Wheel-world problems

June 9, 2015
The potential for trouble arises when using imported rims

Finding the inspiration for a monthly column can sometimes be a difficult task.  There are only so many things you can write about in the field of tires and wheels, which means coming up with an interesting and original topic each month becomes next to impossible as time goes on. With each issue, it’s my goal to inform and educate so readers are prepared to make better decisions that save money and, most importantly, improve safety. 

A few weeks ago, I received a phone call from a long-time friend who has been involved in a deal to import commercial truck rims from overseas. It’s not the first time I have fielded questions regarding imported truck rims and wheels, but the subject of this particular discussion was troubling. This issue was related to the rim markings required by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 549 CFR 571.120 and the identification of the manufacturer.

According to 571.120, every wheel or rim must have a permanent designation that identifies the manufacturer. It can be the actual name, a trademark or a symbol. The obvious reason is that it allows the user to identify the manufacturer in the event of a recall or related problem. When the name is used, it’s easy to determine which company is responsible for the wheel or rim. But when a trademark or symbol is used, how can the user identify the manufacturer?

Another requirement is the date of manufacture. The month, day and year or the month and year must be permanently impressed or embossed on the rim.  FMVSS 571.120 requires the manufacturer to notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) when a symbol is used to express the date of manufacture. It goes into great detail regarding the information that must be submitted, but it specifically applies to the date of manufacture.

My friend contacted NHTSA in an attempt to identify the symbol that represented the manufacturer of an imported rim. He’s not the type of person to give up easily, so I was surprised when he said that no one could help him. In fact, he said that the NHTSA representatives he spoke with told him that there are no official records of rim manufacturer symbols or trademarks. I found that hard to believe, but after reviewing 571.120 a few times, it appears that the manufacturer is fully compliant with the FMVSS regarding truck wheels and rims.

This raises a number of concerns. First of all, just like tires, the letters “DOT” must be impressed or embossed on the rim to signify that the rim or wheel is compliant with all federal safety standards.

Making matters worse is the fact that 571.120 does not include any requirements for endurance, strength or high-speed performance. Truck tires must undergo test procedures in all of those areas to earn the “DOT”  designation, but that’s not the case for truck wheels or rims. On the surface, it appears that any offshore manufacturer can export truck wheels and rims to the U.S. as long as the dimensions and markings are compliant.

Fortunately, there haven’t been any safety-related recalls. But that doesn’t mean fleets should buy whatever is cheapest. Based on what I’ve seen over the years, performance for imported parts in general is unpredictable, especially when they arrive in a plain white box. If a wheel or rim has an unidentifiable symbol to signify the manufacturer, then an extra degree of caution or investigation would be advisable.

Kevin Rohlwing can be reached at [email protected]

About the Author

Kevin Rohlwing

Kevin Rohlwing is the SVP of training for the Tire Industry Association. He has more than 40 years of experience in the tire industry and has created programs to help train more than 180,000 technicians.

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