WASHINGTON – Six years after dozens of motorists were killed in rollovers linked to defective tires, the manufacturer said Friday it would contact owners to try to bring in the remaining 200,000 tires that may still be on the road.
Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire, the Nashville, Tenn.-based subsidiary of Japan's Bridgestone Corp., said its 2000-01 recall had been highly successful, replacing about 95 percent of the 6.5 million tires involved.
Safety officials said some tires may still be on used vehicles or serve as spares, overlooked in the wave of advertising to replace them.
The tiremaker will ask registered owners of Ford (F) Explorer, Mercury Mountaineer and Mazda Navajo sport utility vehicles — many of which have the tires as original equipment — along with Firestone stores and dealers to check for the recalled tires.
"Even though there are only a small percentage of these tires believed to be still in use, we are continuing to put safety first and are implementing this communications campaign to try to reach out to a group of consumers whose tires have not yet been recovered," said Mike Kane, the company's vice president of quality assurance.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Friday issued a consumer advisory asking owners to replace all tires included in the recall campaign.
The affected tires include the P235/75R15 Radial ATX and certain P235/75R15 and P255/70R 16 Wilderness AT models manufactured before May 1998. Tires manufactured after that date are not affected, NHTSA said.
At least 271 people were reported killed and hundreds more injured in accidents involving Firestone ATX and AT tires, leading to the recalls. About 6.3 million of the tires were replaced during the recall, the company said.
The tires were widely used on Ford Explorers, and safety officials discovered they were prone to losing their tread, causing rollovers. Ford separately recalled more than 10 million tires, and the crisis led to congressional hearings and the passage of the federal TREAD Act in 2000 to spot safety defects earlier.
In June, a Massachusetts-based safety group asked the government to notify owners about the dangers of the recalled tires, asserting that at least five crashes in recent years, including two fatalities, involved recalled Firestone tires that remained on Explorers.
Sean Kane, head of Safety Research and Strategies Inc., said his company had come across numerous recalled tires that remained on the vehicles, which were now on their second or third owners.
"We're concerned this represents such an acute hazard that we felt it was necessary to do some notification," Kane said.
The Firestone letters will urge owners to check their tires and spare to see if they have a tire covered by the recall campaigns and get the tires replaced free of charge.
Owners were being encouraged to take their vehicles into a Firestone store or participating tire dealership for a free inspection. Consumers could call (800) 465-1904 for the location of the nearest participating store.
Bridgestone Firestone spent more than $10 million advertising the 2001 recall and sent 2 million recall letters in 2003 to owners as part of a class-action settlement. The company has settled more than 2,300 lawsuits since August 2000 related to the recall.
Bridgestone Firestone spokeswoman Christine Karbowiak said the tiremaker believes only a small number of tires still remain, noting that six years have passed since the recall.
"It's really been an ongoing process and this is yet another step that we're taking," she said.
Last year, Bridgestone Firestone agreed to pay Ford $240 million to settle their dispute over accidents involving Firestone ATX and AT tires, ending a relationship that spanned decades.
Bridgestone blamed the accidents on defects in some Ford vehicles, while Ford said the tires were at fault.