Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. for more than four years quietly has been replacing thousands of failed tires fitted on vans, light trucks and sport utility vehicles and writing checks to customers, but only for those who complain, according to tire dealers and consumers.
Safety advocates and plaintiff attorneys say the Akron, Ohio, tire maker is engaged in a controversial practice known as a silent recall, and placing thousands of drivers and passengers at risk by not declaring a full public recall.
Goodyear denies that it is conducting a silent recall. It says it is providing "customer satisfaction" replacements on a case-by-case basis.
Goodyear has acknowledged that tread separation involving its 16-inch Load Range E light truck tires has been linked to at least 15 deaths and 120 injuries.
On Monday the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration said it was stepping up its inquiry into the deaths involving Goodyear's light truck tires. Investigators have asked the company to produce information about the 15 deaths and to disclose how many light truck tires were made by the company, said NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson.
Company executives won't say how many claims they've paid or how much money they spent compensating people whose vehicles suffered damage as a result of tread separation.
Sources familiar with the matter said the company has received more than 3,000 claims about its light truck tires since 1995. A majority of those claims have been settled, according to sources, with consumers receiving replacement tires and reimbursements if their vehicles were damaged.
The number of complaints received by Goodyear is nearly as many as the 3,700 complaints that NHTSA has received about tires made by Bridgestone/Firestone, which last August recalled 6.5 million tires. NHTSA received most of the Firestone complaints after a flood of publicity following the Aug. 11 recall. Firestone's tires -- fitted mainly on Ford Explorers -- have been linked to more than 150 deaths and 500 injuries worldwide.
Separately, the Los Angeles Times has learned that Goodyear also has been replacing its Load Range D 15-inch tires, fitted mainly on recreational vehicles, after RV owners and manufacturers across the nation reported widespread tire failures. Some RV owners said they learned that Goodyear would replace their Marathon tires for free -- but only after tread separation on several tires on their vehicles.
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