Personal Finance
Handling the tire recall
August 9, 2000: 1:24 p.m. ET

How consumers should respond to Bridgestone's recall of 3 types of tires
By Staff Writer Alex Frew McMillan
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - What should consumers do if they have ATX, ATX II or Wilderness AT tires? First, bear in mind that not all the tires have been recalled.

But there are millions of tires out there affected by the recall. An estimated 6.5 million of them, in fact, according to the company that made them.

In all, 14.4 million affected tires were produced, and Bridgestone estimates just under half are still on the road.

Is your tire affected?

Consumers should easily be able to tell if their tires are among those recalled by looking at them closely.

The recall only covers all North American Firestone tires called ATX or ATX II that are size P235/75R15. But that is the most popular tire size for sport/utility vehicles.

The recall also covers Wilderness AT tires of the same size, but only if they were made at the company's Decatur, Ill., plant.

Bridgestone Corp. today announced it was recalling the tires because they have a higher-than-normal failure rate that could lead to blowouts. Regulators have received complaints linking the tires to 46 deaths.

Size and brand clearly visible on the tire itself

The size is clearly visible on the tires, which carry the name "Firestone" and also have the size stamped on the sidewall.

Consumers can tell if their Wilderness AT tires were made at the Decatur plant by looking for the letters "VD" at the start of a long series of identifying letters on the tire.

Click here to read "Bridgestone recalls Tires" - Aug. 9, 2000

Click here for all recall news

Among others, the recall affects drivers of Ford Explorers, the best-selling S/UV. Explorers come with Wilderness AT tires when bought new.

The Eddie Bauer limited edition Ford Explorer comes with a slightly larger Wilderness AT tire than the regular Explorer. The Bauer-model tires are not covered by the recall.

Raised letters, in white or black

The size is most visible on older tires, where it is written in raised white letters and numbers. On newer tires, the size may be written in black, but it is still raised and still should be obvious, according to a spokesman at the company's U.S. subsidiary in Nashville, Tenn.

Bridgestone, which is based in Tokyo, has set up a customer-service hotline via its U.S. subsidiary, Bridgestone/Firestone, for Americans who own ATX, ATX II or Wilderness AT tires to call.

That number is (800) 465-1904.

Given the volume of calls, it may well be busy. The line was busy five consecutive times when attempted to call.

A slow response leaves some consumers angry

Consumers were generally unhappy with Bridgestone's initial response. One customer in Atlanta said she had tried to take her tires back as soon as she heard of the recall.

The dealership told her to come in but when she got there, it didn't have replacement tires. Click here to hear her comments: (330KB AIF file or 330KB WAV file.)

"We are aware that the public is having trouble getting through on the 1-800 line, and we are working hard to resolve this," Gary Crigger, Bridgestone executive vice president, said at a press conference.

Crigger also conceded that Bridgestone's response was less than perfect. "We apologize to our customers, the media and the general public," he said.

"If you have a recalled tire, call your local Firestone retailer to set up an appointment," he continued. Recalled tires will be replaced with new Wilderness AT tires that were not made in Decatur, Ill., or with other tires if supplies run low, he said.

You don't have to wait to get your new tires

Consumers who own a recalled tire will be notified by a letter from Bridgestone, Crigger said, explaining the recall procedure. But consumers do not have to wait until they get the letter to make an appointment with a Firestone dealer and set the recall in motion, he said.

The company also is working on a plan to compensate consumers who already have had their tires replaced or repaired, he said.

If you do not know where the nearest Firestone dealership is, call the customer-service hotline, Crigger said.

You also could search in the Yellow Pages for "Tire Dealers."

Tread separating from tire can lead to blowouts

David Champion, director of automobile testing for Consumer Reports, said Bridgestone's response was "a little slow." He said that Ford already had replaced the tires in several other countries, such as Venezuela, Colombia, Thailand, Malaysia, Qatar and Oman.

Champion explained that what seems to be happening is that the tread separates from the body of the tire as heat builds up between the two.

The situation is common, he pointed out, with large trucks, which often spin off part of their tread on highways.

This can lead to part of the tread hanging off the tire, he continued. "Sometimes the tread comes off, and you have a blowout," he said.

"It can happen to any tire," he said. Driver abuse and the large number of these tires on the road might explain the high accident rate, he said.

Consumer Reports tests only the initial performance of the tire and does not test tires for blowouts or performance under heat. But when the organization tested these tires for their stopping ability and handling, they performed well, he said.

Tips for avoiding the problem: Check tire pressure

Three conditions exacerbate the tread-separation problem, Champion said: continued driving at high speeds; driving with tires that are not fully inflated; and driving with an overloaded car.

Heat also makes the problem worse. Bridgestone explained that the "vast majority of incidents" have come in four states that have hot summer temperatures: Arizona, California, Florida and Texas.

Bridgestone encouraged owners of its tires to make sure they are properly inflated, at the proper pressure.

Ford Motor Co. recommends pressure of 26 to 30 pounds per square inch, Crigger said. Ford has evaluated the tires at a pressure of 30 pounds per square inch, Crigger said, and the vehicles maintain "good performance characteristics" at that pressure.

Firestone recommends keeping the tires inflated at 30 pounds per square inch, the high end of the Ford range. Not only does that reduce the risk of accident, Crigger said, but it also can enhance the performance and lifespan of the tires.

Risk is greatest where weather is hottest

Bridgestone is rolling out the recall in three phases, starting with the four states where the failure rate of the tires has been highest. Bridgestone said more than 80 percent of the problems have been in Arizona, California, Florida and Texas.

Supplies of extra tires will be sent to Firestone dealers in those states first, according to the company. "We will complete each phase as rapidly as possible," Crigger said.

The second phase of the recall will cover Southern and Southwestern states that also see high temperatures in summer:

Phase Two comprises Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Bridgestone will focus on sending replacement tires to those states after the first phase is completed.

Phase three of the recall will cover the remaining U.S. states.

The company said it has contacted regulatory authorities in Canada and Mexico and is working to roll out the recall there. The recall covers tires made in Mexico as well as the United States.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is the regulatory body overseeing the recall in the United States. NHTSA is also investigating consumer complaints about the tires. Bridgestone is cooperating with the investigation, according to a NHTSA spokeswoman.

A Ford Motor Co. spokesman said his company is cooperating with Bridgestone to expedite the recall.

"Ford is certainly involved with this and has been working closely with Bridgestone," the spokesman said. Back to top


Bridgestone recalls tires - Aug. 9, 2000


Bridgestone Corp.


National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

Tire Industry Safety Council

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