The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is drafting a "consumer information system" to rate the fuel economy, safety, and durability characteristics of most replacement tires. NHTSA has established test procedures to be used by tire manufacturers in determining tire ratings but is still considering options on how to convey the information to consumers at the point of sale and on the Internet. Companies that only produce 15,000 units or less in a tire line (or 35,000 tires in total brand name production)-mostly tires for classic and antique vehicles or off-highway vehicles-are exempted since fuel efficiency for these types is not a primary consumer concern. Tire manufacturers are considering new rubber compounds, tire designs, and other methods to boost efficiency without negatively impacting traction and strength.
The premise for the new program is to allow consumers to compare ratings for different replacement tires and determine the effect of tire choices on fuel economy or the potential trade-offs between tire fuel efficiency (rolling resistance), safety (wet traction), and durability (treadwear life). The information may be conveyed in the form of a 1-5 star rating system for each category, a 0-100 rating system, or some similar approach. The tire ratings would be included on a label affixed to each tire.
California is pursuing a variation on the federal program whereby state regulators could assign a "fuel efficient tire" ranking to the top 15 percent of tires with the lowest rolling resistance within their size and load class. All other tested tires would be ranked as "tires that are not fuel efficient." If enacted, the testing program could take effect in mid-2011. The California program also contains the exemption for tires produced in units less than 15,000.
California was the first to pursue the issue, passing a law in 2003 to require a consumer information program. Congress followed suit with a federal program in 2007 and pre-empted any other states from establishing consumer information initiatives that differed from the national or California programs.
But some state lawmakers still insist on going one step further. For example, a bill has been introduced in New York to mandate that replacement tires be as energy efficient as the tires sold as original equipment. To date, the bill has been rejected since it would essentially set a 50-state standard, potentially impose substantial redesign costs on tire manufacturers, and conflict with the federal/California programs.
When it comes to consumer information, the big question is whether the focus of attention is misplaced. Will consumers be dissuaded from buying tires that may have improved performance, handling, or appearance features, based solely on a rolling resistance rating? In addition, the program may easily distract consumers from focusing on more important safety issues such as tire inflation and overloading of vehicles.
On that topic, the most inefficient tires are the ones that are under-inflated. A motorist can easily lose 3 or 4 percent in gas mileage when tires are under-inflated. Moreover, a tire that is not properly inflated compromises handling and braking.
My Engine Is Not Vegetarian-It Wants Gas
There is a battle raging in Washington that may force you to put ethanol in your car, whether you want to or not. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently allows gasoline to include up to 10 percent ethanol (E-10), a fuel additive made from corn or other biomass sources. The ethanol industry wants the EPA to increase the amount to 15 percent.