Fuel Fill Pipe Damage, Leakage and Fire by Tire Tread Separation

September 28, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fill Pipe, Fuel Tank, Testing, Tread Separation 

TSTI Test 0013 146By Mark Arndt

Given knowledge of the dangers, the notion that tire failures occur on vehicles traveling at highway speeds is frightening. Yet, such failures occur and the general acceptance of tire failure is so deeply rooted in vehicle performance that spare tires are standard equipment. 

A specific rollover incident in which a rear tire tread separation caused tearing apart of a fuel tank fill pipe routed just behind the wheel well was recreated in a controlled test (watch video).  The incident resulted in fuel spillage, fire and burn injuries.  The October 2001 incident involved a 1995 Land Rover Discovery with a General AmeriStar tire failure.  The vehicle manufacture’s corporate representatives were shown the test in late 2002 during depositions. 

TSTI Test 0013 147High speed video captured contact between tire tread and reinforced rubber fuel hose as the flailing end of the tread separates from the tire.  Repeated contacts by the tread to the fill pipe fuel hose and vehicle underbody result in fill pipe failure and release of liquid from the fuel tank.  Tests of a peer vehicle did not produce a failure or leakage.

Regarding vehicle handling and tire tread separation, failures a relationship between vehicle design and loss of control is scientifically documented.  Only recently has an incremental improvement in vehicle handling following tire tread separation been demonstrated with Electronic Stability Control (ESC).  Regarding other aspects of vehicle performance in tire failures, specifically including tire tread separations, dangers exist that can enhance the chance of harm. 

It is a well know consequence of tire failures that the tire tread can damage the vehicle.  In tire tread separations substantial damage to the wheel well sheet metal is probable.  Tire tread failure induced damage has been documented to hydraulic brake lines, parking brake cables, tail lights, fuel fill pipes, wiring and bumpers.  Parts of a car, not to mention the tire tread, can be knocked free and onto the road surface.  Vibrations from a tire failure have tripped inertially activated fuel pump cut off switches resulting in unexpected engine cut-off.

Engineers can readily foresee similar scenarios for a variety of safety equipment that is taken for granted in motor vehicles.  For example:

  • A tire tread separation occurs at night, damages wiring that routes near the wheel well and renders driver’s suddenly blind to the road or hazards on the road,
  • A tread separation causes permanent damage to hydraulic brake lines or parking brake cables resulting in brake failure or compromised performance.
  • A tread separation causes damage to a light cover or reflector, often rear taillight breakage is observed.

That these are important events in a vehicle’s safety performance is simply supported by the fact that Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) regulate the performance of vehicle systems that are directly dependent upon the key components described above.  

A tire failure event could be analogous to the Part 581 Bumper Standard. Low speed, often parking related, bumper contacts occur in normal driving. Comparatively, tire failures are also expected – driving manuals instruct how to react to a tire failure and most cars have spare tires. Anticipating low speed contacts, the Part 582 Bumper Standard covering all passenger motor vehicles sold in the United States prescribes protective criteria for: lamps, reflective devices and head light alignment; operation of doors; fueling and cooling systems; propulsion, suspension, steering and braking systems; impact energy absorbers; fasteners and joints; and, even separations of surface material, paints and coatings and permanent deviations of original contours.  Comparatively, following a tire failure a vehicle should be capable of performing at the minimum level of safety prescribed by applicable FMVSS.  Vehicle design interventions can effectively eliminate dangers from tire failures induced vehicle component damage.

New Test Results: A Breakthrough in Understanding Front Tire Failure Crashes

September 25, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Crash Reconstruction, Random, Testing, Tread Separation 


By Mark Arndt

Not all tire tread separations are equal and new testing documents previously unknown differences between a front tire failure and a rear tire failure.  Almost universally, tread separation event testing is limited to rear tire failures. Most of the Ford Explorer/Firestone Tire crashes involved rear tires and the causes of these crashes are attributed to a variety of vehicle factors – the largest factor relates to adverse changes in vehicle controllability.  

So why do vehicles that have front tire tread separations get into crashes?

The answer, in part, is explained because despite decreased sensitivity to steering the failure event is startling, produces violent vibration and loud noise and pulling.  Pulling is turning of the vehicle without the driver turning the steering wheel.  Of course, the vehicle steering characteristics also changed suddenly and nonsymmetrically, complicating the driving task.  New testing of front tire tread separation demonstates for some vehicles a substantially increased pulling response comparable to equivalent rear tire failure.  New testing also documents a torque response transmitted through the steering wheel that may jerk the steering wheel from the driver’s grip.

As a rule of thumb, when a rear tire experiences a tread separation the resulting change in the vehicle’s understeer gradient, a key measure of the vehicle turning characteristics, is roughly three degrees per G (3 deg/G) . Where, G is equal to the acceleration of gravity. And, when a rear tire experiences a tread separation event all vehicles ever tested respond in dynamic maneuvers with oversteer – in other words, they spin-out.

It is perplexing that the same changes at the tire that makes a vehicle spin-out when there is a rear tire failure also makes a vehicle less likely to spin-out when there is a front tire failure – in other words, when there is a front tire failure the vehicle will understeer more and become less sensitive to steering.  The new testing results show that an external disturbance may play a greater role that previously understood.

Fuel Tank Fill Pipe Valve Prevents Leakage in Crash

September 22, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Fill Pipe, Fuel Tank, Testing 


By Mark W. Arndt

A recent crash test conducted by the San Francisco Law Firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein (under the direction of Transportation Safety Technologies, Inc.) has provided an important measure of the feasibility and performance of fuel tank fill pipe valves in crash situations when the fill pipe is severed or damaged.

The valve positioned inside the fuel tank at the end of the fuel tank fill pipe was part of the Onboard Refueling Vapor Recovery (ORVR) system.  ORVR was a safety feature first dictated for passenger cars in 1998 by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to limit fuel emissions.  The ORVR required that fuel vapor generated during vehicle refueling be stored on the vehicle instead of at the gas station.  Stored refueling vapors are burned in the vehicle engine after refueling.

A common feature of ORVR systems are mechanism that minimize fuel atomization as it enters the fuel tank and limits to migration of vapors out of the tank when the fuel cap is off.  Most manufactures utilize a one way valve on the fuel tank fill pipe.  The valve is located either in the fuel tank or in-line of the fill pipe. Some vehicle manufactures have utilized valves that serve a dual purpose of vapor barrier for ORVR and liquid fuel barrier for crashworthiness.  The dual purpose valve is a preferred and logical choice given the vulnerability of some fuel tank fill pipes and fuel caps in crashed.  Sport Utility Vehicles with their high rates of rollovers are natural benefactors of valves that prevent spilled gasoline from fuel tank fill pipes.

The crash test involved a 2001 Kia Sportage with a modified rear suspension and fuel tank shield.  The vehicle was stuck by a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 214/311R (FMVSS214/301R) moving deformable barrier ballasted to 5011 pounds.  The Sportage fuel tank was filled to 15.4 gallons which is about 92 percent of its refill capacity.  The Sportage was hit squarely at the rear with the left edge of the barrier aligned 16.5 inches to the right of the Sportage centerline – a right offset rear impact.

As a result of the crash the modified rear suspension posed no threat of puncture to the fuel tank and the fuel tank shield worked.  There were no punctures of the fuel tank, but there was a separation of the fuel tank fill pipe.  A reinforced rubber interconnecting fill pipe hose tore apart in the crash.  The fill pipe failure was observable only as the fuel tank was removed. A static rollover conducted after the crash test pursuant to the rollover test requirement s of FMVSS301 demonstrated no fuel leakage from any portion of the fuel tank – proof that the one way flow valve in the fuel tank fill pipe worked.

Black Box Proven Accurate and Valuable to Crash Reconstruction

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Crash Reconstruction, Testing 

DSC06172By Mark Arndt

A paper recently published at the 2009 SAE World Congress demonstrates the accuracy and utility of speed data collected by the Powertrain Control Module (PCM) of late model Ford vehicles.  Testing described in the paper was completed in conjunction with an evaluation of Electronic Stability Control (ESC) systems supported by Tab Turner of the law firm Turner & Associates.

An instrumented 2005 Ford Explorer was used to evaluate speed data provided from its PCM at high slip angles and other dynamic maneuvers. The slip angle is the angle between the heading of a vehicle and its velocity direction –- a vehicle that is side-slipping or spinning out has a high slip angle. 

PCM speed was compared to speed and slip angle collected from a calibrated velocity sensor. In addition to speed, slip angle and other standard handling test measurements the vehicle brake switch and throttle were recorded so PCM data could be synchronized. After each test run the vehicle ignition was turned off and the PCM was downloaded using commercially available Bosch hardware and software. The principal maneuver was the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sine-with-dwell test consisting of a 0.7 HZ sinusoidal steer with a 0.5 second dwell at the steer reversal peak.

Runs were conducted with the vehicle’s Electronic Stability Control (ESC) disengaged so that the test vehicle would achieve large slip angles. Other dynamic maneuvers included: NHTSA’s sine-with-dwell with ESC engaged; 100% accelerator to 80 mph with 0.5G braking to stop; and acceleration to 50 mph with maximum ABS braking to stop.

Results demonstrate agreement between the speed recorded by the calibrated instrumentation and speed recorded by the vehicle’s PCM for conditions when the vehicle slip angle and rear wheel slip were near zero. PCM speed was lower than instrumented speed in high slip angle maneuvers. PCM on average underreported during maximum ABS braking and at medium to high speed in 0.5G braking. In acceleration the PCM speed had no detectable under-reporting error except at the highest speeds with 100% accelerator application.

Tread Separation: More Than a Gust of Wind

September 14, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Tread Separation 


By Mark Arndt

An expert made a statement about tire detreading.  He said, “The vehicle gets pulled left only about a foot, in an orientation of one to two degrees, like a gust of wind.”  His answer implied there was little danger and as evidence he referred to a paper I had written.   Attorney Mikal Watts of the Texas law firm, Watts Guerra Craft asked what I thought about the response given the extensive amount of research and testing our company has done on this topic.  

Stated simply, the statement is wrong in its content and it is wrong in it’s context.  The current state of knowledge on the consequences of tire tread separation events (tire detreads) is substantially greater than indicated.

First, when tires fail they fail in a variety of ways creating a broad distribution of response that depend upon the nature of the tread separation, the vehicle and the driving environment.  In other words, there is not just one type of tire failure and there isn’t just one response associated with tire failures. 

Having stated above, one question might be – which paper supposedly describes his response, “like a gust of wind?” The answer is none.  In fact, a tread separation event is always described as including vibration, noise and turning of the vehicle and the event has associated adverse changes in vehicle handling.  Not even a gust of wind has vibration and pulling.  And, the associated adverse change in vehicle handling makes any vehicle dangerous.  Driving at highway speeds with a detreaded tire and gusty wind substantially magnifies the danger and chances of a crash.

The numerous papers (19992000, 20012004, 2006, 2006, 2009) I have written on tread separation demonstrate by scientific methods that all tire tread separations cause violent vibration of the tire/wheel and perceptible yet unspecific vibrations of the vehicle.  Tire tread separations cause sudden and startling loud noise or noises from the separating tread hitting portions of the car and ground.  Tire tread separations cause an external pulling of the vehicle — in other words the vehicle turns without the driver turning the steering (hand) wheel.  Pulling could be minor or could force a vehicle off the road.  Finally, steering characteristics are degraded and in incidents involving rear tires a vehicle oversteer characteristic results.