Firestone Recalls Millions of Tires

Aug. 10, 2000 -- Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. on Wednesday recalled 6.5 million tires for light trucks and sport utility vehicles as investigators examine the tires in connection with road accidents that caused 46 deaths.

The voluntary safety recall affects all size P235/75R15 Firestone radial ATX and radial ATXII tires produced in North America, including Mexico, and P235/75R15-size Wilderness AT tires produced at the company’s Decatur, Ill., plant.

Bridgestone/Firestone said about 14.4 million of these tires have been produced.

“The company estimates that the number of tires still in use and involved in the recall is 6.5 million, which includes 3.8 million radial ATX and ATXII tires and 2.7 million Wilderness AT tires,” the company said in a statement.

The majority of the targeted tires were on Ford vehicles, sources told ABCNEWS. The vehicles included the Ford Explorer, Ranger, F-150 pickup, Mercury Mountaineer, and also Mazda’s Navaho and B-series pickup, the sources said.

“At Bridgestone/Firestone, nothing is more important to us than the safety of our consumers,” Gary Crigger, Bridgestone/Firestone executive vice president, told a news conference in Detroit.

“We felt we must take this extraordinary step as a precaution to ensure consumer safety and consumer confidence in our brands,” Crigger said.

“So, no matter how many tires, no matter how many miles they have on them, we will replace them with new tires.”

The company said it will replace the recalled tires with tires made by other manufacturers if there are not enough Bridgestone/Firestone tires to meet the demand.

The company says the number of reported incidents with tire size P235/75R15 has been higher than with the other sizes in the lines. Crigger said the data show that accidents involving such tires are rare considering the millions of tires produced.

As of Monday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had received more than 270 complaints about failing Firestone truck tires — the vast majority installed on Ford Explorer sport utility vehicles. These complaints involved 46 fatalities and at least 80 injuries.

Peeling ‘Like a Banana’ The complaints allege that Firestone tires peel off their casings, sometimes while the vehicles are traveling at high speeds. The mounting safety concerns have prompted Discount Tire, Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck and Co. to stop selling the tires.

Most of the reported accidents have come from states in warm climates, where heat can affect tire tread bonding and may be associated with an increased rate of tread separation.

Gary Padgett, a lawyer involved in a lawsuit against Bridgestone/Firestone, described the detreading problem to ABCNEWS’s Good Morning America as similar to a peel coming off a banana.

During Wednesday’s news conference, Firestone’s Crigger said the company’s research showed that most of the accidents involved tires that were underinflated.

Worried Drivers Swamp Tire Dealers Tire dealers around the country Wednesday reported a busy morning, as news of the recall spread.

“Within an hour, I’d say we had about 50 phone calls,” said Keith Fraser, who owns an independent Firestone tire store in Mesa, Ariz. Fraser said this morning he hadn’t yet received any information from Bridgestone/Firestone about the details of the recall.

“I’ve sold quite a few of these tires and I have never seen one go bad and I have to say that in all honesty,” Tom Argiro, the owner of the Fort Lee Tire Center in New Jersey, said Wednesday.

Argiro said his store was bombarded with calls as well, and he was wondering how quickly Bridgestone-Firestone would make replacement tires available for his customers. He said he also was waiting for details from the company.

Fred Wachter, an independent tire dealer in Oak View, Calif., said his phone was swamped too.

“I had a customer call early this morning just as we opened that wanted them taken off immediately. His wife wouldn’t get in the car,” he said.

Not everyone seemd worried, however, said Jerry Morben, manager of the Firestone Tire center in Bismarck, S.D. Morben said he didn’t expect the tire recall to turn people off Firestone tires.

Already Recalled in Other Countries

So far, Firestone and Ford have replaced nearly 50,000 of the tires in six foreign countries.

Ford has already replaced Firestone tires for free on vehicles sold in Venezuela, Ecuador, Thailand, Malaysia, Colombia and Saudi Arabia after tires failed in those countries. The company resisted pressure to do so in the United States, saying the matter was under investigation. Joan Claybrook, president of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, said Bridgestone/Firestone knew about the problem for as many as eight years, but failed to act. “They didn’t want to do the recall and thought they could cover it up,” she told Good Morning America Wednesday.

In 1978, Firestone recalled 14 million of its 500-series tires that had tread separations and blowouts. Federal regulators fined the former Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. $500,000 then for concealing the safety problems.

Firestone nearly went bankrupt after that recall and was subsequently bought by Bridgestone Corp. in 1988.

ABCNEWS’ Lisa Stark and The Associated Press contributed to this report.