Late last month the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) upgraded its ongoing investigation into suspected defective tire valves imported by Dill Air Controls Products to what it calls an Engineering Analysis. Should the agency’s analysis find that Dill tire valves are indeed defective, the result could be a massive recall of approximately 23.5 million tire valves installed from August 2006 through July 2007.
NHTSA originally opened an investigation as a Preliminary Evaluation on May 15 following the fatal rollover crash of a 1998 Ford Explorer that allegedly was the result of a faulty Dill tire valve. On September 8, according to NHTSA, another serious crash involving a 2001 Toyota Sienna appeared "to be related to a cracked and leaking Dill tire valve.” To date, there have been more than 4,700 complaints filed with NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigations regarding faulty Dill valves. And a vehicle inspection program conducted by the major tire retailer Discount Tire from April through June 2008, uncovered approximately 23,000 defective Dill valves.
According to reports filed with NHTSA, Dill imported valve stems from a manufacturer in China, Shanghai Baolong/ Topseal Automotive that lacked adequate ozone protection, which can cause the rubber to crack prematurely. Affected valves exhibit visible cracks shortly after being installed. Over eight to 14 months of use, the cracks can grow large enough to cause air leakage. Driving on under-inflated tires can cause tire damage and, eventually, cause the tires to fail or blow out.
Tech International, an importer of tire valves made by the same Chinese company that makes Dill tire valves, has already recalled some 6 million defective valve stems that it distributed. To date, Dill has not issued a recall of the tire valves, although it has posted advisories on its web site. Discount Tire stores that sold Dill valves from August 1, 2006 through July 31, 2007 sent letters to their customers warning them of the problem. We hope that other retailers who have sold the valves act as responsibly.
Problem could affect 2007 Fords
Based on analysis of claims filed with NHTSA, Sean Kane, President of Safety Research Strategies said, “I suspect that many 2007 model year Fords may have had the defective valve stems installed as original equipment.” He recently sent a letter to NHTSA requesting that the agency immediately open a defect investigation on valve stems used as original equipment on Ford vehicles.
In our own employee parking lot, finding a defective valve stem on a ’07 Ford was not hard. Of the three cars inspected, we found one Ford Focus that had obvious cracks in at least one valve stem (See photo). At our recommendation, the owner brought his car in for service and had all four valve stems replaced.
We think NHTSA should open a defect investigation on valve stems used on Fords. And that they should endeavor to identify other makers of vehicles that may have used valve stems manufactured by Shanghai Baolong as original equipment. The agency's delay is dangerous and potentially puts many drivers at risk.
Advice to our readers
In the meantime, drivers can take their own preventive measures:
- If you bought replacement tires between August 2006 and July 2007, you may have tire valve stems that could fail prematurely. We suggest you check your tires at least once a month. This should be part of your customary air pressure checks. If you have to add air regularly, have the tires and valve stems checked by a professional. You can also spray soapy water on the tire valve—bubbling indicates a leak.
- Be aware that the defective valve stems are not related to the brand of tires on your vehicle. As a matter of practice, most tire shops replace the valve stem when they replace the tires but the make they use is not easy to identify without dismounting the tire.
- For safety’s sake, inspect your vehicle’s tire valve stems now. Cracks in the rubber usually occur at the base of the stem where they pass through the wheel. The cracks are hard to see and can be obscured by the wheel assembly. Use a flashlight and bend the valve from side-to-side so that you can inspect it from all angles.
- If you own a 2007 Ford, be extra vigilant about checking your tire valves and follow the advice above.
- If you find a crack in one valve stem, have them all replaced, including the one on your spare.
- Report any defects to NHTSA at www.nhtsa.gov.
Help us help you and other consumers
We’ve had numerous comments on our previous blog postings from readers who have experienced tire valve failures. These comments are helpful to other readers and also help us fine tune our own investigative research. If you uncover cracked, leaking, or otherwise defective valve stems on your vehicle, we want to hear from you. Please share your comments in the field below and include:
- The year make and model of your vehicle;
- Whether your tires with defective valve stems are original equipment or replacement;
- The age in months or years of your tires with the defective valve stems;
- The name of the retailer where the replacement tires were purchased;
- Whether the valve stems were replaced at the same time as the tires.