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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    Voluntary tire recall rolling smoothly

    Businesses involved in the Wilderness AT exchange say they're better prepared, and motorists aren't anxious this time.

    [Times photo: Bill Serne]
    Firestone Wilderness AT tires pile up at Bob Lee's Tire Service in St. Petersburg. Customers receive $110 to $130 per tire for new ones.

    By J. NEALY-BROWN

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 10, 2001


    When Firestone recalled 14.4-million tires last year, Ford Explorer owners bombarded service drives, worked up over reports of tire-related deaths.

    So Ford and independent tire dealers braced themselves when the automaker announced last month that it would replace 13-million Firestone tires on its sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.

    But unlike last year, they have not been hammered by customers. The pace, instead, has been busy yet smooth.

    Those affected say that the latest notification has no sense of urgency, unlike the August 2000 recall.

    Then, for example, Hertz grounded its rental fleet of Fords affected by the recall. But Ford's offer last month to voluntarily replace the Wilderness AT tires did not prompt as drastic a response.

    "Really the only vehicles in question are the 2001s, which are still pretty new. We are trying to get those affected tires replaced," said Richard Broome, vice president of corporate affairs for the Hertz Corp. By the end of the year, all Wilderness AT tires should be replaced on Hertz cars, he said.

    Budget Rent a Car is replacing Wilderness tires on its fleet of affected Fords, company officials said. No Fords with Wilderness tires have been grounded.

    Some dealerships say they are better prepared this time.

    "I think we got organized really early," said Tim Martin, customer service relations manager at AutoWay Ford in St. Petersburg. For example, the dealership established six phone lines for customers to leave messages and assigned two employees to call customers back to set up appointments.

    Even with more customers, the system is smoother, Martin said. Plus, there are non-Ford tire dealers able to ease the load.

    "The first recall was kind of like playing the Super Bowl without any practice," said Ron Wordon, general sales manager at Freedom Ford in Clearwater. "We knew what to expect a little bit better (this time)."

    Last year's recall was more complex because there was specificity about the type, size and location of manufacture. This time, dealers only have to worry about type and size.

    Ford's announcement last month involves 15-, 16- and 17-inch Wilderness AT tires on the Explorer and Expedition sport utility vehicles, Ranger pickup trucks and some F-150 pickup trucks. Most of the tires being replaced are on the Ford Explorer.

    Ford's recall last month far surpasses the August 2000 recall by Bridgestone/Firestone of 14.4-million tires. Only 6.5-million of those were actually on vehicles being used.

    Now, Ford wants to get the word out.

    Michael Nguyen of Clearwater said he didn't know that his 5-month-old Ranger pickup was affected by the latest announcement, although he had heard about last year's Firestone recall.

    "I really wasn't worried about it," said Nguyen, who lives about two minutes away from his job. "By the time my tires get hot, I'm already stopped." Eventually, he will get them replaced.

    The first batch of letters were mailed last week to customers, advising them to make an appointment to have their tires changed, according to Mike Vaughn, a spokesman for Ford Motor Co.

    "We're doing this because we don't have confidence in the long-term durability (of the tires)," Vaughn said.

    To some Ford owners, especially those who were told they weren't covered under Firestone's recall, the voluntary replacement is a relief.

    "In my mind, I did question whether something else was wrong," said Lorian Williams, who owns a 2000 Explorer. When she bought the SUV in the fall, Ford officials said her Wilderness AT tires were not affected. Williams, who chairs the St. Petersburg Housing Authority board and operates the St. Petersburg Area Black Chamber of Commerce, said she was keeping up with the latest developments because she drives a lot.

    "I don't feel overly concerned. (Still) they were going to have until the end of the month," Williams said. "At that point, I would have been like, "What's going on?' "

    "To be honest, I was glad they took care of it," said Arnie Palma, who owns an Expedition. He had inquired months ago about getting new tires and repeatedly was told he was not affected.

    "I didn't think I was going to get anything out of it," said Palma of St. Petersburg. "I guess Ford's trying to make amends."

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