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Retreading a Market to Save Both Money and the Environment

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ever since 1933, the Fargo family has been retreading tires in Los Angeles. Today, the family’s plant in South-Central is among the last major retreading facilities for passenger tires in the region.

Retreaded tires, popular during World War II, have a reputation today similar to Spam. At one time, the nation had 12,000 tire retreading plants, but now only 1,440 are left. The industry sold 31 million tires in 1996, down 25% over the past decade. And just 5 million of those tires were for cars.

The lowly retread is starting to make a bit of a comeback, however, both for economic and environmental reasons. While retreads for passenger cars are often difficult to find, they can be a cost-effective and safe option.

Federal and state governments have mandated that their fleets be outfitted with retreads and many industrial fleets rely on retreads. The U.S. Postal Service, for example, has more than doubled its purchases of retreaded tires since 1992.

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The process of retreading involves grinding the tread off a sound old tire and winding a strand of uncured rubber around the tire, like spaghetti. Then the tire and rubber winding are placed in a mold, where the rubber is cured under heat and pressure and the tread is molded. Finally the tire is painted.

Despite their crummy reputation, retreads are every bit as reliable as new tires, according to the industry’s Tire Retread Information Bureau. The bureau claims that retreads have a 3% failure rate, which is identical to that of new tires. The rubber industry and key safety experts do not dispute the bureau’s assertion that retreads do not represent a safety hazard.

In the case of Fargo tires, the failure rate is about 1.5%, said owner Norman Fargo. The company recently underwent a government inspection and was put on a qualified producer list for U.S. agencies.

The retread industry was hit hard by cheap tire imports for small passenger cars in the early 1980s, Fargo said. In many cases, those imports were just a few dollars more than retreads. Also, improved tires made for less of a replacement market.

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But one notable exception is retreaded high performance tires. Although new car buyers seldom consider the cost of replacing those high performance tires, a set of four can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000. A high performance retread can cost one-third as much, said Harvey Brodsky, managing director of the retread bureau.

In addition to the cost advantage, retreading saves an estimated 400 million gallons of oil every year that would have been used to make new tires and it lightens the burden on landfills. For that reason, many corporations and government agencies are opting for retreads, Brodsky said.

Although retreads may make sense for you, it isn’t easy to find them. Sears stopped selling retreads several years ago and few major tire chains carry them. Fargo tires are sold at independent tire stores. If you can’t find a retread, you can call Fargo at (213) 627-6181.

* Vartabedian cannot answer mail personally but will attempt to respond in this column to questions of general interest. Do not telephone. Write to Your Wheels, 1875 I St. N.W. No. 1100, Washington, DC 20006 or e-mail to Ralph.Vartabedian@latimes.com.


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