Les Schwab Tire Centers is suing a company that supplied rubber compound for retreading tires after finding defects and issuing the first recall in company history.

Les Schwab filed a lawsuit July 1 in Crook County Circuit Court against Hexpol Compounding and seeks $3.9 million in damages. In 2017, the company supplied gum rubber compound that Les Schwab used to retread commercial truck tires before discovering problems, according to the lawsuit.

Retread centers in Prineville, Spokane, Washington, and Rupert, Idaho, used the Hexpol product in fall 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In March 2018, Les Schwab recalled 41,000 retreaded tires. About 18,000 tires were directly affected, but Les Schwab had expanded the scope of its recall out of caution. No accidents or injuries were reported.

Hexpol Compounding is part of Hexpol AB, a Swedish company. Tracy Garrison, president of Hexpol Compounding Americas, did not respond to a request for comment.

The problem with Hexpol’s product was related to the curing process, according to the lawsuit. Les Schwab first discovered a problem in October 2017 at a factory when Les Schwab’s equipment misapplied some of the gum rubber to a tire casing. The casing was placed in a heating chamber to cure and harden the compound, which could then be scraped off. After running the tire through Les Schwab’s normal curing process, Les Schwab employees were surprised to find the gum still appeared sticky.

Les Schwab contacted Hexpol, which agreed that the gum rubber had not cured properly, according to the lawsuit. Hexpol said the rubber had actually “overcured,” and begun to break down into its component parts. Hexpol said this happened because the tire tread had not been applied to the casing.

Les Schwab conveyed that it followed the industry standard process, but Hexpol never explained that its product had different requirements, according to the lawsuit.

“Les Schwab relied upon the explanation provided by Hexpol and continued to retread commercial radial truck tires with Hexpol AZ gum rubber,” the lawsuit states.

Then in December 2017, Les Schwab received warranty returns showing a pattern of similar tread loss.

An investigation found that the only new variable in Les Schwab’s manufacturing process was the Hexpol product, according to the lawsuit.

A Hexpol employee told Les Schwab in a January 2018 email that its compound required a longer cure cycle than other products.

With warranty returns, defective tires discovered by Les Schwab and the recall, Les Schwab says it suffered $3.9 million in damages.

The recall is complete, said Dale Thompson, chief marketing officer at Les Schwab. “We followed the procedures. We were ultra-conservative in our approach.

“We want to have (Hexpol) cover the expenses having to do the recall for what we believe is their faulty product.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7860, kmclaughlin@bendbulletin.com

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