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Editor's Notebook

The Weighty Issues of Law

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Regulation and legislation. Usually the twin banes of industry. Due to current circumstances, top of mind in the tire biz.

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Two recent regulatory matters – one a serious directive from Europe, and the other a piece of knee-jerk silliness from South of the Mason-Dixon – demonstrate the yin-yang of legislative matters – some are good, and others are a fistful of rubbish.

Last September, the European Union (EU) issued its End-of-Life Directive, dictating that cars must be recyclable – or at least easily disposed of without harming the environment. This impacts not only the composition of components, but also makes the manufacturer responsible for disposing of any unrecyclable remnants of their vehicles.

The EU directive also states that after July 1, 2003, no new vehicles can contain lead, mercury, cadmium or hexavelent chromium – the Big 4 of bad chemicals. Of particular interest is the ban on lead, which includes lead weights used to balance tire/wheel assemblies.

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Across the pond, it’s been a mad scramble to find a substitute material with nearly the same density (weight vs. size) as lead. Some are looking at steel – a bit unwieldy, to be sure. Others like tin, which is harmless, has a density close to that of lead, and is malleable, so fitting it to wheels is not a big deal.

While EU directives don’t force member countries to comply, lead is no laughing matter, and it doesn’t appear any EU members are going to stray from the directive.

In even the smallest amounts, lead can cause brain damage, cancer, and death. The EU is worried about tire fitters having repeated contact with weights, and detached weights ending up in storm sewers and, eventually, the fresh water supply.

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Will the EU’s stand on lead weights migrate west? While Europeans usually outclass Americans in dealing with things before they become problems, federal and state legislatures here have long been anti-lead. Do lead weights pose a serious health threat? Maybe it’s time to buy some tin futures.

Back on these shores, Georgia state lawmakers are considering a proposal to ban tire retailers from doing business unless they post adjustment rates for the tires they sell.

No sense in mincing words here – Georgia House Bill 377 is by far the most anti-small business bill ever. Remarkably, HB 377 is economical in its foolishness – passage will literally kill the same bird twice with one stone. It threatens the livelihoods of dealers unless they post information that would surely drive away customers, who know nothing about adjustments, or how or why they are given.

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Not only that, but HB 377 promises to further confuse consumers about tire quality, cause added panic across the populous, and make the already air-pressure-ignorant never want to buy another tire.

As an added bonus, HB 377 attempts to make the impossible possible – tire retailers would have to post information they have no access to, nor have any hope of getting. No tire maker is going to willingly divulge adjustment dat – which often has little to do with product quality/reliability – especially when it’s being used to virtually prevent the sale of its products.

Certainly, thoughtful consumer advocates, who doubtlessly came up with this plan, should expand it to other businesses. If HB 377 becomes law, then restaurants should have to post how many meals were sent back. Car dealers should be made to detail every recall. Electronic stores should have to label stereos or computers that are returned the most. Politicians should get tattoos on their foreheads listing all the special interests they’re beholding to.

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I’ve been a strong proponent of consumer tire education, and certainly stand behind the industry and its dealers when it comes to assuring superior product quality. Tire makers are not in the business of making bad tires, and tire dealers certainly aren’t intentionally selling bum rubber.

Fortunately, the good people of the Georgia Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association (along with TANA and RMA) are working to help legislators revise HB 377, or at least get them to table it until the federal TREAD Act finally kicks in.

Frankly, I think burning HB 377 is a far better plan. Before this kind of nonsense spreads to the rest of the union.

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