WASHINGTON -- Major tire companies sued the U.S. government on Monday to block a new tire pressure monitoring regulation for all cars and light trucks, claiming the standard is inadequate to ensure safety.
Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., Japan's Bridgestone Corp., the parent of Firestone, and Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. were joined by trade and consumer groups in the federal court challenge.
"While we support tire pressure monitoring systems as a way to increase safety, the current (rule) does not go far enough," the companies said in a joint statement. "There is technology available to provide faster, more accurate information to motorists."
A previous legal challenge by safety groups forced regulators to rewrite the rule. Completed in April, the revised requirement by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ordered auto companies to install sensors that measure pressure simultaneously on all four of a vehicle's tires.
The revised regulation takes effect this fall and is central to safety changes ordered by Congress in the aftermath of the Firestone tire debacle several years ago when nearly 300 people were killed in U.S. crashes caused by blowouts and tread separations of Firestone tires.
Most of the Firestone crashes were rollover accidents involving Ford Explorer sport-utility vehicles. Firestone recalled millions of tires and Congress enacted a sweeping series of laws to boost vehicle and tire safety.
In the new monitoring standard, a dashboard light will warn motorists if tires are under-inflated by more than 25 percent. But tire makers and the consumer group Public Citizen oppose a single standard because tires vary in size and thickness. They argue that a 25 percent drop in recommended pressure may leave some tires so under-inflated they cannot safely support a fully loaded vehicle.
Under-inflated tires can expose rubber and other materials to hot roads and friction, resulting in premature wear at the edges and sides of a tire.
Tire companies in the lawsuit also claim that the technology required by the government takes too long to activate and does not require monitoring systems to operate with replacement tires. Most mileage occurs on replacement brands, the group said.
Regulators estimate the new rule will cost the auto industry between $800 million and $1.1 billion to phase in the technology on all new vehicles through 2007. The more precise technology favored by tire manufacturers would cost more money.
Automakers do not oppose the new regulation. Tire monitoring systems are already installed on 2 million to 4 million vehicles, mainly luxury models. Most pressure monitoring systems use sensors that are tied into anti-lock brakes.
A spokesman for the highway safety agency, Rae Tyson, had no comment on the suit.