Ford Faces Second Tire Recall

Ford Motor Co. is facing a second major tire recall in less than two months. This time, though, the problem is not being linked to any deaths or injuries.

While initial reports vary, it appears German-based Continental AG, the world’s fourth-largest tiremaker, intends to replace as many as 140,000 tires used on Ford’s full-size Lincoln Navigator sport-utility vehicle. The recall covers 16-inch ContiTrac AS tires produced by Continental’s U.S. unit, Continental General Tire. They were supplied as standard equipment on the Navigator in 1998 and 1999. Another 20,000 tires, sold through the aftermarket, will also be affected.

Continental initially debated whether to launch a government-regulated safety recall, but after meeting with the the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Tuesday, both sides agreed to classify it as a "customer satisfaction program." Either way, those with Continental ContiTrac AS P245/75R16, DOT No: AD70 449 017 through AD70 449 118, will be replaced free of charge.

Ford was quick to praise Continental for its handling of the problem. "We believe Continental General Tire caught this issue early and together we're going to do everything we can to quickly inspect the tires and replace them, if necessary,'' Mark Hutchins, president of Lincoln Mercury, said in a statement.

Ford’s praise takes on additional meaning in light of last month’s recall of 6.5 million Firestone tires—most used on Ford Explorer SUVs. Ford has been openly critical of Firestone, charging the tiremaker with delaying a recall unnecessarily.

The latest tire problem follows Ford’s request that all its tire suppliers check their internal claims data. In contrast to other automotive suppliers, tire manufacturers normally handle their own warranty work and maintain their own repair and claims records. That is why, Ford officials claim, they did not initially know about the problem with Firestone’s tires.

Ford insiders insist they are pleased with Continental’s quick action, which they say comes in sharp contrast to the long-delayed recall by Firestone. That tiremaker’s AT, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires, used on the Explorer, have been linked to catastrophic tread separation resulting in as many as 130 deaths in the U.S. and abroad.

As with the Firestone problem, the latest tire issue first showed up in Saudi Arabia, where harsh conditions can stress tires to their limits. But "This is not the same as the Firestone issue," emphasized a Continental source. "There is no catastrophic failure."

Instead, it appears that some of the General Tires suffer from "irregularities," which can cause a condition called belt lift. In turn, that leads to tire "chunking," where pieces of the tread can break off. So far, only five minor accidents have been reported in connection with the Navigator tire problem.

Ford sources emphasized that only specific ContiTrac AS tires used in 1998 and 1999 appear to have problems (those identified above). So owners will be asked to go to a Lincoln dealership to have their tires inspected and, if necessary, replaced. Alternatively, consumers can reach Continental at 1-800 TIRE-FIX (847-3349) or by email at Customers can also contact Lincoln at 1-800-521-4140.

Continental expects the entire recall to take eight weeks to complete. The effort is expected to cost the company up to $6 million.

With Firestone unable to provide enough tires to cover its own recall, Continental is one of several tire companies rushing to help Ford find replacements for the three Firestone brands. So far, about 2.4 million of the 6.5 million ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires have been replaced. The original timetable for completing the recall was next summer, but Ford insiders hope to wrap things up before the end of this year.

While Ford tried to downplay the significance of the latest news, it took another series of shots, especially from consumer and safety advocates, including Brian O’Neill, director of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

"It should be a concern to Ford that so far it only seems to be Ford vehicles'' involved in tire recalls, O’Neill told the Bloomberg News Service. "I think this has the potential of harming Ford."

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