Counterfeit tires hit U.S. market

I was perusing Consumer Reports’ website and came across an interesting headline: Counterfeit tires pose consumer risk:. It seems that at least one shipping container of Chinese-made knockoff tires have been distributed in the U.S. This is an alarming development on many levels.

Of course, we have all heard about counterfeit goods; the proliferation of fake Rolexes and CDs are well-known, and law enforcement occasionally announces that a counterfeiting ring has been smashed. Until recently, though, you just didn’t hear about someone making knockoffs of tires. Since tires are a high-cost item, and greed is a powerful motivator, someone has decided it’s worth the risk. But unlike fake handbags, substandard tires could cost you much more than embarrassment; they could be deadly.

Consumer Reports issued the alert on Monday to warn consumers that the tires may not be all they’re cracked up to be. Following an investigation highlighting just how complicated it can be to determine the birthplace of a product, the organization has raised a new concern for consumers. Consumer Reports began investigating the phenomenon earlier this year when they tested several tires. The organization tests tires on a regular basis, but this was the first time they had included Chinese-made tires in their tests. During testing, Consumer Reports’ investigators found that one particular brand of tire (Pegasus Advanta SUV, which sold for $95) scored the lowest among all the brands. After the ratings came out and showed the tires tested poorly in a couple of key areas, the American company that owns Pegasus (Arizona-based American Pacific Industries, or API) contacted Consumer Reports to find out their testing methodology. API also asked for the data codes from the tires being tested, and quickly responded that they didn’t make them.

It turns out that API had been manufacturing tires under contract with a Chinese company, but when the contract ended and the factory was destroyed in 2012, some of the molds used to make the tires went missing.  It appears now that someone took the molds, may have used them to make new tires, then exported them to the U.S. under the Pegasus brand.

Consumer Reports notes that one retailer, Economy Tire, allegedly bought a “single container of 400 to 500 tires.” But when investigators tried to follow the trail back to China, it went cold. The result was a lot of finger-pointing; no one wanted to take accountability. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that no issues regarding the tires have been brought to their attention. For its part, API says it is pursuing “active litigation” against the company it thinks produced the tires.

So what’s the upshot for consumers? Be careful. Since tires are one of the most important safety features on your car, buy as much quality as your budget can afford. And while you may find cheaper prices on the Internet, doing business with local shop with a good reputation is a good hedge against possible counterfeiting. Consumer Reports recommends that you check any tires carefully and regularly for wear and proper inflation. Look for bulges, cracks or signs of abnormal wear. If you do see any abnormalities, report them to the seller from which you purchased them.

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