Firestone and Ford: The Sometimes Lethal Combination

From 1992-1998 there were 21 cases reported by State Farm Insurance to National Highway Safety Traffic Administration regarding automobile collisions involving tread separation on Firestone ATX tires.  Fourteen of those vehicles reported were Ford Explorers and wore Firestone ATX tires. By 1999, there were 30 more cases reported.  The toll quickly grew to 88 known deaths and 250 injuries.  NHTSA began investigating 41 million Firestone ATX and Wilderness Tires made from 1999-2000.  The second largest tire recall occurred on August 1, 2000 as Firestone recalled 14.4 million tires that were original equipment on Ford Explorers and other Ford light trucks.

Ford Explorer is the descendant of the Ford Bronco, nicknamed the Bucking Bronco. In 1988 the NHTSA contacted Ford as the Bronco II led its competition of non-collision “first event rollovers.” In September 2000, Ford and regulators received complaints about Ford Explorer and possible defect in the sway bar, the bar that controls how much the car tilts from side to side when cornering. Use this hyperlink to get some additional info.

“The Explorer is the worst kind of vehicle on which to put a bad tire. A tread separation or other tire failure can lead to a fatal rollover. A tire made for an SUV like the Explorer should have an extra margin of safety built into it like a nylon ply because the consequences of failure can be so bad,” according to Clarence Dittlow, Executive Director of The Center for Auto Safety in testimony in the Senate in 2000.

“Both Ford and Firestone knew more earlier but failed to act until there were too many complaints, deaths and injuries to conceal Firestone tire failure on Ford Explorers from public attention…and it is not coincidental that these two companies have been assessed the two largest fines in NHTSA’s history — $500,000 in 1978 against Firestone over the 500 steel belted radial and $425,000 in 1999 against Ford for concealing defective ignition switches that shorted and star.”

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