Bridgestone/Firestone checking cracks in another model

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Small cracks were found in the sidewalls of a Bridgestone/Firestone tire made for two Toyota vehicles, but both companies said Thursday that the problems appear to be cosmetic.

The Dueler HT 689 model, size P265/70R16, was standard equipment on some of Toyota's full-size Tundra pickup trucks and its new 2001 Sequoia sport utility vehicle. The automaker stopped using the tire last month when the cracks were discovered by workers at its Indiana plant.

Joe Tetherow, a Toyota spokesman in Torrance, Calif., said Thursday that tests showed no serious safety threat and that the automaker plans to resume use of the Firestone within a few days.

''This was not prompted by the tire hysteria going on out there,'' Tetherow said. ''We would do this as a normal procedure as something that might compromise quality.''

He said Toyota witnessed the tests performed last week by Bridgestone/Firestone. ''Based on that, we're convinced this is just a cosmetic blemish and not a safety problem whatsoever,'' Tetherow said.

Bridgestone/Firestone spokeswoman Anitra Budd said the company has not had any reports of safety problems with the tire. ''The cosmetic cracking in no way affects the quality or safety of the tire,'' she said.

The model was not among the 6.5 million ATX, ATX II and Wilderness tires recalled by Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. in August.

The 2001 Sequoia had not been shipped to dealers and the tires were replaced with Dunlops, Tetherow said. He said about 4,000 Tundra trucks had been shipped with Firestone tires and dealers were told to replace them at customers' request.

The tires were made at Bridgestone/Firestone's Wilson, N.C., plant, which also makes some of the company's Steeltex brand tires that are under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Documents in Georgia lawsuit show that between 1990 and 1995, customers complained about tread separations in tires made at the Wilson factory more often than in tires made at other Firestone plants.

''There is no reason to believe there is a defect at the Wilson plant,'' Bridgestone/Firestone spokeswoman Christine Karbowiak said.


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