Warning issued on faulty tire valve stems following rollover death

Consumer Reports News: June 17, 2008 02:41 PM

The death of a Florida man in a rollover accident coupled with the recall of faulty tire valve stems made in China has prompted at least one safety expert to caution consumers to check vehicle wheels to make sure they don't contain the rubber replacement tire valve stems. The valves may crack prematurely and lead to serious crashes, says Sean Kane, president of Safety Research and Strategies in Rehoboth, Mass.

One U.S. distributor, Tech International, recently issued a recall of 6 million of the Chinese-made valve stems, which have been tentatively linked to the fatal rollover crash of an SUV in Orlando last year. The valve stems were made for Dill Air Control Products of Oxford, N.C. by Shanghai Baolong Industries Co. in China. 

On November 11, Robert Monk of Orlando, Fla. died when the right rear tire of his 1998 Ford Explorer failed, triggering a rollover crash. The failure of the tire, which was installed in the fall of 2006, has been linked to a cracked Dill TR-413 valve stem manufactured by a subsidiary of Shanghai Baolong Industries for Dill Air Control Products. In March, the Monk family filed suit against Dill Air Control Products, alleging that the defective tire valve stem caused the crash.

On May 15, the National Highway Traffic Safety administration opened an investigation of the valve stems.

Dill has told NHTSA that as many as 30 million of the suspected valve stems have been distributed in the North American market. The suspect valve stems identified by Dill include its TR-413, TR-413 chrome, TR-414 and TR-418 models, which were manufactured between August 2006 and November 2006. (The valve stem is a rubber tube with a metal valve used to inflate the tire with air.)

Cracks in valve stems can cause tires to lose air quickly, and such air loss at highway speeds can result in tire failure and a loss-of-control crash.

Most consumers will have a have a hard time figuring out with any certainty if they have any of the defective valve stems on their tires, however. That's because once a valve stems is installed, the only way to check to see if it is one of the suspected models is to dismount the tire from the wheel and inspect if from the inside.

"Once they are out of the box and on a vehicle there is no tracking for these products so you can’t notify owners," says Kane. He advises any motorist who has had a tire replaced since July 2006 to immediately have their valves inspected for signs of cracking.

"Radial tires do not show signs of under inflation by a visual inspection until they are significantly under inflated, at which point the tire may have sustained irreparable damage," says Kane. "Motorists may not realize that they are driving on tires that are under inflated and overloaded."

Eugene Petersen, program leader for tire testing at Consumer Reports, says the difficulty in identifying the faulty valve stems represents a real problem for consumers.

"I can't imagine tire shops or service centers would have kept any records on any valve stems they may have installed on a vehicle," says Petersen. "That apparently means the tire will have to be removed from the wheel to identify the manufacturer of the valve stem. That brings you to the question of who will pay for all this."

At a minimum Petersen says motorists should conduct a visual inspection of their valve stems to check for cracks. To do this, he say, remove the hubcap (if there is one) and move the top of the stem around, checking for any sign of cracks in the base of the stem where it meets the wheel.

Petersen says newer vehicles with direct tire pressure monitoring systems require special valve stems, unlike the generic-type valve stems that are involved in this recall.

Both Petersen and Kane say consumers who have had their tires replaced since the summer of 2006 should have the valve stems checked for any signs of cracking. Ideally, they say, consumers should have the tire removed from the wheel and checked by a professional to make sure the valve is not one of the defective models.

Photos of the defective valve stems can be found on the Web site of the Newsome Law Firm, which is representing the family in the lawsuit.

Motorists should report valve stem failures on the Web site of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or by calling NHTSA at 888-327-4236.

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