Dangerous Tires Prone to Shred Are Still on Road, Investigation Shows

April 25, 2001

Dangerous Tires Prone to Shred Are Still on Road, Investigation Shows

Consumers Call for Expanded Recall, Information Campaign
and Updated Safety Standards

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The public is at risk from Firestone tires that remain on Ford Explorers. These tires are just as prone to separate as tires recalled last year, an in-depth investigation by Public Citizen and Safetyforum.com has found.

Far from “making it right” — as Firestone’s recent ad campaign has claimed the company is trying to do — Firestone and Ford have made it all wrong by replacing faulty tires with tires that are just as prone to fail, according to the report, The Real Root Cause of the Ford-Firestone Tragedy: Why the Public Is Still At Risk.

The investigation found that the tires fail because they are poorly designed and, in some cases, the design problems are exacerbated by inadequate quality control in the manufacturing process. Rollover crashes occur because the design of the Ford Explorer makes it difficult for motorists to maintain control of the vehicle when the tires fall apart.

Both companies are to blame for the tragedy in which more than 184 people have already died and more than 700 have been injured in rollover crashes (primarily in Ford Explorers caused by separating tread on Firestone tires). But the ultimate responsibility lies with Ford, because many key decisions leading to the tragic deaths were made by Ford, the groups have concluded.

The report is based on all available information, including the physical examination of more than 100 Firestone tires obtained in the U.S. and abroad, including both tires that had failed and tires that had not. The report also is based on X-rays of tires, Ford and Firestone documents, an examination of NHTSA’s defect investigation database, independent laboratory and real world tests, and depositions from litigation. The report is the official consumer reply to reports issued earlier by Ford and Firestone that outlined the companies’ findings of the Ford/Firestone debacle.

Based on the findings, Public Citizen and Safetyforum.com are calling on Ford and Firestone to expand the recall to include the approximately 10 million non-recalled 15-inch Wilderness tires, as well as all 16-inch Wilderness AT tires before the summer, when heat will take its toll. Data show that approximately half of the Firestone tread separations have occurred in June, July and August.

“Unless these companies take immediate steps to get these tires off the road, we could have another summer of carnage on our highways,” said Ralph Hoar, executive director of Safetyforum.com. “Firestone’s promise to ‘make it right’ is nothing but PR palaver until they recall all of these tires.”

Said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook, “These tires fail because they are poorly designed, and the situation was made worse by poor manufacturing processes. It’s criminal for executives to sit idly by as more people are unnecessarily killed in the lethal combination with the rollover-prone Explorer just because the top brass wants to save a few dollars.”

Last year, Firestone recalled 6.5 million tires, which consisted of all 15-inch ATX II, and the 15-inch Wilderness AT tires made in its Decatur, Ill., plant. Most of the tires were sold as original equipment on Ford Explorers and were made according to Ford specifications. The recall excluded millions of identical tires made in Firestone’s Wilson, N.C., and Joliette, Canada, plants. But the recall should have included all 15-inch and 16-inch Wilderness AT tires made for the Ford Explorer, the report concludes. Further, Ford and Firestone compounded the problem by doing nothing more than replacing old defective tires with new defective tires.

The report concludes that the tires are failing because of a design problem, and that the non-recalled Wilderness AT tires are of the same design as the recalled tires and suffer from precisely the same defects. Further, the report finds Ford responsible for many of the decisions that led to the tragedy. Ford developed specifications for the tires, recommended a low inflation pressure as a cheap fix for the Explorer’s instability, then initiated action that resulted in a weight reduction in the tire in an effort to improve the Explorer’s fuel economy.

“Ford and Firestone continue to tell the American public that the Wilderness AT tires are safe despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, including the results of their own investigations,”said Tab Turner, Safetyforum.com’s “attorney of record”on tire and vehicle stability issues.

The groups also are calling for:

  • Ford to launch an owner notification program and a public information campaign to inform Explorer owners of the dangerous propensity for the vehicles to roll over, the difficulty in controlling an Explorer when a tire tread separates, the risks posed by the Explorer’s weak roof (which frequently crushes in rollover crashes) and the failure of the Explorer’s safety restraint system to provide protection in a rollover crash;
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to update its 30-year-old tire safety standard as required by the TREAD Act and 30-year-old roof crush standard, and to issue a rollover standard (more than a consumer information program) based on real world tests. The agency also should require improved window glazing or other protection to ensure that people aren’t ejected during rollovers, and should promptly issue the rule requiring auto manufacturers to provide “early warning” information about potential defects to NHTSA; and
  • Auto manufacturers to make sport utility vehicles (SUVs) safer and more socially responsible. If the manufacturers desire to continue to market these vehicles as safe and stable station wagon replacements, they should reduce their size to improve fuel efficiency, make them lower and wider to prevent rollovers and make design changes to reduce the likelihood that the high-framed SUVs will override lower-framed small cars in crashes.

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Report: The Real Root Cause of the Ford-Firestone Tragedy
(note: this is a large PDF file and will require a high-speed internet connection to download.? A text-only version will be available soon)

Ford Ultimately Responsible for Ford-Firestone Tragedy; Steps Must Be Taken Now to Ensure No More People Die Unnecessarily – Statement of Joan Claybrook