DETROIT - Owners of the 15-inch Firestone tires under recall may have to wait several weeks for replacements because the recall apparently created a nationwide shortage.
The tire industry is rushing to meet the sudden demand for substitutes for the 6.5 million tires recalled by Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., but speeding up production will take weeks.
''We are taking phone numbers down and calling people back just as quickly as we can,'' said John Lampe, Bridgestone/Firestone executive vice president.
The tires - installed mainly on Ford Motor Co. vehicles, notably the Ford Explorer sport utility - are being investigated by federal safety officials in connection with at least 62 deaths. In many cases, the tread separated from the tire, causing blowouts and rollovers.
Several Ford dealers around the country said they were short of the 15-inch tires, and some, like Sanderson Ford in Glendale, Ariz., were completely out.
''We've scoured our supply base. We're asking all our suppliers to see if they can supply more,'' Ford spokesman Mike Vaughn said. ''We're looking for tires around the world.''
John Lampe, executive vice president of Bridgestone/Firestone, said Wednesday the company would ship between 325,000 and 350,000 tires this month, and would up production to 500,000 tires a month by January. The company is also authorizing its Firestone stores to use other manufacturers' tires as replacements.
But other tire makers don't have large piles of 15-inch truck tires just lying around. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. said it hopes to increase production five-fold by Oct. 1 for the 15-inch sizes.
Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford will direct their limited supply of replacement tires at four states - California, Arizona, Texas and Florida - where 80 percent of the complaints originated.
In the meantime, Ford said it is telling dealers that if they cannot find replacements right away, they should check customers' air pressure and wear and contact them when tires were available.
The recall covers a specific size of tires - P235/75R15 - in three models: all radial ATX and ATX II, as well as Wilderness ATs made in Decatur, Ill.
On the Net:
Ford Motor Co.: http://www.ford.com
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: http://www.nhtsa.gov