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Firestone To Recall Millions of All-Terrain Tires Used on SUVs

By Cindy Skrzycki

The makers of Firestone tires plan to announce Wednesday they are recalling millions of all-terrain tires used on sport-utility vehicles and light trucks that are the subject of a federal investigation into their possible role in crashes that caused 46 deaths.

The decision to recall the tires came after a meeting Tuesday between officials of Bridgestone Corp., the Japanese owner of Firestone, Ford Motor Co. -- whose best-selling Explorer is equipped with the tires -- and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, according to sources close to the talks. Firestone has scheduled a press conference Wednesday morning to announce the details of the recall.

Firestone officials refused to comment on the matter Tuesday. They have said repeatedly that the tires are safe.

Sources close to the talks said Nashville-based Bridgestone/Firestone, which has been battered in the last week by bad publicity and the decision by major retailers to not sell ATX, ATX II and Wilderness tires, will spell out Wednesday how they plan to compensate consumers who have the tires.

Bridgestone/Firestone will try to limit the recall, sources said, to the tire sizes that are used on the Ford Explorer, and on some other light trucks made by other manufacturers. It’s believed that about 15 to 20 million tires -- mostly on the Ford Explorer -- will be recalled.

Overall, some 47 million of the tires have been sold as original equipment and in aftermarket sales. Ford said 3.6 million Explorers have been produced since 1990 and these tires were used on most of them as original equipment from the factory.

General Motors Corp., Nissan Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Subaru also use the tires as original equipment.

Although NHTSA is far from coming to a conclusion about the cause and scope of the problem, Ford has already voluntarily replaced about 108,000 of the tires put on Explorers and F-series pickup trucks in other countries. Safety groups had begun questioning why Ford removed those tires while those in the United States were never recalled.

Beginning in August 1999, Ford started recalling the tires, first in the Middle East, then in Thailand and Malaysia and, finally, in Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador.

Ford said it was a customer service issue in those countries, and a large proportion of the incidents overseas involved tread separation. “In those countries, it’s extremely hot and great distances are traveled at very high speeds, at 100-mile-per-hour speeds,” said Sharon Drury, a Ford spokesperson.

Until now, Firestone has been telling customers to go to company-owned stores for a tire inspection. The company said where it’s appropriate, consumers are given credit, based on the wear of their tires.