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A defect on tires has links to China

Imported valve stems may cause tires to fail. One recall issued; a US agency is investigating.

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The company counters that it is taking appropriate action.
"We are working with an independent rubber laboratory to determine exactly which lots during the suspect time period may crack due to ozone exposure, which will be a small portion of the total. When the results are in, we can determine our next steps," says Brian Rigney, general manager for Dill Air Control Products in an e-mail. "In the interim, we plan to publish a bulletin on our website with instructions on how a consumer can inspect their valve stems (regardless of the manufacturer), since it can be seen on the rubber portion of the stem outside the wheel." [Editor's note: The original omitted the company's response.]

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Mr. Kane, the auto-safety consultant, says the valves could deteriorate and crack in as few as six months. Dill's suspect valves were manufactured more than 1-1/2 years ago, from July through November 2006, according to the company.

On June 2, another auto-parts importer, Tech International of Johnstown, Ohio, issued a formal recall notice for 6 million valve stems made by a Chinese company with nearly the same name – Shanghai Baolong Industries Co., Ltd. – and the same address. Dates of manufacture of the defective product are also the same.

In its recall notice, Tech said, "the defect is such that after the valve stem has been in service approximately six months or more, the rubber compound may undergo cracking," resulting in loss of tire pressure. It blamed the defect on "improper mixing of the rubber compound in the manufacturer's facility." Calls Friday to Tech International and an attorney representing the company were not returned.

No basis yet for national alert

For its part, NHTSA says the Tech recall is a good enough reason for consumers to have tire valves checked. But until the Dill investigation is complete, there's not enough basis for a national alert.

"We monitor all forms of vehicle equipment, and we're always on the lookout out for abnormal rates of failure," says Rae Tyson, a NHTSA spokesman. "We are looking at every aspect of these valve stems.... We can't presume defects till we've completed an investigation."

In response to public outrage over contaminated pet food and lead paint on toys made in China, Congress moved last year to bolster the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. But a bill to boost commission funding and force it to notify consumers of unsafe products more quickly has not yet passed.

The agency does not oversee tires.

"Congress and whatever agency [involved in overseeing Chinese imports] don't do enough," says Peter Navarro, a business professor at the University of California at Irvine. "It's very hard because they're understaffed and underbudgeted."