Tire recall heats up
Firestone tire owners rush for replacements, but inventory is short
NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Motorists, driven by concerns about their well being on the road, scrambled to replace possibly defective tires on Thursday, after Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. recalled 6.5 million of its tires.|
Firestone retail locations across the country were jammed today, filled with consumers requesting new tires, even after the company warned that it does not have enough inventory on hand to replace the recalled tires, and may have to purchase tires from competitors to satisfy customers.
"When customers hear there's a recall or a death involved, they come in screaming and say, 'Get them off the car,"' said Mike Barbaro, senior vice president of Town Fair Tire, an East Haven, Conn.-based chain of 52 stores.
Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of Tokyo-based Bridgestone Corp., recalled on Wednesday 6.5 million tires after a consumer and retailer outcry. The recall comes as the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigates three brands of Firestone tires that may have led to dozens of fatal crashes.
At least 46 deaths, and 300 failures, have been recorded in incidents where the tires blew out or the tread peeled away. The incidents involve one size of the company's ATX, ATX II and Wilderness tires.
The recall covers size P235/75R15 in all the ATX, ATXII and some Wilderness AT tires that are currently in use on some of the most popular SUVs in the United States.
The tires have been original equipment on Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Nissan and Subaru vehicles for several years, but most accidents reported to traffic safety officials have involved the best selling Ford Explorer. About 70 percent of the tires are on Ford Motor Co. sports utility vehicles and light pickups, including the popular Ford Explorer and its twin Mercury Mountaineer models.
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In most of the reported cases, the tires would separate from their casings, sometimes at high speeds. About 80 percent of the complaints came from Arizona, California, Florida and Texas, according to government and industry officials.
"The tires looked like a bicycle tire. All you saw was the inner tube ... I have a 7-month-old baby. I'm not going to drive him around like that," said Eric Albury, 26, of Miami Shores, Fla., who owns a 1991 Ford Explorer and had to replace four Firestone Wilderness tires because the treads came off while driving on I-75.
The company is offering replacements, with their brand or a competitor's brand, at no charge, regardless of the tire's age or mileage. Bridgestone also said on Thursday that it expects to take a $350 million one-time charge due to the recall.
Gary Crigger, Bridgestone/Firestone's executive vice president, said the company has not been able to pinpoint any defect in the tires and suggested that driving in hot temperatures and low tire pressure may have been factors in the reported accidents.
Due to lack of inventory, the company is concentrating the recall in four hot-weather states -- California, Arizona, Florida and Texas, where most of the accidents have been reported. That phase of the recall is likely to last until October.
Next will come other southern states, to be followed by a national recall. All tires will be replaced within 18 months, company officials said.
"Consumers who own a recalled tire will be notified by a letter from Bridgestone," Crigger said, explaining the recall procedure.
However, 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, Crigger said. The company is also working on a plan to compensate consumers who already have had their tires replaced or repaired, Crigger added.
But even customers with no tire problems want replacements.
"I am worried," said Hortensia Mata of Miami, who drives a 1992 Ford Explorer. "I am a longtime Firestone customer, but with all the accidents I need to take precautions."
Ian Hugh, owner of Hugh's Tire Service in Glendale, Ariz., said his telephone rang all day with customers worried about any make of Firestone tires.
"Firestone's trying to be as helpful as they can and I'm trying to be as helpful as I can," he said, noting some customers are asking for other brands.
Critics maintained the tires should have been taken off the highways sooner and that the manufacturer -- as well as automakers using the tires -- had indications of problems as far back as the early 1990s. They point to dozens of lawsuits, some of which were settled years ago under the protection of a gag order.
"This is something they've known about for a long time," said Joan Claybrook, president of consumer advocacy group Public Citizen and a former National Highway Transportation Safety Administration administrator. She said lawyers have told her some lawsuits involving the tires dated to 1992.
When announcing the recall, Crigger, Bridgestone/Firestone's executive vice president, apologized for the "lack of information over the past few days," and for the difficulty consumers had reaching a toll-free number to ask questions.
Bridgestone/Firestone said that about 14.4 million of the tires have been produced, with an estimated 6.5 million still in use and subject to recall.
--from staff and wire reports.