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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How good are Chinese tires?

While this seems to be a reasonable question to those who do not believe it is possible for good quality products to be made in China, I could just as easily ask: How good are the tires made in Japan? or Brazil? or France? What about tires made in South Carolina? or Tennessee? or Nova Scotia? Etc.?

Some research indicated that Bridgestone, Michelin and Goodyear produce tires in more than 50 countries. Each of these companies has production in China. With more than 340 tire plants involved worldwide, just how reasonable is it to think that one country has cornered the market on poor quality?

Quality is a function of corporate philosophy not geography. Having worked as both a trainer and quality auditor in the tire industry, I can say from personal observation that I have never seen a situation where the poor quality in a product or process could have the root cause traced to the geographic location. I have also done detailed examination of tires made by a smaller manufacturer in China and found that they met all the performance requirements required for sale in the USA.

All tires sold for use on public highways in the US are required to be certified by the manufacturer to be capable of meeting the quality and safety requirements as published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which is a part of the US Department of Transportation. These requirements are very detailed and cover many test and conditions all tires must meet at a minimum. The penalty for selling a tire that does not meet these requirements is very significant. You can read the details if you are so inclined, with sections 109, 110, 119, 120, 138 and 139 being most appropriate for those interested in tires.

TO GIVE YOU AN IDEA of how seriously these quality standards are taken by a company with a real quality philosophy, I would like to give you an example. Before I retired, one of my primary duties was to investigate and determine the real reason certain tires failed to deliver the service expected by the customer. I would be asked to basically do an autopsy and issue a detailed engineering report with supporting documentation such as photos and lab data when appropriate. My report had to be sufficiently detailed and documented to be able to satisfy other engineers and technical authorities that my conclusion were accepted as the most likely reason and that no questions remained.

During one such examination, I discovered that there had been a problem during manufacturing of one specific size and type tire. I was able to trace the root cause to the use of one container of materials that had been mislabeled and incorrectly used in regular production tires. The result of this mix-up was that some of the rubber did not provide the proper level of adhesion, which resulted in part of the tire not properly curing. As part of the investigation I was able to determine that 149 tires had been made with this improper material. I located an identification mark on the subject tires which would have allowed more than 95 percent of the 149 tires to be identified and replaced. The corporate head of quality decided that we needed to be 100 percent certain that no tires remained in the hands of the public, so he ordered the entire week’s production of that size and type tire be recalled and replaced. This cost the company more than 3,500 tires to be replaced at no cost to the customers and all 3,500 tires were ordered scrapped just to be sure not a single tire with the problem remained on the highway. You may be interested to know that the tires were not manufactured in the USA and not all 149 would have been sold in the USA, but the commitment to quality was sufficient to make this decision a relatively easy one.

Now you may ask how do you find out which tire companies have this kind of commitment to quality. One thing you could do is to contact the tire manufacturer and ask if they are ISO certified to quality standards such as the older QS9000 standard or more current TS16949.

Meeting this standard is a requirement of the “Detroit Big Three” and I believe some large heavy truck manufacturers. I also believe that if a company supplies tires under these standards they are more likely to apply most of the requirements to all their production.
NOTE These Quality Standards are in addition to the DOT Regulations.

If the tire you are considering is made by a company that does not supply to “Detroit” you will have to do some other investigation. You can search for information on recalls here.

If you have a tire failure that is not attributable to overload, under-inflation, puncture or road hazard you should file a report here

If people do not file a report the DOT has no way of knowing that a tire failed to meet the requirements.


17 comments:

  1. Roger, as I have been researching materiel to help develop my new website, http://FifthWheelSt.com, I have found your writings and expertise to be some of the best. I hope to pick your brain occasionally for information that will improve my RV safety related website. In this article, you confirmed my hunch about Chinese tires.

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  2. Thanks, Roger, for a well written report. You have reaffirmed my belief that the requirements have to be met before we can purchase tires regardless of origin. How about lending your expertise in the old question about recaps?

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  3. Suggest you Google "Mission tire problems" and read what owners are saying about this Chinese tire. After a blow out on a relative new tire last year while traveling at about 60 mph I replaced all 4 of my trailer tires with American tires. My experience says stay away from "Made in China" tires!

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  4. Like many aspects of consumer protection nowadays, there are stringent laws on the books; but the agencies that enforce these laws have had their funds and resources gutted by anti government politicians. Next time we complain about big government, let's consider the fact that we expect industry to police itself, and that the quality control people in a business are considered overhead and an impediment to profits by management. Please don't give me that old song and dance that businesses will always behave ethically. We should know better. That is why we cannot trust our RV tires, which, in my experience, are just junk.

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  5. I trucked hauling produce and machinery from the lower 48 to and from Alaska for years. 6 yrs. ago I purchased a set of Chinese tires for the drive axles of the tractor. I got less than half the miles from these tires and found that I didn't get any decent life out of them after moving them to the trailer. They were some cheaper to purchase but were no where the quality of other tires I have used.

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  6. I just bought a "foreign" set of tires (Double Coin) after some extensive Internet and local tire shop research. The information from real users indicated tough, reliable performance. None of the tire shops (except Camper World) recommended the higher expense of the super-elite brands. I have little mileage on the tires yet, so only time will tell.

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  7. I believe that it is all well and good that manufacturers are required to test their products and meet specific regulations appropriate to the product, but the problem that arises is that while the product may have been tested and certified as meeting the criteria, the Chinese factories that actually manufacture the product do not necessarily adhere to those specifications. As a case in point you may recall that several years ago Mattel, the toy company, was cited because some of their toys that were manufactured in China were painted with lead-based paint, contrary to U.S. law. Since not every product manufactured in China (or anywhere else for that matter) is tested to determine its compliance with laws, regulations or the manufacturer's specifications it seems very easy for a product to be other than advertised.

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  8. WOW! I wish I had this information a few years ago after the tread on 3 of 4 rear tires separated while driving the coach we had bought the month before; our first RV. At the time we bought the coach, the RV dealer told us the tires were 6 months old and had less than 3000 miles on them.

    I have always suspected the quality of those tires which were made in Malaysia.

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  9. Why buy tires manufactured outside North America? Supporting China and other countries is the main reason why we have financial problems in NA. I try buy only NA products and suppport only NA manufacturers.
    Several years ago I purchased a 5th wheel built by Forest River. It was 1 year old and had Carlisle tires on it. Within 2 months I had to replace all tires due to cracks. I learned to not accept the creap tires put on by the manufacturer. The tires are my protection against accidents; why settle for junk and put your live on the line.

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  10. I wonder if even some of the tires that are actually made in the US aren't made using foreign materials.

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  11. Roger what you say is all well and good but how come when I hear about tire failures they are tires from Asia?... I will search out tires made in N America giving work to N Americans...

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  12. Coyotekit
    Well to my knowledge no natural rubber is grown in the USA. You already know about importing oil which is feed stock for synthetic rubber. I am not sure how classify carbon black. If the oil is imported but it is made into carbon black in the US is that an American product? Many of the chemicals are probably mined or manufactured in the US but others might not be available in the US.
    With hundreds of chemicals, oil and steel as raw materials I cannot think of any tire made by any company that is 100% made with materials from any one country.

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  13. Seann
    If you think only tires from Asia are the ones that fail you haven't done much research. If you follow the links in the next post on "Bad tires" to the NHTSA web site you can search and find many hundreds of different tires on the recall, investigation and complaint lists. NHTSA doesn't provide the ability to search by country but there are currently tires from the US, Germany, Canada, Japan, Brazil along with Asian countries on the list.

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  14. I live in Brazil and I may say there are poor quality tires produced in China by no global manufacturers. This is because in our country there is no official restriction or quality control in importation. Is it possible to You to point out one official list of tire manufacturers with permission to export to USA?

    I have a Class A Motorhome with Michellin tires, with expected longevity close to 60.000 miles.

    regards

    Adauto

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  15. Adauto
    I have not found any list of which tires can be exported to the USA. But I think that if you look for tires in Brazil that have DOT serial you can believe they would be OK to import to the USA. Since I worked in a tire plant in San Bernardo for a while in 1997, I know that many tires are made by Firestone, Goodyear and bridgestone in Brazil that are exported to the USA.

    What size and Load Range are you looking for?

    It may be best if you reply directly to my email Tireman9@gmail.com

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  16. Wonderful article! Thank you so much for posting. Knowledge is power. In this day and age of companies and manufacturers trying to squeeze a little more profit at the expense of safety, it is good to know there are people like you giving consumers the needed information to make informed decisions.

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  17. Just replaced two front axle tires from china, one had a heavy spot that could not be balanced out and I couldn't go over 64 mph. So two new Michelins went on last week. Much better.

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