The group Public Citizen said auto companies likely would install the cheaper indirect monitoring system, which it said is inadequate and "perpetuates a fraud on consumers."
"After receiving nearly 200 comments and holding at least 20 meetings, NHTSA recommended the installation of a 'direct' system, which monitors the pressure of all four tires even when the car is stopped and provides drivers with comprehensive and accurate information," Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said in a statement issued in Washington.
Public Citizen said NHTSA was overruled by the White House Office of Management and Budget, which said either tracking system was acceptable.
"'Indirect' systems, which can be installed only in vehicles with anti-lock brakes, measure the differences in the rotational speed of tires," she said. "They do not work if all four tires are equally under inflated or if the vehicle is not moving."
Claybrook said Public Citizen plans to sue NHTSA to force it to adopt what it said is the superior direct tire pressure monitoring system.
The Office of Management and Budget said indirect tire pressure monitoring would promote continued use of anti-lock brakes, which are on about 80 percent of all new vehicles.
The four-tire direct system would cost consumers about $100 more per vehicle than the indirect system. About 2 million newer model vehicles currently on the road are equipped with the indirect tire pressure monitoring system.
General Motors Corp. offers both systems but said it favored the indirect monitoring system because 82 percent of its vehicles have ABS brakes as standard equipment.
The Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act requires the tire pressure monitoring systems to be gradually phased in through Oct. 31, 2006.
Congress mandated improved tire safety requirements after the August 2000 recall of 6.5 million Firestone ATX, ATX II and Wilderness tires. Ford voluntarily replaced all 13 million Wilderness AT tires on its light pickups, vans and the Explorer sport utility vehicles.
NHTSA has linked tread separations and blowouts of possibly defective tires with rollover crashes that killed more than 270 people and injured more than 700.
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