updated 2/26/2004 6:48:40 PM ET 2004-02-26T23:48:40

Bridgestone/Firestone announced a recall Thursday of about 490,000 Steeltex tires linked to sport utility vehicle crashes that killed five people.

The move heads off an in-depth investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration into the Steeltex Radial A/T LT265/75R16 Load Range D tires, which have been linked to six crashes, three of which involved fatalities.

The tires — manufactured in Joliette, Quebec — were made for use on Ford Excursions from 2000 to 2002 and some early 2003 models.

Bridgestone/Firestone estimates about 297,000 of the recalled tires are still on the vehicles in the United States, and another 20,000 are in use internationally. The company said the others have probably have already been replaced by the owners.

“We haven’t identified a specific problem with the tires,” company spokesman Dan MacDonald said. “The data suggested that there’s an issue, and the decision was made that instead of having a long drawn-out investigation to figure out if there is a problem, let’s just step up and replace the tires.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta praised the company’s decision to recall the tires, saying it “shows that our system of safety standards is working.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration first noticed a pattern of crashes and blowouts with Steeltex tires, federal officials said.

Information from Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire, a division of Nashville-based Bridgestone Americas Holding Inc., confirmed there may have been a problem.

“We were heading toward opening a defect investigation,” NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson said.
Tyson said the agency’s investigators had been keeping an eye on Steeltex tires since 2000, when they launched an investigation of that brand but closed it after finding no defects.

“I can’t say enough about the way Firestone has responded to this whole thing. They stepped up and moved with light speed to take care of the problem,” Tyson said.

The recall comes three-and-a-half years after the company began a recall of 17 million ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires. More than 200 people were reported killed and hundreds more injured in rollover crashes after the tread on those tires separated.

The company has spent an estimated $1.5 billion on recall-related costs, including the settlement of dozens of lawsuits.

A current lawsuit accuses the tire manufacturer of using substandard materials to make several Steeltex models. A hearing is scheduled next month to determine whether the suit should become a class-action case.

The lawsuit seeks at least $1 billion in reimbursement to motorists and a recall of Steeltex R4S, R4SII and A/T tires.

MacDonald said the company’s decision to recall some of its Steeltex tires should help in that case because it proves that Bridgestone/Firestone will act if a problem is found.

But the plaintiffs’ attorney, Joe Lisoni, likened Thursday’s move to “a major crack in a monumental sized dam that will ultimately led to the recall of the entire line of tires.”

About 41 million Steeltex tires have been produced and are standard equipment on 71 types of vehicles, including pickup trucks, SUVs, recreational and emergency vehicles.

Consumers can replace their tires with Steeltex and Bridgestone brands, as well as tires from the competition: Pirelli Scorpion AT, Pirelli Scorpion STR and BFGoodrich Rugged Trail TA.
Consumers can call Firestone toll free at: 1-800-465-1904 or Ford toll free at: 1-800-392-3673.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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