Even as Bridgestone/Firestone is conducting a massive replacement program for 6.5 million recalled Firestone tires of a single size, the company has announced it will inspect and possibly replace 700,000 other tires made by Firestone over the past nine years.
The voluntary customer satisfaction program of inspection and possible replacements was announced Sept. 12.
It covers tires listed in a Sept. 1 consumer advisory issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, warning that those tires had a high rate of tread separation.
"This second announcement is not a recall," Bridgestone/Firestone spokeswoman Anne Conrad said. "It's a program of inspections Bridgestone/Firestone is making to assure our customers their tires are safe."
Conrad said about 1.4 million of the tires listed in the NHTSA advisory were manufactured since 1991 and both the company and the NHTSA estimate that fewer than half are still on the road.
"So we're dealing with only about a tenth the number of tires in this program as in the recall program," Conrad said.
The tires include 24 sizes and names of Firestone tires, most of them with the LT designation for light truck use. Several of the listed tires carry the ATX or Wilderness AT designations, but are of different sizes than the P235/75R15 Radial ATX, Radial ATX II and Wilderness AT tires included in the recall.
Another distinction is that the recalled tires came as original equipment, mostly on Ford vehicles, while most of the tires in the inspection program were sold to truck owners.
Bridgestone/Firestone implemented the inspection and replacement program even though the company disputes the NHTSA's concerns about the tires, which came from an analysis of claims the company provided to the agency
"Just using claims is not how the industry looks at whether you have a defective product," Conrad said. "For instance, as the sales of a product increase, so do the claims numbers.
"We use a proven method of measuring fitness, which relies on adjustment data, testing and field surveys. Based on that, we do not have a problem with these tires.
"But the NHTSA is making a big deal based on the claims numbers, so Firestone will switch out those tires so our customers feel better," Conrad said.
Customers can check the list of tires by calling 1-800-465-1904 or by visiting the Firestone Web site, www.firestone.com, and following the news links to the company's Sept. 12 announcement, which contains another link to the NHTSA consumer advisory.
Conrad said tire owners can have their tires inspected at a Firestone company store or authorized dealer. If the customer is still concerned about the tires following the inspection, the company will replace them.
A customer who does not want Firestone-made replacements following an inspection has the option of obtaining comparable replacements from a competitor, Conrad said. Firestone will reimburse the customer up to $140 per tire for the replacement tires, mounting and balancing, she said.
That's more than the $100 reimbursement offered under the program because some of the tires are larger than the recalled tires, Conrad said.
Bridgestone/Firestone has appointed a University of California, Berkeley, researcher to investigate the factors contributing to the tire failures.
Meanwhile, the NHTSA advisory offered recommendations to owners whose vehicles run on the listed tires:
-- Check tires to be sure there are no visible signs of a problem.
-- Be sure tires are inflated properly.
-- Do not drive at a high rate of speed, particularly in hot weather. If possible, choose roads with low speed limits.
-- Make sure the vehicle is not overloaded.
-- Wear seat belts.