Continental Tire North America is recalling almost 600,000 tires, most of which were sold as original equipment on 106,701 two-wheel drive Expedition and Navigator SUVs from the 2000 and 2001 model years. About 60,000 of the tires were sold as replacements on light trucks.
At least one accident in an Expedition, in which six people were killed, may be related to a tread separation on one of the tires covered by the recall. Continental officials said they have not been able to investigate the tire to see if it caused the accident, and most complaints about the tires are less serious, involving uneven tread wear and tire vibrations.
Tread separations led to the recall of millions of Firestone tires in the past two years that were used primarily on the Ford Explorer. Ford officials say they discovered the Continental problem through an internal process put in place after the Firestone recall to identify possible tire defects quickly.
Mark Sowka, a vice president at Continental, said the tire maker always has examined claims for evidence of defects, but the effort has redoubled since the Firestone recall.
"Certainly the events over the past years have heightened everybody's interest and attention," he said.
The recall involves the P275/60R17 size of the ContiTrac AW and General Grabber AW tires made at the company's plant in Mayfield, Ky. Those involved in the recall have Department of Transportation codes on the back of the tires that end with date codes ranging from 109 to 4400, meaning they were manufactured between March 1999 and October 2000.
Continental's action is the largest tire recall since Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. announced last October that it would replace an additional 3.5 million Wilderness AT tires besides the 6.5 million it recalled in August 2000. Federal officials investigating the safety of the tires and Ford, which voluntarily replaced 13 million Firestone tires on the Explorer, pushed for Firestone's broader recall.
Firestone tires have been linked to 271 U.S. traffic deaths and thousands of accidents. Bridgestone/Firestone officials said the design of the Explorer, the world's best-selling SUV, was to blame for the deaths because the tire company said faulty design caused the vehicles to roll over when a tire failed.
Even though the Continental recall involves Ford SUVs, Ford spokesman Todd Nissen said: "We have no indication this is related to SUV design."
Continental officials said property damage and personal injury claims against the tires increased significantly in April. Officials at Ford noticed the same reports, and the two companies discussed the problem that month.
Then in May, six people were killed in a rollover accident near Barstow, Calif., that involved a failed Grabber tire on a Ford Expedition. Sowka said police have impounded the vehicle, and company officials have been unable to examine the tires to see if they caused the crash.
On July 12, however, Continental began an investigation into the tires that led to the recall announced Monday, which the company estimates will cost $19 million. The company would not say how many tread separations had occurred but said most complaints involved uneven wear and vibrations. The tire maker told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration it has 18 property damage and personal injury claims related to the recalled tires.
Owners should get a letter from Continental within a month advising where to get free replacement tires.
The company also announced Monday it is recalling 3,505 tires used on commercial buses. The tires, produced between September 2001 and June 2002, are wearing down too quickly with heavy use, Continental spokesman Andreas Meurer from the company's base in Hanover, Germany.
Also, Ford said it incorrectly labeled the tire pressure for the rear wheels on 81,774 two-wheel drive Expedition and Navigator SUVs from the 2000 model year, some of which are included in Continental's recall.
The rear tires have a recommended pressure of 33 pounds per square inch but were erroneously labeled at 30 psi, Ford said. The front tire pressure is correctly labeled at 26 psi. Ford will mail new labels to owners.