NASHVILLE, Tenn.—For the second time in six months, the words "Firestone" and "recall" are linked in the news.
Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. (BFS) announced Feb. 20 it will voluntarily recall approximately 98,500 Firestone Firehawk GTA-02 tires, size P205/55R16, for a "design-related issue" that the company said could result in a surface crack at the edge of the tread and shoulder.
Some 88,000 of the tires were fitted as original equipment on 22,000 Nissan Altima SE sports models, while the rest went to the replacement market, company spokespersons said during a teleconference.
The bulk of the vehicles and tires were sold in the U.S., though about 1,300 of the Altima SEs went to Canada and 12 to Guam, the spokespersons said. A limited number of the replacement tires ended up in Canada, Puerto Rico and Trinidad.
Tires subject to the recall bear DOT identification numbers W2T2 VF3 289 through W2T2 VF3 529, W2T2 VF3 010 through W2T2 VF3 170, and W2T2 VF3 1800 through W2T2 VF3 4500.
BFS said it will replace the recalled tires at no cost with new Firehawk GTA-02 tires. However, in order to ensure an adequate supply of replacement tires, the company also will make available Bridgestone Potenza RE92 and Turanza EL41 tires, which have been approved by Nissan for use on the Altima SE.
The latest recalled tires were a "unique" design made specifically for the Altima SEs between mid-July 1999 and Nov. 1, 2000 at the BFS plant in Wilson, N.C., a spokeswoman said during the teleconference.
The extra-wide steel belt in the tire left insufficient distance between the steel belt edge and the tread surface, she explained, setting the stage for a possible crack to develop at the bottom of the circumferential shoulder groove and progress to the edge of the steel belt. In extreme cases, the belt might become exposed.
BFS changed to a narrower belt beginning Nov. 1, 2000, she said, but didn't recall the wide-belt tires immediately because it believed at first that the cracks were merely cosmetic.
By February, however, the company had changed its mind. Adjustment data from the returned Firehawk GTA-02 tires, plus a trend analysis from the BFS Quality Assurance department, showed that while they performed adequately, the tires might have increased adjustment rates in the future.
BFS expects to mail recall notifications to all the affected vehicle owners by March 12.
The replacement tires will be the redesigned Firehawk GTA-02s, as well as Bridgestone Potenza RE92 and EL41 tires in the P205/55R16 size. BFS said it has sufficient tires in stock to replace all the recalled tires. There are no accidents, injuries, lawsuits or defect claims involving the Firehawk tires, BFS said.
The spokeswoman attributed the quick identification of the defect in the Firehawk tires to the company's new "early warning" system and its close partnership with Nissan.
There are "a number of different factors" that go into that warning system, she said. "We review all data, and we've changed the way we look at data. There's a heightened sense of focus in the quality control chain."
This is actually the third BFS tire recall since August, she added—a recall of about 150 Firestone Wilderness LE tires was announced in January.
BFS has been at the center of a firestorm of publicity since it announced the recall of 6.5 million Firestone ATX and Wilderness AT tires last August. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration now has an authenticated total of 174 deaths and an estimate of 6,000 accidents involving the tires.
There are now more than 200 product liability lawsuits against BFS, with one source—Safetyforum.com, the plaintiffs' attorneys' safety watchdog group—estimating the total at 280.
"We will continue to replace tires as long as we need to," the BFS spokeswoman said. The original figure of 6.5 million "was an estimate. It may be more, it may be less, although we believe it's less. We proceed with the understanding that a recall is never really, quote-unquote, `over.'"