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Got a leaky tire? Check your valve stem

Consumer Reports News: September 16, 2009 03:25 PM

It's been over a year since we warned about millions of faulty Chinese-made tire valve stems, yet every week we get comments from readers about flat tires and blowouts caused by defective stems.

"Two tires that I purchased two years ago blew up on the expressway within a few hours of each other," wrote Rick. "Just yesterday I came outside and a third tire was flat. On this one the valve stem was obviously leaking."

"I had a tire fail from a defective valve stem on the capitol beltway near Washington, D.C. at night in a construction zone during a thunderstorm. I'm lucky to be alive," wrote Mark. "I drove for almost a week before I realized I probably had three other defective valve stems."

Mark is a lot like other drivers who may not realize that they have defective valve stems. In fact, not everyone is aware that a valve stem is sold separately from the tire or wheel. And because the identifying characteristics of the valve stem are on the part that does not show (see illustration) they are very difficult to identify.

The faulty stems were made by a Chinese company in Shanghai for Dill Air Control Products of North Carolina. Dill and one of its distributors, Tech International, have recalled approximately 8 million faulty valve stems.  It's believed that many more have been sold and that some were used as original equipment on 2007 Fords. In an agreement reached with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which investigated the defective valve stems, Ford sent letters to affected owners and offered to do free inspections for premature cracking. Cracks in the stems can cause tires to lose air, and such air loss and low tire pressure can result in tire failure and a loss-of-control crash at highway speeds.

According to one recent news report in the Stamford Advocate, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is considering an investigation into potentially millions of defective valve stems.
 
Eugene Petersen, program leader for tire testing at Consumer Reports recommends that motorists conduct a visual inspection of their valve stems to check for cracks. To do this, remove the hubcap (if there is one) move the top of the stem around, and use a flashlight to check for any sign of cracks at the base of the stem where it meets the wheel. It's also important to keep a close eye on tire pressure by checking it monthly. If one or more tires have to be topped off, it may be a sign of a leak, possibly from a valve stem. If this happens, have your tires checked by a mechanic at once. 

Essential reading. To learn more about valve stems read our past posts:
   

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