August 10, 2000

WASHINGTON – The safety of some of the very tires being used by the Firestone company to replace 6.5 million it recalled Wednesday is now being called into question.

A group called the Safety Forum and lawyers who are suing Firestone and the Ford Motor Co. say they have conducted a “preliminary review” of 16 claims against the companies involving incidents in which the tread separated on tires. And, they say, 11 of those claims involved the very Wilderness tires that Firestone says are safe — tires that will be used to replace those tires those that may be failing.

The company plans to use Wilderness tires from three of its plants as replacements. Company officials say they are recalling Wilderness tires from another plant, but that Wilderness tires made at those three plants have excellent safety records. But Safety Forum and the attorneys say the tires from those three plants also may have safety problems.

Firestone issued the recall 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.

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

Companies Stand by Tires

Ford spokeswoman Ann Doyle told ABCNEWS the company’s main aim was, when making the recall, to ensure customer safety. She said the automaker did extensive analysis before reaching the decision that the replacement tire was a good tire. She also said there are “accidents involving tires all the time” and they don’t necessarily involve tire separation. She said such incidents might now draw attention, but stood by Ford’s findings, based on Firestone’s data for failure of the tires.

Firestone, part of Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., today also stood by the recall as well as the replacement tires.

“We have followed this very closely and we have looked into the numbers and we have identified concerns, and we are convinced that the tires that we are using as replacement tires are safe,” said spokesman Ken Fields, adding that there were no indications of any problems with the Wildnerness tires being used as replacements.

He added that Firestone announced the recall in the interest of public safety.

Overwhelming Numbers

In a news conference Wednesday, company officials insisted that an overwhelming number of problems with the Wildnerness brand of tires being recalled were from one of their plants, in Decatur, Ill., and so Wilderness tires from that plant only needed to be recalled.

Firestone is recalling other tires from all its plants.

A source close to the recall said today that the Safety Forum findings, which are very preliminary, do not match the data Ford and Firestone looked at. The source said the data Ford and Firestone have show that tires from the Decatur plant were 14 times more likely to have claims of tread separation filed against them than tires from the company’s other plants.

The National Traffic Safety Administration is still reviewing the problems with the tires and if it finds the company-ordered recall is not sufficient, it could order a more extensive recall.