Law & Order

Feds and California Propose Tire Fuel Efficiency Ratings

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the State of California have issued separate proposals to establish a tire fuel efficiency rating system. The plans stem from a 2007 federal energy law and a 2003 California law mandating programs to provide consumers with information about the fuel efficiency of replacement tires. Both laws contain a SEMA provision exempting manufacturers of tires that have the same SKU, plant, and year, and have been produced or imported in annual units of less than 15,000.

Under the federal program, tire manufacturers would be required to label their replacement tires for fuel efficiency, safety and durability based on performance tests established by the NHTSA. Tire retailers would display a NHTSA-provided tire fuel efficiency consumer information poster. Manufacturers and retailers that have websites would need to link to a tire website that the NHTSA would develop as part of a national tire maintenance consumer education program.

The NHTSA’s performance tests would seek to identify a tire’s rolling resistance (a measurement of fuel efficiency), traction (the tire’s ability to stop on wet pavement), and treadwear life. The NHTSA would develop a tire rating label with a scale ranging from 0 to 100, with 100 being the best rating. The NHTSA intends to refine the label to make it as meaningful as possible, beyond focusing attention on tires with low ratings. The NHTSA is required to issue a final rule by December 2009 and manufacturers would then have one year to meet all of the rule’s requirements.

California is the only state that can establish a tire fuel efficiency program that is potentially more expansive than the federal program since it was the first to enact a law. At the moment, California regulators are proposing a program that would assign a “fuel efficient tire” ranking to the top 15% 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 would take effect in mid 2011. Manufacturers would also be required to report other tire information such as load index, federal Uniform Tire Quality Grading System (UTQG) rating and speed rating.

On a related note, the California Air Resources Board recently enacted a new rule requiring service stations to check tire pressure on all cars coming in for service as of July 2010. The rule covers all tires sold to replace tires that come with new passenger cars and light trucks.

Questions? Contact Stuart Gosswein.