The Truth About Tire Defects
The Ford/Firestone tire recall of August 2000 can be documented as the time when the problem of defective tires reached a tipping point. It is unnerving to learn, however, that numerous tire manufacturers besides Firestone, like Michelin and Cooper, have also knowingly sold defective tires, and that Firestone had been selling defective tires since back in the 1970s.
In 1971 Firestone debuted their Firestone 500 radial tire model, which was prone to tread separation. Engineers working for Firestone had located the problem by 1973, but the company continued to sell 24 million more of the defective tires, claiming that there were no defects. Hidden records kept by Firestone later showed they were aware that over 10 percent of their tires were prone to tread separation. By 1978, Firestone admitted to having more than 250 lawsuits on their plate, and agreed to recall the tires.
Fast-forward to March of 2000. A 43-year-old mother of two traveled through Texas in her Ford Explorer, transporting two of her friends. Suddenly one of her tires experienced tread separation, causing her Explorer to skid and roll. Though the driver was wearing her seatbelt, she was severely injured and left paralyzed from the neck down.
Two-hundred-and-seventy-one people died and many more were injured before Firestone made the largest tire recall in history. Documents kept by the company showed, yet again, that they were aware of the tread separation problem which caused rollover accidents, and had known since 1997. Owners of vehicles with Firestone tires had been complaining at a rate of 100 times the norm, and Firestone employees finally admitted that they had been advised to conceal flaws in the tires. No inspections of tires were conducted.
Lawsuits eventually highlighted the severity of the tire defect issue and caused the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to begin investigation into tread separation. By August of 2000, 6.5 million Firestone tires were recalled.
Read about the role of litigation in auto safety.
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