Firestone Tires Under Fire Again


William Robbins survived not one, but two accidents where his Firestone Steeltex tires exploded out of the blue.

"Looks like a hand grenade went off inside of it,'' says Robbins.

A mechanic by trade, Robbins knows a little something about tires. He suspected the Steeltex tires were defective, like Firestone Wilderness and ATX tires recalled in 2000. So he mailed them in to Firestone saying: "It was all I could do to keep my vehicle from rolling over..."

Firestone had a quick response. The blowouts "did not result from a defect". The tiremaker insisted Robbins must have hit a "pothole." Both times.

But questions are being raised about Firestone's analysis, and whether it's trying to cover up a problem.

CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson asked Alan Hogan, who helped expose defects leading to Firestone's 2000 recall, to examine Robbins' Steeltex tires, the ones Firestone said were flawless.

"Right here is the crack in the inner liner,'' said Hogan, pointing out a seam inside the tire.

"This crack goes from bead area to bead area, in other words, all the way across the center of the tire."

Hogan says he found obvious defects in all of Robbins' tires, even the ones that hadn't yet blown.

"All it takes is just a little bit of air to get past that crack and it's a recipe for disaster,'' said Hogan.

Firestone was ordered to preserve damaged tires in its legal custody so outside experts could inspect them as part of a giant lawsuit. But CBS News has learned Firestone sent letters to hundreds of customers -- like William Robbins -- saying their tires would be returned to them or destroyed. Not saved for evidence.

Firestone now says its own letters were wrong -- that it didn't destroy any tires after all. A judge in the case ruled, without explanation, not to impose sanctions against Firestone for the mistake.

Firestone also insists it had no obligation to save tires like these for evidence if customers asked for their return, and had no obligation to tell them about the lawsuit.

Now, Robbins wonders whether all those unkept tires could have revealed dangerous defects. And it's doing little to build confidence in a tire that's already suspect in the eyes of many customers.

(c)MMIV, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved