AKRON—During the Great Depression of the 1930s, a hit tune plaintively asked, "Brother, can you spare a dime?" Today, America's tire dealers are more likely to say, "Brother, can you spare a P235/75R15?"
Tire dealers from various parts of the country told Tire Business about difficulties finding replacement tires in that size in the wake of the Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. recall of 6.5 million Firestone ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires.
At two Kovac Automotive locations in Florida, co-owner Joe Kovac said the dealership has replaced about 60 sets of recalled tires and sold about 500 more tires to local Ford dealers. He has exhausted his inventory in the recalled size.
"I see no product, but the feeding frenzy has slowed somewhat," he said. Kovac Automotive is an independent Goodyear dealership, and Mr. Kovac said he substituted Kumho and Dayton tires for recalled Firestones once he ran out of Goodyear Wrangler RT/S tires.
Large wholesalers are directing supply to Ford dealerships, he said, leaving tire dealers with little or no inventory. "It's an unfortunate decision," he said. "The tires are going to the highest bidder."
There have been numerous press reports saying Ford has been aggressively shopping for replacement tires to install on Ford Explorers at its 3,100 dealerships that sell tires.
A Ford spokesman said the auto maker is using its leverage as a huge original equipment tire purchaser and telling tire manufacturers to "squeeze production" to make as many tires as they can. "The main thing is to get our customers out of recalled tires and into replacements as soon as possible," he said.
At Modoc Tire Co. in Medford, Ore., co-owner Phyllis Krupp said the dealership has replaced Firestone tires on more than 10 vehicles and has more than 30 customers on a waiting list. All the warehouses are out of the recalled size in any brand, she said, and the local company-owned Firestone store has 300 replacement tires on back order.
At Hugh's American Car Care Center in Glendale, Ariz., owner Ian Hugh said he ran out of the recalled size after replacing five sets of tires. "Most people are anxious to have them (replacements) done," he said.
Perry Russell, owner of Big R Tire Car Care Center in Memphis, Tenn., is a Firestone associate dealer. He said he fielded 50-75 calls a day immediately after the recall and hired another tire changer in anticipation of increased customer traffic.
At Hoppe Tire Co. in Chicago, owner Ed Goddard also ran out of inventory after replacing tires on about 20 vehicles. He sold customers Michelin and Goodyear replacement tires once he was out of Firestones.
Mr. Hoppe criticized the policy of replacing recalled Firestones with other brands and then having to wait for reimbursement from BFS. "I'm cutting my own throat," he said.
In Van Nuys, Calif., Tires Etc. owner Jack Bell said company-owned Firestone stores in his area are telling customers it will take two months to get replacement tires. A Firestone associate dealer, Mr. Bell said he sold more than 20 Yokohama P235/75R15 tires to a local Firestone store.
When the recall was announced, one tire dealer decided to stop selling all Firestone tires and returned more than a dozen Firestones not on the recall list to his distributor.
"Firestone has a terrible brand name," said Chuck Wright, owner of Wright Tire and Battery in Charleston, W.Va. He won't attempt to sell Firestones "until the storm passes."
Mr. Wright acknowledged he has not sold many Firestone tires in the past, but said "people are in a panic" because of the media coverage.
BFS created fear in the way it handled the recall, Mr. Wright said. "They should have done like Tylenol and recalled all of them from the beginning," he said, referring to the 1982 recall of all Tylenol capsules after someone placed cyanide in some capsules and put the tainted product back on store shelves. The incident resulted in seven deaths in the Chicago area.
"Some day, some kid getting an MBA will study this," Mr. Wright said, "and this will be a college course on how not to do a recall."
Dealers also complained about confusion caused by a lack of communication from BFS, especially right after the recall was announced. "Customers know more about it than we do," Mr. Russell said.
"I find out more about it (the recall) by reading Tire Business," Mr. Hugh said.
One dealer reported that some unscrupulous people are using chicanery to get a free set of tires. Marc Berliner, owner of Discount Tire Center in Bellevue, Pa., said several people have brought in scrapped Firestones and attempted to get new replacement tires.
One man brought in a "completely detailed" 1998 Chevrolet Blazer, Mr. Berliner said, with a set of mud-covered Firestones. "He told me the tires were OE and he wanted them replaced."
Mr. Berliner scraped the mud off the tires and found two of them were manufactured in 1991. Also, the recalled Firestones are not an OE fitment for the Chevrolet Blazer.
Another customer brought in some tires for exchange and one of them had "junkyard" written on it. Mr. Berliner doesn't have any of the recalled size tires and has 15 customers on a waiting list.
Customer confidence in the Firestone brand has taken a serious hit, dealers agreed.
One of Mr. Hugh's customers who lives an hour from the dealership brought in his Ford Expedition with Firestone tires not in the recall and had them replaced with another brand. "His wife told him she wants those (Firestone) tires off," Mr. Hugh said.
"For the most part, they (customers) don't want Firestones," said Chuck Cantasano, assistant manager of the Tire Kingdom Inc. outlet in Port Charlotte, Fla. Customers have told him to put on "whatever you can to get rid of the Firestones."
Shortly after the Aug. 9 recall announcement, Mr. Wright had a woman customer from Cumberland, Md., drive her Chevy Suburban equipped with 17-inch Firestone tires into his Charleston, W.Va., dealership. "She was scared to drive home," he said, even though her tires were not in the recall.
Mr. Wright reassured her that if she kept proper inflation in her tires and didn't drive at an excessive speed, she could control two of the three factors that might be causing the tires to fail.
Some dealers think extensive media coverage of the recall and BFS' initial silence created undue fear among customers. The tire maker's initial silence, "was really hard on us," said Modoc Tire's Mrs. Krupp. "It puts Firestone in a bad light."