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Ford Fearful for Explorer's Reputation


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July 18, 1999
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Annapolis, MD
Year, Model & Trim Level
'97 Limited
August 14, 2000

Job 1 at Ford: Ease fears about Explorer
Owners are scared, and stakes are huge

Automotive News

Last week, dealer Jerry Reynolds fielded a frantic call from a customer who refused to set out on vacation in the family’s 2-month-old Ford Explorer equipped with Firestone tires.

By Monday afternoon, the customer was on the road, after Reynolds put new Goodyear tires on the Explorer.

Ford Motor Co. is wrestling with a nightmare. The company’s best-selling sport-utility, the Ford Explorer, is being tarred by potentially dangerous Firestone tires. The company’s dealers must soothe rattled nerves of frightened customers. And Ford must preserve the good name of the Explorer.

"Every customer we talk to says the same thing,’’ said Reynolds, owner of Prestige Ford in Garland, Texas. "They say, ‘What are you going to do to make me feel better about driving this car?’ They are not looking to Firestone or Ford. They are looking to the dealer. They are saying, ‘I am scared to drive my vehicle’.’’


Ford dealers are scrambling to find replacement tires for current owners. In some cases, Explorer owners are so fearful that dealers are replacing Firestone tires not subject to the recall.

On the showroom floor, salespeople repeatedly are answering tire questions from prospective customers. Customers still are willing to purchase a new Ford Explorer, but tires now are a factor before the deal is closed.

Indeed, dealers are reporting that even to sell other Ford vehicles, including the Ford Ranger and the Ford Expedition, they must replace the Firestone tires with another tire brand to make the sale.

"We had an Expedition buyer. We had to get another brand of tires just because the vehicle has Firestone tires,’’ dealer Jeff Kemp said. The tires on the Expedition are not being recalled, he said.

"We went to a local tire shop. They exchanged the tires for a reasonable price. We spent $300 replacing the tires, but it is better than not making the deal.’’ Kemp owns Kemp Ford in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Similarly, Reynolds had to pull Firestone tires not subject to the recall from a Ranger. "The customer said, ‘I will buy the truck, but I want a different set of tires on it.’ We put on some Goodyears,’’ Reynolds said.

Kemp and Reynolds sell in two of the four hot-weather states where the majority of Firestone tread-separation incidents are clustered. The first phase of Firestone’s voluntary recall is under way in California, Texas, Arizona and Florida.

"We are deluged with calls,’’ Kemp said. "The biggest problem is the hysteria surrounding the name Firestone.’’


Keeping Explorer owners loyal — all 3.6 million of them — is a huge issue for Ford. Seventy percent of Explorer owners return to buy another Ford Motor Co. vehicle, according to company statistics covering 1995 to 1999. Of that 70 percent, 44 percent purchase another Explorer.

Indeed, in redesigning the Explorer for the first time in 10 years, the company said a primary goal for the 2002 model was to create an evolutionary vehicle that would appeal to existing owners.

The redesigned 2002 Explorer is scheduled to get Firestone Wilderness tires, a 16-inch tire model not being recalled, but a Firestone nevertheless.

Ford’s contract with Firestone to supply the 2002 Explorer is not under review, said Ken Zino, Ford spokesman. "They are different tires and a different plant,’’ he said.

Ford Motor built 507,091 Explorers and 51,628 Mercury Mountaineers in 1999. Each unit generated an estimated $4,000 in pre-tax profit, said David Bradley, an auto analyst with J.P. Morgan Securities Inc.

Using that figure, Explorers and Mountaineers accounted for pre-tax profit of $2.2 billion last year.

Ford is authorizing dealers to replace Firestone tires with other brands, including General Tire, Goodyear, Michelin, Bridgestone and Uniroyal. Ford is reimbursing dealers 1.2 hours in labor time to replace four tires and the spare.


Currently, 2,900 Ford and Mercury dealerships are authorized Firestone retailers, according to Ford. In early 1999, Ford began a campaign to turn its dealers into tire retailers. New-car dealers have tended to avoid tire sales, arguing that tires are cumbersome to stock and that customers prefer discount chains. Now Ford’s push into the tire business is placing its dealers at the front of the recall campaign. Firestone is recalling 6.5 million tires in a campaign that is expected to require at least a year to complete.

"Our job now is to find tires for my customers,’’ said Charles Hunter, owner of Orange Ford in Orange, Texas. "My parts manager is working on it. The bottom line is we are the ones who talk to the customer. We are Ford in this community.’’

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I read today in the paper that half the problem lies in the recommended 26 psi by Ford. The other half is a horrid tire.

I hope not. In today's LA Times is a report that Ford recommended the tires to be set at 26 psi to avoid rollovers when making sudden turns.
"An Oct. 1989 Ford document detailing an analysis of the vehicle's propensity to roll over showed the Explorer sport-utility vehicle would fail the tests when equipped with tires inflated to the maximum 35 pounds per square inch."
What do you prefer, rolling over when making a sudden turn (like when trying to avoid a problem) or because the tire let's go.
Increasing the tire pressure now after probably a few years driving underinflated won't do much good. If the thread is gonna separate, the damage is probably already done.

Damn, talk about conflicting stories. I heard the exact opposite. Anyways, what I would do if I had these tires is just get rid of them. I wouldnt wait for Firestone to do it, I'd go to Michelin or Goodyear. Ford dealers aren't going to help, I called my service rep Friday to see if they could look at my brakes, his team was 100% booked because of the tire problem. He had to forward me to another team!

For those of you worried about your tires and don't want to wait for Firestone, get the tires replaced, just keep one of the old ones. Firestone has agreed to pay people who have their tires replaced elsewhere $400 (thats $100 a tire, damn good).

Higher pressure == Rollover ???

Could someone please explain to me why, with a higher tire air pressure (i.e., 30 psi), the vehicle is more subject to a rollover than with a lower pressure?

It seems to me that with a higher pressure, the tire will grab less (in other words slide more), hence causing the vehicle to slide/skid around instead of grabbing and rolling.

Am I missing something?

Scott, notice the quote was from the LA Times.

I have been interviewed a few times in my life, and there are a few subjects I am fairly knowledgeable in. Without fail, I have noticed that the media's ability to fully nail the truth and get the facts straight is extremely weak. I question ANYTHING they report. They are experts of no specific detail and then always take those facts they don't quite understand and then slant them to make them sound the way the want to. I am a pilot and have NEVER heard preliminary news reports of an airline disaster or issue that was remotely accurate. Picture yourself reading a reporter's notes and instructions after watching how to do a brain surgery. How much do you think he would get right, Hmm? Well, they don't do much better at anything else either.

I'll bet you a quart of Herculiner that the reporter didn't have a clue what he was saying, had no idea how stupid it sounds, and you are absolutely right that a higher pressure would help prevent a rollover more than an underinflated tire flexing on its sidewalls and grabbing the ashphalt harder.

[Edited by GJarrett on 08-21-2000 at 02:11 PM]

I didn't notice it was from the LA Times - having lived out there for so many years, I've really come to respect that paper for what it is. :rolleyes:

Funny thing about people in the media - my mom encouraged me to learn all I could, so that when I speak I would sound intelligent (and keep quite when I didn't know what I was talking about) Obviously, these bubble-heads didn't have a good mom like I did!!!

Let's think about this guys. ATX and ATXII tires have been on the road like 10 years at least. We are only starting to hear, this summer, that there is a problem with the tires. That would lead me to believe that it is not necessarily a design flaw of the entire line of tires, but a manufacturing error in a certain number of tires. I think Firestone is on the money with their thinking that it is centered around the IL plant. Just like a month or so ago when Slim Fast recalled. They didn't recall every single can, only those in Lot so & so. Hey, don't get me wrong. If you are afraid of the tires get rid of them. I'd much rather it cost me a few bucks than a life. I wasn't crazy about the ATXs when I had them, I just couldn't get them to wear out.

I know my 91 Explorer had the ATXs for 90,000 miles without any problems.

Hmm lets see, the max pressure is 44 PSI, and running 26 PSI is slightly above half the max. To me that is an underinflated tire, and if for some reason there was a problem with the tire requiring a waranty replacement, the dealer will of course claim you were driving with the tire underinflated and will void the warranty. I hate to say it but its true, it happened to me with a Kelly tire.

:DGerald I am biting my tounge about your post above with the Herculiner:D

My mom has a grand Marquis with Goodyear Regattas that are rated at 44 PSI, the tire dealer set them to 26 pounds according to the vehicle sticker. Now the vehicle sticker is set to a certain type of tire usually rated at 35 max PSI, so 26 pounds is reasonable and within proper inflation specs. The Regettas are a totally different style of tire, yes they are the same size, but a different sidewall, tread design and composition, and when inflated to 26 PSI the car rode like S**T, swaying and hard to control, I inflated them to 40 PSI, had them redo the alignment at their expense, and the car rides beautifully now, and the gas milage has also gone up. The kid behind the counter who I swear has about 6 months experience argued with me over this, but since I myself have 5 years experience SELLING tires, and dealing with warranties, I won out.

As far as the Firestones go, the inflation REALLY isn't the main culprit. I have my tires set at 34 PSI all around and my left rear tire I had to remove because the cracks aroung the tread/sidewall were big enough to stick a fingernail into, it's the heat that kills them. Just ordinary driving 50 miles down the highway on a moderate (in the 80's) day and I could feel the heat pouring off them, and smell rubber burning.

As far as the explorer rolling with 30 PSI in the tires is bunk, I have 34 PSI and I take turns rather quickly without any fear of rolling.

So who can you believe in this???

While I don't like the stance firestone/Ford took on the tires (covering it up until they couldn't cover no more, then being indecisive about what ot do, etc.) can we really blame them? Just about every company will do the same thing. Software especially. Of course software doesn't kill people but its the same idea... if you have a problem, cover it up, when someone in the media reports it, deny the problem. When everyone in the media starts talking about it, deny it some more until you can't deny it any more and you are forced to take responsibility, then claim you were just made aware of the problem and you are doing everything you can to resolve the problem. It's not good business sense but everyone does it.

Hey guys how many of you accually run your tires at 35 pounds? Now I know I am in the minority here having 33" tires but if I pump mine up that high my tuck rides like a brick! So I keep the rears at 25-26 and the fronts at 30-31. Depending on the type of driving I am doing. It makes for a much more comfy ride in the end which is probably why Ford recomends the lower presure. Cause if they had them set to 35 at the dealer lot and you took a test drive and the truck drove like a TRUCK (Which is AOKAY by me!) they wouldn't sell these vehicles! You got to remember people who buy these don't want something that rides rough hence the IFS. It all comes down to the mighty dollar like Matt was saying too about how Ford and firestone covered it up. I for one though don't really give a rats behind what kind of tires come stock on any vehicle I would say 90% of the time I would replace them within a week. My loss but at the same time my gain.

I run 34 on the stock size tires, and I like the way it rides, if it rode like a car, I would get complacent and I WOULD get into trouble and flip it.

But if I had known what I know now about the Firestones, I never would have bought the Explorer. It has been nothing but a headache to me lately.

I should have waited until I could afford what I really wanted, an Excursion!

More on Tire Pressure

In the past many of the folks on this Board told how they "chalked" their tires to find the optimum PSI. The accepted technique was to inflate to the max. PSI and apply chalk to the tread, then roll the vehicle forward and progressively deflate until you got the full tread print on the pavement/driveway, blacktop, etc. That gives the optimal PSI setting and this was how they arrived at the 30-32 PSI for the Firestone tires which everyone ran them at. Why not use the same technique again with the BFG AT KO tires and have everyone post their findings?

Sure get me a set and I'll do it. :)

I think that this tire situation has been blown way out of proportion. The type of tire shouldn't influence your decision to buy a particular model of car or truck. Everyone seems to be in panic mode right now.

The other day 129 people died on an Airbus A-320. There are only a few hundred of those in the air and that doesn't seem to bother people as much as 46 people being killed in car accidents because of tire that has seen several million produced. Especially when it cannot be proven without a shadow of a doubt that the tires were at fault. I think it is time to bring everyone back down to reality. Ford and Firestone seem to be trying to do that but with very little success.

I have had Firestones on my '92 and my old '98.
I got rid of my Firestones because:

1) they were almost bald (on the '92)
2) I didn't like the ride they gave me
3) I didn't like the way they looked
4) I didn't like the tread design
5) I didn't like the size they were

To put it into perspective on my '92 one of my Firestones was starting to lose the tread. It was literally peeling off but that was not the fault of Firestone. That was due to the previous owner of my truck not maintaining his tires properly. I have had tread separate on a Fulda tire I have had the sidewalls break on Pirellis. I have seen Goodyears blister the sidewalls. These things happen to every brand and model of tire.

I would buy Firestone tires but not truck tires because in a truck tire they do not have what I am looking for. As far as passenger tires, they do and I am seriously considering them.

A reality check is defiantely in order here.

P.S. If this sounds a little harsh that is because parts of it are meant to be.

[Edited by Paul Gagnon on 08-25-2000 at 09:30 PM]

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Paul, I agree. There is no reason for the tires to sway anyone's purchasing decision. For one thing, There are literally millions of Explorers running these tires. Have millions of them crashed? No. The probability of you dying because of these tires is low, especially on a new vehicle with improved tires. Anyways, if the Firestones bother someone THAT much, the dealer will swap them, or cough up and replace them.

Tires are disposable and can be replaced. Never in my 40 years of car buying experience have I looked at the kind of tires on a car I'm considering. If I don't like them, I go and have them replaced. if cost is a concern, sell them to a used tire outlet and recoup your loss.