7000 Highway 25
Montevallo, AL 35115
Dear Mr. Habshey:
This responds to your March 6, 1995 letter to Philip Recht, our former Chief Counsel, and your telephone conversations with Walter Myers of my staff in which you requested a "new D.O.T. number." As discussed below, we are unable to provide you a tire manufacturer's identification mark since the operations you perform on tires are not sufficient to make you the manufacturer of the tires.
You explained that your company is a global exporter of tires, particularly to third world countries, but that you intend to distribute tires domestically in the future. You stated that you obtain new tires from different manufacturers consisting of original equipment overruns, blems, etc., and that by a new process you intend to remove "most" of the information from the tire sidewalls. The new process includes removing a thin layer of rubber from the tire sidewall, then vulcanizing a layer of new rubber onto the sidewall. The new layer will contain a new "registered" trade name, logo, and "identifying marks along with the size, safety information, mounting instructions, maximum and minimum inflating instructions, etc." You emphasized that all tires will be new and meet "all minimum standards established by the Department of Transportation."
Before addressing your request, let me first provide some background information. Chapter 301 of Title 49, U.S. Code (hereinafter Safety Act), authorizes the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) applicable to new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment sold in or imported into the United States. Tires are considered motor vehicle equipment. The Safety Act establishes a self-certification system in which manufacturers certify that their products comply with all applicable FMVSSs effective on the date of manufacture. In the case of tires, manufacturers reflect that certification by molding the letters "DOT" into or onto the sidewalls of all their tires manufactured for sale in the United States.
The FMVSSs are not applicable to tires intended solely for export, labeled for export on the tires and on the outside of the container, and exported. See 49 U.S.C. '30112(b)(3); 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 571.7(d)). Accordingly, you are free to export any tires you want, whether or not they comply with the FMVSSs and after whatever modifications you make to them.
That is not the case, however, with tires distributed for sale in the United States. FMVSS No. 109, New pneumatic tires and FMVSS No. 110, Tire selection and rims, specify performance standards and labeling requirements for new passenger car tires and rims. FMVSS No. 119, New pneumatic tires for vehicles other than passenger cars and FMVSS No. 120, Tire selection and rims for motor vehicles other than passenger cars, specify performance standards and labeling requirements applicable to tires and rims for vehicles other than passenger cars. 49 CFR Part 574, Tire identification and recordkeeping, requires new tire manufacturers to permanently mold into or onto one tire sidewall a tire identification number (TIN) and specifies methods by which new tire manufacturers and new tire brand name owners shall maintain records of tire purchasers. 49 CFR Part 575.104, Uniform tire quality grading standards (UTQGS), requires new motor vehicle and new tire manufacturers and brand name owners to provide information to consumers concerning the relative performance of passenger car tires in the areas of treadwear, traction, and temperature resistance. The UTQGS grades are also required to be molded into or onto the tire sidewall.
The labeling requirements specified in the regulations referred to above apply to the actual tire manufacturers and/or brand name owners, and the required information, including the DOT symbol and the TIN, must appear on all new tires before they can be sold to their first retail purchasers. A tire distributor or dealer cannot legally remove any of the required information from new tire sidewalls. The required information on new tires is intended for safety purposes, purchaser information, and to enable this agency to identify the manufacturer in the event of a noncompliance or defect in a tire line or lot.
A "manufacturer" is defined in 49 U.S.C. '30102(a)(5) as one who manufactures or assembles motor vehicles or equipment or one who imports motor vehicles or equipment for resale. The operations you describe would not be sufficient to make you the manufacturer of the tires in question. According to your letter, you would, for marketing reasons, remove a thin layer of the surface area of the sidewalls of the tires so that most of the existing information is removed. You would then apply a new thin layer of rubber containing new information. Your operations would thus not be changing the basic tire as such but simply changing the labeling. A change in labeling would not change who manufactured the tire. Thus, since you would not be a manufacturer of tires, you may not obtain a manufacturer's identification mark in accordance with 49 CFR '574.6. Only tire manufacturers or retreaders may obtain that mark.
49 U.S.C. '30122(b) prohibits manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and/or motor vehicle repair businesses from knowingly making inoperative any part of a device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle or item of equipment in compliance with applicable FMVSSs unless that individual reasonably believes that the vehicle or equipment will not be used when the device or element is inoperative. Thus, removal of the labeling information required to be marked on tire sidewalls in accordance with the standards and regulations discussed above could be a violation of '30122(b), which could subject the violator to civil penalties of up to $1000 per violation, or up to $800,000 for a series of related violations.
In summary, the Safety Act does not apply to tires intended solely for export. Thus, those tires are not required to comply with any FMVSSs. However, all new or retreaded tires sold or imported into the United States for sale must comply with all applicable FMVSSs and regulations as discussed above. Distributors and dealers may not remove any of the labeling information required to be marked on new tires by the actual manufacturers and/or brand name owners of those tires. Removal of that information could make inoperative an element of design on those tires, which could constitute a violation of 49 U.S.C. '30122(b).
I hope this information is helpful to you. Should you need additional information or have further questions, please feel free to contact Mr. Myers at this address or at (202) 366-2992.
John Womack Acting Chief Counsel