Congress Investigates How Well Tires Offset Faulty Usage - Money - May 25, 2001

Congress Investigates How Well Tires Offset Faulty Usage
By: David Kiley
MONEY
May 25, 2001

DETROIT -- Congressional investigators are gathering data from every automaker and tiremaker in the USA to determine whether they are building in enough margin of error to compensate for drivers who let the tire pressure get too low or the load get too heavy in their sport-utility vehicles, pickups and minivans.

Since January, members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce have been collecting data to see if problems leading to replacement of nearly 20 million Firestone tires on Ford Motor vehicles are unique.

The five investigators are looking at areas including tire pressure and how much weight the vehicles can safely carry. Both have been issues in last year's recall of 6.5 million Firestone tires, mostly on the Ford Explorer SUV.

The investigators are combing through warranty and insurance adjustment data from the automakers and tire manufacturers, along with state and federal accident reports.

The committee, chaired by Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, R-La., is planning a hearing in June to review Ford's plan to replace 13 million Firestone tires on top of the tires the two companies recalled last fall.

Committee spokesman Ken Johnson says a hearing will focus on tire pressure and load ratings. "If we don't address it with automakers in the June hearing, we will in a subsequent one," he says.

Also Thursday:

  • Ford agreed to talk today with lawyers representing plaintiffs in lawsuits against it and Bridgestone/Firestone about supplying data that led to Ford's decision to replace more tires.
  • The lawyers want replacement of the 13 million Wilderness AT 15-, 16- and 17-inch tires to be done under court supervision. But they praised Ford for replacing the additional tires. "Ford is doing exactly what we asked them to do 9 months ago," lawyer Kenneth Moll says.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it has requested information from Venezuelan officials about efforts to ban sales of the Explorer there. "We just wanted a little more information about what's going on down there," says Ray Tyson, a NHTSA spokesman.

Venezuela's consumer protection agency says 37 people have died since August in rollover accidents involving Explorers. Ford spokesman Ricardo Tinoco said the company is unaware of any accidents related to design flaws in Explorers.

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