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REGION Owners are changing tires in wake of recall



Published: Mon, June 11, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



A Boardman dealer is trying to replace Firestone tires before summer temperatures rise.

By SEAN BARRON

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

Many of Brian Starr's customers are happy to get their tires replaced, as long as the new tires aren't Firestones.

The salesman at B & amp;R Wholesale Tire in Austintown said people are requesting other brands after Ford Motor Co.'s May 22 decision to recall 13 million Firestone tires.

"I used to carry about 1,000 Firestones. Now I'm lucky to stock 100," Starr said.

Response: The recall has sent many Mahoning Valley residents who drive sport-utility vehicles back to dealerships to have their Firestone tires replaced.

Ford said it would replace the Firestone 15-, 16- and 17-inch Wilderness AT tires now on Ford vehicles, beginning with the oldest ones.

The process should take several months.

Firestone Tire and Service centers in Boardman and Liberty refused to comment and referred questions to the company's public relations department.

Ron DiTullio, parts and service director at Donnell Ford in Boardman, said many of his customers have a different reaction this time, compared to their response to another recall of Firestone tires last August.

"They're not in a panic like last time," he said.

DiTullio also said he wants to get replacements done before summer temperatures rise, when more tire problems generally occur.

His dealership will be getting more BF Goodrich, Michelin and Goodyear models than normal.

Requests for replacements, though, are slowing down at Phil Fitts Ford Lincoln Mercury Inc. in New Castle.

Some people call or are put on a waiting list, but many wait until the end of the summer to change their tires.

"It's not a big deal," Fitts said.

Starr said he is putting another brand on vehicles and advising people to take their Firestone tires to Ford for reimbursement.

He added many people are switching tires in advance of the summer driving season.

Tire problems: Several Bridgestone/Firestone models have been linked to at least 170 deaths and more than 700 injuries in crashes caused by tire tread separation, according to government figures.

A 95-year relationship between Firestone and Ford has been severed, and the two companies still blame each other for unstable vehicles.

Vehicle owners will be sent notices instructing them to replace their Wilderness ATs with other brands.

Ford dealers will offer free replacements; those who buy replacement tires will be reimbursed up to $110 for the 15- or 16-inch models and up to $130 for the 17-inch tires.

The replacement process will cost the automaker about $2.1 billion, Ford officials estimate.

barron@vindy.com




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