DETROIT - Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. said Thursday it would continue to repay customers who replace recalled tires at stores other than Firestone or Ford Motor Co. dealers, lifting indefinitely its previous deadline.
Bridgestone/Firestone had offered to reimburse customers up to $100 per wheel for tires replaced outside the Ford-Firestone network between Aug. 9 - when the recall was announced - and Wednesday, when Bridgestone/Firestone ran newspaper ads explaining the recall.
Bridgestone/Firestone executives originally said it was important for owners of the 6.5 million recalled tires - most installed on Ford trucks - to get them replaced at Ford or Firestone affiliated dealers, so that the company could collect the used tires as required under federal recall guidelines.
But Bridgestone/Firestone executive vice president Gary Crigger said Thursday that reimbursements would continue indefinitely, regardless of where tires are replaced. Customers were asked, however, to bring old tires into Firestone stores when they apply for reimbursements.
''We are continually evolving this process,'' said Christine Karbowiak, Bridgestone/Firestone vice president of public affairs. ''It is a very large recall. We are identifying improvements along the way.''
The recall of all P235/75R15 radial ATX and ATX II, as well as the same size Wilderness AT tires made in Decatur, Ill., has created an apparent shortage of 15-inch truck tires around the nation.
The tires were recalled after mounting complaints of tread peeling off while the vehicle was in motion, sometimes at high speed.
Crigger and Karbowiak said Bridgestone/Firestone's decision had nothing to do with a Kentucky judge's restraining order telling the company to lift the deadline.
The order had been requested from lawyers representing two owners of recalled tires who weren't able to get replacement tires Wednesday. Karbowiak said the company had not been aware of the order when it made the decision to lift the deadline.
New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer applauded the extension.
''We felt strongly that Firestone had a responsibility to pay for new tires if it couldn't satisfy consumer demand on its own,'' Spitzer said. ''It's nice to see the company putting its customers, and their safety, ahead of its bottom line.''
Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford have said they will use tires from other brands as replacements. Ford spokesman Ken Zino said Thursday that Ford's last poll of some 3,000 dealers found about half had tires in stock.
On the Net:
Ford Motor Co.: http://www.ford.com
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: http://www.nhtsa.gov