Really Cheap Tires? Surprise: They Might Be Risky Counterfeits

Everyone knows that the “genuine designer handbag” going for $20 from a street vendor is neither genuine nor designer, and indeed may not even hold up as a bag. But when you go to a reputable retailer and spend what it costs to replace the tires on your car, you expect to get what the real goods. Alas, Consumer Reports has found: just because there’s a brand name you know on the outside of a tire, doesn’t mean you’re getting what you should be.

Consumer Reports (our parent organization) discovered the counterfeit tires while conducting otherwise routine tire performance tests. One tire brand, American Pacific Industries’ Pegasus Advanta for SUVs, performed very poorly in the tests and received a low rating.

The company then contacted Consumer Reports to ask about the way the tires were tested and to ask which batch CR had used.

That’s when the story gets interesting. It turned out that the tires being sold under API’s Pegasus brand were not what they appeared to be. The legally required date codes stamped into the tires indicated they had been made for API in a specific Chinese factory in August and December 2012.

To which API replied: “American Pacific Industries’ relationship with this factory ended in 2011 [and] our records indicate the last shipment of these tires in the SUV pattern was in December of 2011.”

Further, API said, the factory had been destroyed after that contract concluded, and many of their molds went missing. “We have no idea who may have made these tires nor what they put in them,” the company’s COO told Consumer Reports.

Counterfeit tires pose two big challenges for consumers. One is that their quality may be lacking — as these were — and consumers aren’t getting what they paid for. And the other challenge is that in the event of a safety defect or a recall, consumers don’t really have any recourse.

Ordinarily, if there is a safety complaint about tires the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issues a recall and the manufacturer has to replace the item. But if the problem with the item is that the manufacturer did not in fact actually manufacture them… then who would be responsible for a recall? It’s not an action that NHTSA could actually take.

But there are federal actions available. It turns out that counterfeited imported goods fall under the purview of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. An ICE official told Consumer Reports, that if counterfeit tires are being made and smuggled, “We would investigate and try to mount an interdiction and seize the tires. We would work with our Customs and Border Protection partners to seize future imports at the port. We would bring evidence to prosecutors at the Department of Justice or to a local District Attorney, and there could be criminal charges. The U.S. Attorney would be the one to decide whether to bring [federal] criminal charges.”

In the meantime, though, a consumer with a bad set of wheels is up a dirt road without a tire, so to speak. Consumer Reports followed up with the retailer they’d bought the tires from, who in turn led them to the importer he’d bought them from. And that’s where the trail went cold, when the importer stopped returning CR’s calls.

So what can a consumer do? Try not to get taken in the first place, at least as best you can. If a price seems too good to be true, Consumer Reports reminds us, it probably is.

‘Counterfeit’ tires pose consumer risk [Consumer Reports]

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