WASHINGTON -- There are many consumer Do's and Don'ts related to Bridgestone/Firestone's belated recall of its troubled P235/75R15 ATX, ATX II and Wilderness truck and sport-utility vehicle tires.
The first Don't is don't take any chances.
The estimated 6.5 million tires in question are suspected of having a defect that can cause the separation of the tire tread (the part with the grooves) from the body of the tire to which the tread is bonded.
According to officials at Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford Motor Co., one of the primary users of the tires now under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the tread separation often occurs at highway speeds in hot climates. However, there also have been reports of tread separation at neighborhood speeds of 20-25 mph.
This is a dangerous defect that can cause loss of vehicle control and possible rollovers, especially if the separated tread wraps itself around an axle. NHTSA is looking at reports of 46 deaths related to the defect.
If you are concerned that your horsepower is shod with defective rubber, you should proceed immediately to your authorized Bridgestone/Firestone store or Ford dealer to have the tires checked out and replaced, if necessary.
Typically, customers involved in recalls are asked to wait until they received written notification to come in for a checkup/replacement. The idea, from the corporate view, is to make sure enough replacement parts are available to make needed corrections.
In fact, Bridgestone is instituting the recall in stages, starting in the South where most of the accidents have occurred. Still, Bridgestone/Firestone officials say they are willing to replace your suspect tires with another brand, at no cost to you, to alleviate your anxiety.
A caveat: You might still have to wait. Tire mounting and balancing is physical labor. Even with time-saving tools and techniques, only so many tires can be mounted and balanced in a day. Also, keep in mind that regular tire replacement is a high-volume business. Some shops may be overburdened.
If you have to wait, you might be wise to observe some other Don'ts. But first, a primer:
-- Tires do their work by gripping the surfaces they travel. This involves friction. Friction involves heat. Heat increases with speed. So, don't speed.
-- Keep in mind that, at any given point of road contact, tires are balancing your vehicle on four "patches." Try this for better understanding: Place both hands on a floor. Now, balance your weight by stretching your legs until the rear weight falls on your two feet. Each hand and foot is a "patch." Your ability to maintain that balance depends on the strength and condition of your hands and feet, and the amount of weight you are asking them to carry. If they are weak or defective, they carry less weight.
Thus, until you have your tires checked out, you should avoid carrying or pulling heavy loads. Weight increases pressure on tires, which increases friction, which increases heat, which increases further with speed, which can lead to tread separation. OK?
-- Avoid rugged off-road travel. Even the best of tires are brutalized in off-road runs, which usually are taken at speeds considerably below highway and urban street travel. The problem is that severe tire twisting and bending, of which there is plenty off-road, can also promote tread separation. Losing control in off-road conditions, in which the vehicle already is struggling to remain stable, can be a bigtime "Ouch!"
That brings us to the Do's.
-- Do make sure that your tires are properly inflated. Bridgestone/Firestone recommends 30 psi (pounds per square inch). The company's idea is that maximum recommended inflation reduces friction, which reduces heat and the chances for tread separation.
However, Ford recommends 26 psi. The car company's idea is that the lower inflation pressure promotes better vehicle stability in its high-center-of-gravity sport-utility vehicles (the Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer in this case) and trucks. Talk to your technician.
-- Wear your seat belts. It's elementary. All of the available traffic safety information shows that unbelted drivers and passengers die more often than their counterparts in vehicle crashes.
For more information, send e-mail queries to theinquiry(at)ford.com. Bridgestone/Firestone is taking consumer calls at 800-465-1904. Ford is taking calls at 800-660-4719.
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