NATM regularly receives questions regarding the legality of placing used tires on new trailers. Although this question has largely been posed by trailer dealers as the competition for sales grows fiercer each day, trailer manufacturers too should know: is it legal? The short answer is “no,” with one narrow exception applicable only to trailers with GVWRs of more than 10,000 lbs or equipped with specialty “ST” or “FI” tires. If they do not meet the exception, the manufacturers are violating federal law, subjecting themselves to substantial civil penalties and to the onerous obligation to initiate trailer recall campaigns. The statutory authority for this response appears in 49 U.S.C. § 30111(a). Pursuant to that authority, NHTSA promulgated a series of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, known as FMVSSs, codified in 49 C.F.R. Part 571. The FMVSSs governing tires and tire safety are Standard Nos. 109, 119, 120, and 139. Collectively, they require all new trailers – both over and under 10,000 lbs GVWR – be equipped with new tires, with one very narrow exception. See 49 C.F.R. § 571.120 S5.1.1.
That one exception, appearing in paragraph S5.1.3. of Standard 120, is available only for trailers with GVWRs exceeding 10,000 lbs and, regardless of GVWR, for those equipped with special “ST” or “FI” tires. It permits trailer manufacturers (but not dealers) to install used tires on these trailers if, and only if, all five specific conditions are met.
Congress prohibits the manufacture for sale, sale, or offering for sale any motor vehicle not fully compliant with all applicable motor vehicle safety standards. 49 U.S.C. § 30112(a). It imposes a civil penalty of up to $5,000 for each violation of a mandatory safety standard, including Standard No. 120, and $15,000,000 for a series of violations. 49 U.S.C. § 30165(a). New trailers equipped with used tires not fitting the narrow exception of S5.1.3. of Standard No. 120 violate that FMVSS, and each vehicle not in compliance is a separate violation of the statute.
That non-compliant manufacturer also is subject to the reporting-and-notification requirements of NHTSA’s motor vehicle recall regulations, 49 C.F.R. Parts 573 and 577, applicable to manufacturers of any vehicle not in compliance with an applicable mandatory FMVSS or containing a safety-related defect. Failure to comply with NHTSA’s recall regulations subjects the manufacturer to the same set of harsh civil penalties – fines of $5,000 per trailer up to
$15,000,000 for a series of violations. Trailer dealers could face similar penalties if they sell non-compliant trailers with used tires. NHTSA, in a relatively recent rulemaking proceeding addressing the applicability of new tire standards, expressly states that, “[vehicle] dealers are not permitted to sell non- compliant vehicles or take actions which would take a vehicle out of compliance with an applicable safety standard [such as by substituting tires].” 69 Fed. Reg. 31311 (June 3, 2004).