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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Recall Inquiries Swamp Local Tire Outlets

August 10, 2000|GAIL DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ventura County tire shops fielded hundreds of calls Wednesday from worried motorists wondering if they should bring in their cars for new tires, after Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. announced it was recalling millions of Firestone tires fitted to sport utility vehicles and light trucks.

The company will replace its Firestone Wilderness tires produced in its Decatur, Ill., plant as well as all its ATX and ATX II tires with new tires at no charge. The tires are being recalled because of a tread separation problem.

The recall comes on the heels of a federal investigation into dozens of fatal crashes that may be linked to the three Firestone tire models. Since the probe was reported several days ago, complaints rose sharply at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and local tire dealers have been swamped with questions.

Dan Cassidy, manager of Tire Pros in Thousand Oaks, said his shop had taken hundreds of calls in the last few days. At Firestone Tire & Service Center in Oxnard, assistant manager Manuel Torres spent Wednesday arranging inspection appointments for anxious customers.

Employees at Firestone Tire & Service Center in Ventura arrived for work Wednesday morning to find 12 Ford Explorers waiting in the parking lot and 30 customers lined up outside the door.

Eric Ward of Ventura took his '93 Ford Explorer into the Ventura shop after his mother encouraged him to have his Firestone ATX tires checked.

Because of the high demand for the tires, some customers were put on a waiting list, but one of Ward's front tires was so badly worn that the shop replaced all four tires immediately.

"It was really dangerous-looking, really worn," Ward said. "I bought them 10 months ago. In my mind I thought maybe this could be one of the bad tires. It was nice of them to bump me up the list. It gave me peace of mind."

Matt Wisla, a spokesman for Nashville, Tenn.-based Bridgestone/Firestone, said that while standard procedure is to replace recalled tires with the same model, it is allowing dealers to give customers other tires if requested.

"Obviously, the No. 1 priority right now is to work with the customers and dealers in the interest of safety and customer satisfaction," said Wisla. "As necessary, we'll obtain other tires to meet that need."

That may be a boost to many Firestone dealers in the county, who anticipate running out of replacement tires fast.

Torres said that will help, as will word from his suppliers that they are working to keep dealers fully stocked.

Because the recalled tires came standard on Ford Explorers and some light trucks, Ford dealerships in the county also have been bombarded with calls.

Managers at Vista Ford of Oxnard were asking customers to be patient as they tried to determine a plan of action on Wednesday.

"Most people are very understanding about this being late-breaking news and we're all trying to get up to speed on what needs to be done," operations manager Geoffrey Hill said. "We don't want customers coming here and us chasing them away to a tire store if we're supposed to be helping them."

The dealership had received many calls, but only a few motorists stopped by, Hill said.

The recall has touched other area residents as well. Brooks Firestone, a former state assemblyman for Santa Barbara and parts of Ventura County, is a member of the Firestone family. Brooks Firestone left the company and sold his stock in 1972, and the corporation was sold to Bridgestone Corp. in 1986.

He heard about the federal probe last week while attending the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, he said.

"I'm very sorry for the Bridgestone Co.," he said. "I wish them and the tire customers well."

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