Why can stores install illegal things on cars? Don’t know

Q: Several years ago, the son of a coworker was ticketed for having wheels that stuck out past the fenders. They were installed by the local tire shop. Just yesterday I saw a jacked-up truck with wheels that were at least six inches exposed outside the fenders. Why can tire stores install illegal equipment? My experience is that they can’t, by law, remove and reinstall a worn-out tire when asked to rotate them.

A: Let’s start from the end of the question. You’re right that tire shops won’t install worn-out tires, but I couldn’t find a state law that prohibits it. Most won’t do it because it’s company policy. They want to sell tires. While it is a violation of the law to drive on public roads with unsafe tires, there is no law about installing them. (At least in Washington; some states prohibit shops from installing unsafe tires.)

It probably comes as no surprise then that even though it’s not legal to drive around with tires sticking out past the fenders there isn’t a law preventing a shop from installing them. Many shops do install tires for customers that extend past the fenders. They have limits though; they turn down requests to install tires that compromise the safety of the vehicle.

But this law really is about protecting other road users from rocks and other debris thrown up by unprotected tires. Tires projecting past the fenders aren’t the crime of the century, but they are an objectively negative contributor to traffic safety in exchange for a subjective improvement in style.

But let’s not put too much blame on the tire shops. The most egregious offenders might not be getting their tires installed on their vehicle by a pro. My source said that customers sometimes come in with loose wheels for tire installation. When that happens the shop doesn’t know what vehicle the wheels will end up on, but he speculates that some of them are the ones that would get turned down by many tire shops if they drove in.

Why is it legal to install things that are illegal, knowing that the owners of the vehicles are going to violate the law the moment they drive out of the parking lot? I don’t know. Our lawmakers have taken a different approach with other vehicle modifications. For example, a window tinting business is required to install a tag verifying that the tint meets the requirements for light transmission.

The lesson is this: just because a tire shop is willing to install tires on your vehicle doesn’t mean you’re OK to drive them on public roads. It’s up to the vehicle owner to be legal. Tire shops generally have customers sign a release of liability stating that they take full responsibility for the fit of their tires.

Finally, for anyone who wants to legally drive around with tires sticking out 6 inches past the fender, you have an option: move to Alabama. That state, as far as I can tell, doesn’t have any laws about fenders.

Doug Dahl writes a weekly column for this newspaper. He is with the state Traffic Safety Commission.