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Importer recalls 255,000 Chinese made tires over tread separation

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ A U.S. tire importer said Thursday it will recall 255,000 Chinese-made tires it claims were defective because they lack a safety feature that prevents tread separation.

The recall involves half the number of tires that the importer, Foreign Tire Sales Inc., had identified in June as possibly posing a risk.

The models involved are steel-belted radial replacement tires for pickups, vans and sport utility vehicles that consumers bought from early 2004 through mid-2006, Foreign Tire Sales said.

The small U.S. company was ordered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in June to recall as many as 450,000 tires that it bought from Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co. since 2002.

``Consumers should know that the affected tires meet all federal motor vehicle safety standards. But we went the extra mile by testing them and determining that they did not meet our standards, which are more rigorous,'' Richard Kuskin, president of Foreign Tire Sales, said in a statement.

Hangzhou Zhongce said it fully co-operated with NHTSA and ``has not found any evidence that the ... tires at issue contain any structural defects or are missing any safety features.''

The recall is among a series of recent problems involving imports from China. Products including toys, toothpaste, seafood and pet food have been recalled.

Information on the tire recall was to be posted at Foreign Tire Sale's website, Consumers can also call a toll-free number, 888-899-9293.

The recall applies to Westlake, Compass and YKS brand tires in these sizes and models:

_Size LT235/75R-15, models CR861 and CR857, with a DOT number beginning 7DT5FTS.

_Size LT235/85R-16, models CR860, CR861 and CR857, with a DOT number beginning 7DT2FTS.

_Size LT245/75R-16, models CR860, CR861 and CR857, with a DOT number beginning 7DT3FTS.

_Size LT265/75R-16, models CR860, CR861 and CR857, with a DOT number beginning 7DT4FTS.

_Size LT31X10.5 R-15, models CR857 and CR861, with a DOT number beginning 7DT6FTS.

Although Foreign Tire Sales did not make the tires, it is responsible for the recall, under U.S. law.

NHTSA ordered the recall after Foreign Tire Sales told the agency that some of Hangzhou Zhongce's tires were made without a safety feature, called a gum strip, that helps bind the belts of a tire to each other. Some of the tires had a gum strip about half the width of the 0.6 millimeter gum strip Foreign Tire Sales expected, the importer said.

It said it contracted for Hangzhou Zhongce to provide gum strips, but the manufacturer changed the design without informing Foreign Tire Sales.

Hangzhou Zhongce has denied that, asserting that the design did not include a gum strip. It also called the basis for the defect determination by Foreign Tire Sales ``highly questionable.''

The manufacturer has also told NHTSA that it has received just 11 claims for property damage from the nearly 450,000 tires purchased by Foreign Tire Sales, a rate it called ``extremely low.'' The repairs averaged US$1,722, ``which is consistent with minor fender well damage,'' Hangzhou Zhongce said.

Hangzhou Zhongce also said it paid just 1,540 warranty claims for such items as ride disturbance and sidewall issues, which are not related to the alleged defect.

The details of the recall come a month later than Foreign Tire Sales had initially expected. Company spokesman Andrew Frank attributed the delay to gathering information from the manufacturer.

``The recall was complicated,'' he said.

Tread separation was what prompted the largest U.S. tire recall, which involved 17 million Firestone tires in 2000.

Foreign Tire Sales alerted federal authorities of potential problems after it became embroiled in litigation involving the tires and Hangzhou Zhongce.

Foreign Tire Sales said it became concerned about Hangzhou Zhongce tires in October 2005 amid an increase in warranty claims. It began talks with the Chinese company, then commissioned its own tests.

It sued Hangzhou Zhongce in U.S. District Court in Newark on May 31, charging that its tests found that the tires may fail earlier than tests provided by Hangzhou Zhongce showed.

Foreign Tire Sales was sued May 4 by the families of two men killed when a van they were riding in crashed near the town of Jim Thorpe, Pa., in August 2006. The driver and another passenger in the van are also suing.

Hangzhou Zhongce said it made three of the four tires on the van, but they were not the recommended size for that vehicle. The fourth tire, a Michelin, was the proper size, but mismatched tires pose a risk, the Chinese company said. The company added that it has not yet been allowed to examine the vehicle and does not know if the accident was caused by tire failure.

Foreign Tire Sales does not have a warehouse. It has tires shipped directly to distributors, who in turn send them to retail outlets.

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Importer recalls 255,000 Chinese made tires over tread separation
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