- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2001

Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. agreed yesterday to recall 3.5 million more Wilderness AT tires, ending a 11/2-year federal investigation into thousands of reports that the tires suddenly lost their tread.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which ordered the recall, also announced it had discovered 68 more fatalities connected to Firestone tire failures, raising the total to 271. Twenty-five of those deaths and some 50 injuries involve the newly recalled tires.
Most of the accidents reported to NHTSA involved rollovers of the Ford Explorer, which used Wilderness AT tires as standard equipment. However, NHTSA said yesterday it found no evidence to support Bridgestone/Firestone's claim that the design of the Explorer was faulty and at least partly to blame.
The recall is for P235/75R15 and P255/70R16 Wilderness AT tires manufactured before May 1998 that were supplied as original equipment to Ford Motor Co. or sold as replacement tires.
Most of the tires are original equipment on the Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer sport utility vehicles and the Ford Ranger pickup.
Bridgestone/Firestone will replace 117,000 tires mounted on pickups even though NHTSA ordered only those mounted on SUVs to be recalled. The company said it wanted to avoid confusion among truck owners.
Bridgestone/Firestone says only about 768,000 of the SUV tires are still on the road. Many already have been replaced by owners or as part of Ford's 5-month-old effort to replace all 13 million Wilderness AT tires on its vehicles.
"We do not agree with NHTSA's findings," Bridgestone/Firestone CEO John Lampe said in a statement. "Our testing and science show our tires perform extremely well. However, we have decided that it is in the best interest of our company, our employees, our dealers and our customers if we replace the limited number of tires in question and close this chapter in the company's history."
Ford spokesman Ken Zino said that based on the latest recall, the automaker is considering trying to recover from Bridgestone/Firestone some of the $3 billion cost of the replacement program.
Customers can tell if their tires are included in the recall by checking the serial number located on the lower sidewall area. The recalled tires have serial numbers ending in 4-7 and 018-188.
Free replacements will be available through the end of January.
Last summer, Bridgestone/Firestone rejected NHTSA's request to expand its original recall of 6.5 million ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires, saying it was prepared to go to court to prove the tires were safe.
"We are pleased that Firestone has taken this approach in lieu of lengthy court proceedings, moving us quickly to a safe solution," NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey Runge said in a statement.
NHTSA's investigation has focused attention on tire safety and had far-reaching consequences for consumers and the two companies, both of which have set aside hundreds of millions of dollars to deal with lawsuits.
Congress passed a law last year updating the nation's tire standards, requiring government tests of rollover risk and other changes to auto-safety laws.

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