8577 South State
Spanish Fork, UT 84660
Dear Ms. Olsen:
This responds to your letter of March 12, 1995, requesting an opinion as to the liability of the manufacturer, dealer, or customer in an accident involving a trailer originally sold with used tires. I apologize for the delay in our response.
By way of background information, Chapter 301 of Title 49, U.S. Code, authorizes this agency to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) applicable to new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. Section 30112 of Title 49 provides that no person may manufacture for sale, sell, or import a new motor vehicle or a new item of motor vehicle equipment unless that vehicle or equipment complies with all applicable FMVSSs and is covered by a certification of such compliance. Generally speaking, upon the sale of that vehicle or item of equipment to the first retail purchaser, the use of that vehicle or equipment becomes a matter of state regulation.
This office cannot give you an opinion as to who may be liable in the accident you described. The question of liability would be a matter of state law. You may wish to consult with a local attorney on the question of liability.
I can advise you that FMVSS No. 120, Tire selection and rims for motor vehicles other than passenger cars, generally requires tires installed on new trailers to be new, but includes certain specified exceptions which do not appear to be relevant here. In that connection, please find enclosed a copy of a letter we wrote to a gentleman in Odessa, Texas, dated September 4, 1992, which discusses in some detail our requirements for tires installed on new trailers.
This agency does not have any standards for trailer brakes other than air brakes. Also, as indicated above, matters relating to the use of a vehicle, such as connection of the electric brake control to the towing vehicle and loading of the trailer, are not under the jurisdiction of this agency.
I hope this information is helpful to you. Based on your March 12, 1995 letter and your telephone and facsimile communications with the staff of this agency's Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance, that office has initiated an inquiry to the trailer manufacturer to determine if a noncompliance exists with FMVSS No. 120. If you have further information or data to offer in this regard, please contact Mr. Luke Loy at this address or at (202) 366-5288 or by FAX at (202) 366-3081.
John Womack Acting Chief Counsel