A Special Report: St. Petersbrg Times Deadly Combination: Ford, Firestone and Florida
 
 
Deadly Combination:
Ford, Firestone and Florida
Part One
  • Main story
  • Companies warming to settlements
  • At a glance
  • The players
  • Questions and Answers
  • A Timeline
  • What the companies say
  • Interview with Anita Kumar, the reporter
  • Graphic: How the tires failed
  • Graphic: When it’s too late
  • Graphic: By the numbers
  • Graphic: The human toll

  • Part Two
  • After the rollover
  • Suspect tires still on road
  • Driver side rear tires fail the most
  • About this report

  • Contact Anita Kumar:
  • Via e-mail: Click here
  • By phone: (727) 893-8472

    Further coverage
  • In first trial, Firestone settles lawsuit
  • Battered Firestone counting on local ties
  • Rollover crashes are hard to track
  • Ford leaves 2-door SUV unchanged
  • Recall may leave Firestone bankrupt
  • Government to expand tire recall
  • FHP says Firestone tire a factor in fatal crash
  • Two bay area lawsuits target Ford, Firestone
  • Ford agrees to test replacement tires
  • Ford recall: from bad to worse?
  • Ford's sub tires may fail more
  • Attention shifts from Firestone to Ford Explorer
  • Ford widens recall; companies cut ties
  • Ford recalls Wilderness AT Firestone tires
  • Dealerships brace for Ford tire recall
  • Tire decision not just for Ford owners
  • Voluntary tire recall rolling smoothly
  • Firestone cuts deal on bad tires
  • How the tires failed: An interactive graphic

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    Driver side rear tires fail the most

    Ford and Firestone cannot explain why those tires fail most, but the companies use the phenomenon to blame each other.

    By ANITA KUMAR, Times staff writer

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 21, 2001


    The world's top tire experts know this much: The rear driver side tire falls apart more easily than other tires. What they don't know is why that is.

    photo
    Tire litigation expert Bruce Kaster says the reason for more left rear failures is a mystery.

    "I don't think we have a scientific answer for that," said lawyer Bruce Kaster of Ocala, an expert in tire litigation nationwide. "It's part of a mystery that remains unanswered."

    Possible reasons more stress may exist on the rear driver side of a vehicle include:

    More weight, perhaps as much as 100 pounds, on the left.
    More strain during acceleration.
    Location of the gas tank.
    More force due to the rotation of the drive shaft.
    Heat that radiates off the middle parts of roads -- built higher so rain can drain.

    "I don't think anyone has come up with one accepted and acknowledged reason," said Rex Grogan, one of the leading tire consultants in the world.

    Grogan said his statistics indicate the driver side rear tire fails at least nine out of every 10 accidents.

    But lawyer Tab Turner of Little Rock, Ark., an expert on vehicle rollover litigation, said the number is much lower. He estimates a driver side rear tire fails about six out of 10 crashes.

    Of 36 fatal crashes in Florida since 1997, a St. Petersburg Times review found: 21 were attributed to a driver side rear failure; 13 to a passenger side rear; one involved a front tire; and one involved both a rear and front tire failure.

    Of the state's 110 crashes with injuries, 47 were attributed to a driver side rear tire; 42 to a passenger side rear tire; and the remainder were front tires or unknown.

    Tire experts say rear tire failures cause more serious accidents than front tire failures because when a rear tire comes apart, a driver is much more likely to lose control of steering. That is extra dangerous for sport utility vehicles that already tend to flip more easily than passenger cars.

    photo
    Lawyer Tab Turner says a driver-side rear tire fails about six out of 10 crashes.

    Some characteristics that vehicle experts believe cause the Explorer's instability are its top-heavy nature; wheels that are too close together; a high cargo floor; suspension that slows braking and allows wheels to slip; and sides that barely lean in as they extend to the roof.

    Many of those qualities are being improved in the four-door 2002 Explorer, changes Ford says have nothing to do with the Ford-Firestone crisis.

    Though Ford and Firestone cannot explain why the driver side rear tires fail the most, the companies are using the phenomenon as another way to blame each other.

    "Why is this happening? We haven't gotten an explanation from Ford yet," Firestone spokeswoman Jill Bratina said. "The vehicle is beyond our area of expertise."

    Firestone says that even when a vehicle is carrying a modest load, most of the weight is on the driver side rear -- perhaps 100 pounds more than on the passenger side rear and 300 pounds more than the front.

    "It's not a lot but it might not take a lot," said Dennis Carlson Jr., a tire expert from Louisville, Ky., who serves as a consultant to lawyers. "Firestone is talking about it because they want to point their finger at the vehicle."

    Ford points to data from Firestone that shows that the driver side rear tire is most likely to cause a crash, no matter which vehicle the tire is on.

    "The failure rate of Firestone tires on other manufacturers' vehicles shows a propensity for failures on the left rear versus the right rear as well," Ford spokeswoman Kathleen Vokes said. "But we do not have the explantion as to why; that would most likely come from Firestone."

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