Deadly Chinese Tires Recalled by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: “Made in China” Possibly new Trademark of Potentially Fatal Products

Defective tires have been added to an ever-growing list of dangerous Chinese imports. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ordered 450,000 tires recalled after Foreign Tire Sales, the New Jersey company that imported the tires, disclosed that they had been manufactured without a gum strip meant to keep the tread from separating. The tires, manufactured by Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber, have been blamed for at least two accidents, one of which was fatal. The tires were sold under at least four brand names: Westlake, Compass, Telluride and YKS. The tires are just the latest in an array of Chinese products that have been found to pose a hazard to consumers. Others have included wheat gluten tainted with melamine that was used in pet food, contaminated toothpaste, defective Graco infant swings, and Thomas the Tank Engine toys made with lead paint. According to a recent New York Times report, Chinese imports have accounted for more than 60-percent of all product recalls this year.

In the case of the tires, it appears that Foreign Tire Sales knew about the safety issues for more than two years before it alerted the NHTSA. According to the letter the company sent the agency, it first suspected the problems in October 2005. Yet it wasn’t until September 2006 that Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber admitted to leaving out the gum strip. Still, Foreign Tire Service only brought the defective tires to the NHTSA’s attention on June 11. The company claims it had no real proof of the manufacturing problems until May, and that it did not want to arouse concerns based on “mere suspicion.”

This incident is reminiscent of the <"">Firestone and Bridgestone Tire Recall in 2000, which involved 6.5 million tires. The Defective Firestone/Bridgestone tires also had tread separation problems and were tied to 148 deaths and 500 injuries. It was the largest and deadliest tire recall in US history.

No one can guess how big this new tire recall might actually be, because Foreign Tire Sales says it doesn’t really know how many defective tires are on the road. Hangzhou is refusing to tell the importer exactly when it started omitting the gum strip. Foreign Tire Sales filed suit against Hangzhou in Federal Court on May 31, seeking both monetary damages and an injunction preventing the tire maker from importing any more products to the U.S.

Foreign Tire Sales is also asking the NHTSA for help with the recall, claiming that costs of such an undertaking will push the company into bankruptcy. Foreign Tire Sales has only seven employees, and does not manufacture tires itself. Rather, it imports tires and has them sent directly to distributors. According to the company, it cannot replace the defective tires as it does not have a ready stock of new ones available. The NHTSA has refused to help, saying that it is the sole responsibility of Foreign Tire Sales to conduct the recall.

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