A Chinese tire maker accused of exporting faulty tires to the United States denied the claims Wednesday.
U.S. regulators have ordered tire importer Foreign Tire Sales, based in Union, N.J., to recall as many as 450,000 tires after the company reported that the treads on light-truck radials manufactured by Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co. in Hangzhou, China, might separate.
Hangzhou Zhongce replied in a written statement that it has not found fault in the tires. It said the tires met U.S. safety standards and the importer's specifications.
But Foreign Tire Sales said many of the tires are missing a safety feature called a gum strip, which helps bind the belts of the tire to each other. The gum strip prevents tread separation, which can cause a tire to blow, possibly making a driver lose control of the vehicle and crash.
The Chinese-made tires were sold under at least four brand names: Westlake, Compass, Telluride and YKS. The tires, which were sold for use on vans, sport utility vehicles and pickups, have been linked to at least two deaths after tread separation.
Tread separation is the problem that led Firestone to recall millions of tires in 2000.
Tire treads separate thousands of times each year, and usually nobody is hurt. But in August of 2006, two carpenters were on their way home from work in a cargo van when the tread separated on a rear tire.
The loose tread wrapped around the axle and locked up one of the rear wheels, causing the van to flip over, and both men were killed, said Sean Kane, a safety researcher hired by a lawyer for the men's families.
The lawyer found that those tires were made by Hangzhou Zhongce and imported by Foreign Tire Sales.
The tires have passed several U.S. safety tests, experts said, so it's possible the fatal accident was the result of a nail in the road, under-inflation or something else.
Because the manufacturer does not have an office in the U.S., the importer is responsible for the quality of the tires.
But Foreign Tire Sales has said it does not have enough money to fund a recall. The small, family owned importer is suing the Chinese manufacturer – the second largest tire maker in China – saying it should pay for the recall.
Foreign Tire Sales would have to pay for advertisements announcing the recall, hundreds of thousands of replacement tires and the environmentally safe recycling of all recalled tires.
Larry Lavigne, a lawyer representing Foreign Tire Sales, said the company would go bankrupt.
"We're thinking that the recall will cost in excess of $200 per tire," he said. "So you're looking at $60 million."
Foreign Tire Sales asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to help pay for a recall, but the agency refused. For now, drivers who want to get rid of the tires will have to pay for replacements themselves.
"If you have some of these tires on your vehicles, you're probably going to want to remove them," Kane, the safety researcher, said. "I mean, they could pose a serious danger."
Written by Kayla Webley from NPR reports and The Associated Press.