Mr. Jack Jay McCracken
Cooper Tire and Rubber Company
701 Lima Avenue
Findlay, OH 45840-2315
Dear Mr. McCracken:
This responds to your letter concerning laser-etched date codes in the tire identification number (TIN) required by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 139, New pneumatic radial tires for light vehicles, and Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations Part 574 (49 CFR Part 574), Tire identification and recordkeeping. You ask whether FMVSS No. 139 and Part 574 would permit laser-etched date codes in the TIN at a minimum depth of 0.010 inches. Based on the information you provided and the analysis below, the answer to your question is yes, as FMVSS No. 139 and 49 CFR Part 574 do not specify a minimum depth for laser-etched date codes. However, please note that the agency is considering addressing in an upcoming rulemaking whether a minimum depth should be required for laser-etched date codes.
By way of background, your letter states that you currently use traditional molded date codes to comply with the TIN requirement, but that you are considering switching to laser etching for the date codes for both technician safety and time-saving reasons. You believe that a laser-etched date code at a depth of 0.010 inches is at least as legible as a traditional molded date code with a depth of 0.020 inches. Further, you note that a depth of 0.020 inches for laser etching may create an undesirable cosmetic effect for some whitewall tires, in that at this depth, the white layer of rubber inside the sidewall would sometimes show through in one or more of the date code numbers.
FMVSS No. 139, at paragraph S5.5.1(b), states that each tire manufactured on or after September 1, 2009 must be labeled with the TIN required by 49 CFR Part 574 on the intended outboard sidewall of the tire. 49 CFR Part 574, at 574.5, states that the TIN
must be permanently molded into or onto the sidewall, in the manner and location specified in Figure 1. Figure 1 specifies at Note 1: Tire identification number shall be in Futura Bold, Modified Condensed or Gothic characters permanently molded (0.020 to 0.040) deep. Section 574.5 also states that: at the option of the manufacturer, the information contained in paragraph (d) of this section [the date code section of the TIN] may, instead of being permanently molded, be laser etched into or onto the sidewall in the location specified in Figure 1. The question you raise is whether a date code laser-etched in the location specified in Figure 1 may have a minimum depth of 0.010 inches.
Our answer is yes. Section 574.5 states that molding must be done in the manner and location specified in Figure 1, but states for etching only that it must be done in the location specified in Figure 1. In addition, Note 1 of Figure 1, as written, specifies the 0.020-0.040 inch depth only for permanent molding. Because 574.5 and Note 1 do not clearly specify that laser etching must be to the same depth as molding, you may laser etch the date codes at a shallower depth than 0.020 inch.
Keep in mind, however, that we believe a depth requirement for laser etching should be considered to ensure sufficient long-term legibility of the TIN and date code. We plan to address the issue in an upcoming rulemaking on Part 574.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Rebecca Schade of my staff at (202) 366-2992.
Anthony M. Cooke
 You use the term engraved instead of etched. The regulation at issue, 49 CFR Part 574, uses the term etched. For purposes of this letter, we consider engraved and etched to be synonomous and will use the term etched for consistency with Part 574.