Auto Service World
Feature   September 1, 2000   by CARS Magazine

Firestone Recall Update

Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. has announced a recall in North America of some 14.4 million tires sold, of which 6.5 million are thought to be still in use for light trucks and sport utility vehicles that...


Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. has announced a recall in North America of some 14.4 million tires sold, of which 6.5 million are thought to be still in use for light trucks and sport utility vehicles that have been implicated in at least 46 fatalities in the U.S. “No matter how old the tires, no matter how many miles they have on them, we will replace them with new tires at no charge,” Firestone Executive Vice President Gary Crigger announced at a news conference on August 9. The recall includes all ATX, ATX II and Wilderness tires in the P235/75R15 size. Early estimates quote the cost of the recall at an estimated US$300-million. At least 50 lawsuits have been filed against Bridgestone, Ford and other automakers that have installed the tires. The Ford Explorer, the top selling SUV in the United States, has been involved in three-quarters of the accidents reported to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. General Motors Corp., Nissan Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Subaru also sell the Firestone ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires as original equipment on SUVs and pickups. All have said that they have received no complaints about the tire. Although no design or manufacturing defect has been identified, complaints allege that the tires experience tread separation, sometimes while vehicles are traveling at high speeds. Early Ford data suggests that the highest level of failures occur with Wilderness AT tires produced at Firestone’s Decatur plant, with other plants (including one in Joliet, Quebec) not affected. Failures appear to be concentrated in regions with hot climates, such as the American Southwest.

Firestone has urged owners to move to a higher inflation pressure of 30 psi, up from the 26 psi originally recommended by Ford. Most of the accidents reported to the NHTSA originate from warm climates, where heat can affect tire tread bonding and may be associated with an increased rate of tread separation. Ford has already replaced tires on vehicles sold in Venezuela, Ecuador, Thailand, Malaysia, Colombia and Saudi Arabia after tires failed in those countries. Ford has suspended production at the firm’s St. Louis, Twin Cities, and Edison assembly plants to free 70,000 tires for the replacement effort, until the mid September ramp up of production by Firestone, Goodyear, General, Uniroyal, and Michelin. The recall is the biggest since Firestone was asked to recall 14.5 million tires in 1978 by U.S. officials.

In the U.S., the recall issue has begun its move to the courts, with an order by a Texas judge for Firestone CEO Masatoshi Ono to provide a deposition in a case involving two fatalities resulting from a May 1999 accident involving a Ford Explorer equipped with ATX tires. In Florida, an investigation by that state’s attorney general’s office has begun, an investigation that has been erroneously reported as a “civil racketeering investigation” by at least one U.S. wire service. A U.S. Congressional investigation is also underway aimed at determining the timelines surrounding Ford and Firestone awareness of potential problems, and the steps both firms took to analyze data and instigate the recall. In Venezuela, where Firestone tires are being investigated in connection with 62 accidents, that country’s consumer protection agency, Indecu, has submitted a report to the Venezuelan attorney general alleging that Ford and Firestone failed to act quickly enough in response to the problems. Venezuelan officials have asserted that the design of the Explorer was a contributory factor in the accidents, although no hard data had been produced at press time. Both companies face possible criminal charges in Venezuela, whose media has dubbed the suspected rubber “assassin tires”. Ford V.P. Jason Vines, in a conference call with reporters, declared that more than half the Firestone tires replaced by Ford in Venezuela were not built to Firestone engineering specifications. Firestone spokesman Ken Fields has responded that there are no defects in the tires, and that they were built to Ford specifications. Both companies agree that the Venezuelan issue does not support a widening of the North American recall.


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