‘day old’ bread at a deep discount. Why? Because people want fresh bread. If people knew that like bread, tires have a shelf life, they would want fresh tires. Which the TIA, Retail Federation, and dealers don’t want because it could cost a short term loss.
So, when legislation is filed to warn consumers about tire ageing, they hire lobbyists to kill the bills.
On the other side of this issue there are no natural political constituencies. It’s not a money issue for any special interest. As a result there is no lobby on the other side and proposed legislation dies quickly.
Meanwhile consumers buy tires that are far beyond the six year limit recommended by most automobile manufacturers. Every year those tires fail at a grossly disproportionate rate causing unnecessary deaths and injuries.