- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2000

The parking lot at the Firestone Tire & Service Center in Wheaton, Md., was overloaded with sport utility vehicles and the phones were ringing off the hook Thursday a day after the tire maker recalled 6.5 million tires.

Worried drivers had to schedule appointments some as far as a month away to bring their vehicles back to even be looked at.

"Who's going to be responsible if my tire blows out before my appointment?" asked Dennis Sharp, a Silver Spring, Md., resident who has an appointment in two weeks to bring his Ford Explorer back to the Georgia Avenue shop. "Two weeks is a long time to wait."

But Sandy McArthur, manager of tire sales, said the center is already running out of replacement tires, is overloaded with work and can accommodate customers only through appointments.

"It's been nonstop since 7 a.m.," Mr. McArthur said. "It's stressing us out."

He admits his service shop was not prepared for the onslaught.

"This is hitting us by surprise," he said.

By midafternoon, the parking lot was overloaded with sport utility vehicles. The recalled tires, which are on about 1.6 million vehicles nationwide, have been installed primarily on Ford Explorers, the nation's top-selling SUV.

Mr. Sharp, who may need all five tires replaced including the full-size spare tire, said he isn't too worried about waiting two weeks to bring his Explorer back because he keeps the tires inflated properly and uses another vehicle for most of his daily driving.

"I would be seriously concerned if I was on the Beltway every day," he said.

Japanese tire maker Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. is conducting the recall in three phases beginning with Southern states, where 80 percent of accidents related to the faulty tires have occurred. But the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia are part of the last phase. Owners may not be able to get replacement tires until next summer.

"We're part of the later phase but that doesn't matter to people," Mr. McArthur said. "They still want new tires."

The tires affected, include the Firestone Radial ATX and ATX II and Wilderness AT tires, all size P235/75R15, produced at the company's Decatur, Ill., plant. Firestone stopped making the ATX tires in 1997, and Explorers sold this year do not have the Decatur-made tires.

The government is investigating complaints that link the tires to nearly 300 failures, 80 injuries and at least 46 deaths.

The company is not sure why owners have had so many problems with the tires but high speeds, hot temperatures, low tire pressure levels and heavy loads can contribute to blowouts and other damage. The company has recommended that consumers keep the tires inflated to 30 pounds per square inch.

Local Firestone shops do have some replacement tires in stock but any new shipments are going directly to Arizona, California, Florida and Texas, the phase-one states.

The company also has set up a toll-free number to answer questions, but customers Thursday were unable to get through because so many people were calling.

Mr. Sharp was not impressed with how Firestone has handled the recall.

"They're kind of in a bind," he said. "They should have had [the service centers] prepared."

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