Among the many current hot button questions being asked across the industry is this: Should tire registration be made mandatory and put back into the hands of independent tire retailers?
The short answer is: Absolutely…and as quickly as possible.
This is not a tough issue to handle, and we need to get it done and move on because we have a lot of more difficult and pressing matters to address. Things like a long-term solution to infrastructure funding, the sale of used tires, mandating proper tire repairs, and enacting tough state-level vehicle (and tire) inspection programs, as well as reconsidering tire service age and recommended removal tread depths.
I recognize that those are all very difficult issues to resolve, but the fact is we basically haven’t really started on any of them. Yes, I know the RMA is pushing its ”unsafe used tire” legislation at the state level, but right now it is little more than a lot of pot banging begging for a 50-state legislative solution.
Resolution to any of those deserves considerable thought and attention. We really can’t afford to waste time on meetings and conferences and hearings to deal with the obvious: the tire registration system is broken and it must be fixed. And given the attitude of the times, the best place to start is by undoing a bad law.
The eight members of the RMA are in favor, and most of the dealers I have spoken with – and many others who have voiced their opinion in industry magazines and websites – feel the same.
There can be no disagreement that three decades of “voluntary” tire registration has been 30 years of failure. The effective registration rate of those tires sold by independent retailers actually regressed, if that was even possible. (Exempt from the 1982 law were tire company-owned outlets, which remained under the mandatory system. This is why in today’s discussion it is often noted that company-owned outlets have a near 100% compliance rate.)
Under the previous mandatory system, tire retailers were required to complete a registration card on behalf of the customer, with data including the buyer’s name and address and the ID numbers of the tires purchased. The card was forwarded to manufacturer, which would notify owners in the event of a recall.
In 1982, just before the voluntary system became reality, only 20% of tires sold by independent dealers were registered.
With the voluntary system, the tire retailer need only provide the buyer with a registration card and the TINs for all tires purchased. It’s left to the consumer to write their name and address on the card, lick a stamp and drop it in the mail.
Depending on the consumer to act in their best interest has resulted in between 9% and 19% of tires sold by independents being registered. TIA, which has dug its heels in against a return to mandatory registration, even admits it using a dreadful 17% as its “consensus” registration figure for independents.
Those results are awful, but the after-effect is chilling. In a recent speech at the Clemson University Global Tire Industry Conference, Pete Selleck, chairman and president of Michelin North America and chairman of the RMA, said: “In the event we have a problem, recovering as many of the tires involved in a recall is extremely important. Every tire that you can’t get is an issue. It’s a problem. Today, the recovery rates are normally somewhere around 20%. That means 80% of the tires in the recall we can’t find.”
Mandatory registration is certainly key to improving that recovery rate.
Congress felt that by empowering consumers to take direct action, things would get better. But the registration rate got worse. Simply put, consumers are not likely to care enough. Look at the registration rate for child safety seats. According to the RMA, the registration rate for those is 15%-20%.
Thirty years ago we had mailer cards and pens, and one can see how taking an extra five minutes with each transaction to write a few things down might seem difficult. Then we were just a few years removed from the epic Firestone 500 recall, and it would be nearly two decades before the massive Ford-Firestone tire recall. Both recalls were seriously hampered by low tire registration rates, and oddly the TREAD Act, which resulted from the latter recall, never discussed the registration system failure.
Fact is today we have far more tools available that can make tire registration easier and more effective, and we can do these things today:
• If they don’t already do so, retailer POS software can be upgraded to allow instant registration even as the consumer is paying for their tires at the front counter.
• Registration should require collecting additional customer contact information, such as email addresses and cell numbers.
• Mold TIN barcodes into tire sidewalls that can be quickly scanned by the retailer and have the captured data instantly entered into a digital registration form. You could go with a sticker barcode or even embedded ID chips.
• A smartphone app could be developed that would allow consumers to scan those same barcodes to check whether their tires are under recall.
• If it’s that much of a burden for dealers to handle, make it a profit center and allow them to charge $1 per tire as a “registration assistance fee.”
• NHTSA needs to step up and create an online TIN lookup system, giving consumers an easier way to determine if their tires have been recalled.
There are a number of other great ideas being floated, and every good idea deserves consideration. But we have to recognize that consumer apathy cannot be easily conquered. “Educate before legislate” – TIA’s anti-mandatory registration drumbeat – has its place. But it ain’t here. We already do a horrible job educating consumers about tires and tire care, and four-minute YouTube videos and one-week National Tire Safety Week programs – produced with limited budgets – won’t get the job done.
I challenge that we can do much, much better. If an improved registration system is vital for consumer safety, it’s time for this industry to step up and really fix the problem.