Alternatives Environmental and health concerns associated with lead pollution prompted the industry to develop alternatives to lead wheel weights.
"There are a number of different products on the market," said André Algazi, supervisor of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control's Consumer Products unit, within DTSC's Office of Pollution Prevention and Green Technology. "There are some that are different alloys of different metals. Copper and zinc are used in some of them, tungsten, and there are some plastic wheel weights available, so there are things on the market."
The most popular alternative to lead wheel weights is steel.
Perfect Equipment Inc., a leading manufacturer of wheel weights, was advertising its lead-free steel and zinc weights in 2005, after the European Commission issued a directive prohibiting the use of lead in vehicles. That company and two other major players in the wheel weight industry -- Plombco and Hennessy Industries -- agreed in 2008 to stop shipping lead wheel weights to California, as part of a legal settlement with the nonprofit Center for Environmental Health. The companies now offer lead-free alternatives. Hennessy and Plombco have even set up special websites (at www.steelwheelweights.com and www.zincwheelweights.com, respectively) to promote their lead-free weights.
Algazi said the DTSC website links to information about lead alternatives, as well. DTSC is the implementing agency for the new state law and is working to educate the affected industries.
Making the Switch Many tire and wheel stores were prepared for the change by the time the new law was put in place. Auto industry publications had been reporting on lead wheel weight legislation and trends for some time.
"As far as Goodyear's process, we were ahead of the game," said Kevin Boyd, assistant store manager at a Goodyear Tire Center in Sacramento.
His shop started installing steel pound-on, clip-on and stick-on weights even before the law took effect. "I think it's good for the environment," he said. "I mean, I have five small children, and it's something I want to protect for them in the future."
His suppliers were ready for the change, as well. "We had our weights in process," Boyd said, "and we just started to exchange them out. ... We just substituted with the steel weights right away."
Leonard Orrick, owner of Radial Tire Service in Sacramento, said his shop removes 10 to 20 pounds of lead weights a day and has switched to steel weights, as well. Notifying his suppliers about the law and restocking the shop's inventory went smoothly, but installing the new steel weights has involved a bit of a learning curve.
"You get in a rote when you knew which lead weight went on which wheel, and it's just going to be a training period to get to know which steel weight to go on which type of lip on the wheel," he said.
Additionally, his staff is finding that the steel weights don't bond to the wheels as easily as the lead weights do.
"We're having a difficult time with them coming off after the wheel flexes," he said. "We're having probably 2 percent of cars come back with vibration problems."
Boyd, at Goodyear, said he hasn't seen any difference in the performance of lead-free weights compared with lead weights, other than a surface-preparation problem he's encountered with stick-on weights in general.
"You have to make sure [the wheel] is absolutely 100 percent clean, with no debris, almost down to bare metal before [the weight] will adhere onto the wheel," he said.
If the wheel is extremely dirty, he said, the cleaning process involves abrasion, such as a scuff pad. "After that, we use a cleaning compound or chemical along with a rag to wipe the wheel down to get it to the purest condition we can."
Boyd believes that steel weights, once properly installed, will have a longer life expectancy than lead weights.
"All the steel weights have protective coating. Prior, with the lead weights, you had the standard lead weight or the protective coated weight, so it wouldn't etch into the aluminum wheel, oxidize into the wheel," he said. "With the coated steel weights, I think they're actually going to have a longer life span on them, and I don't foresee any problems whatsoever with them."