Several state attorneys general, led by Eliot Spitzer of New York, reminded consumers Monday to consider replacing
tires excluded from the company's huge tire recall announced in August.
Drivers with certain Firestone tires may "have replacement options of which they may not be aware," Attorney General Jennifer Granholm of Michigan said in a statement, echoing some of her peers in other states.
But consumers' options have not changed since early September, even though two press releases issued Monday made it sound as if Bridgestone/Firestone had just taken additional steps to address problems with its tires.
A release from Spitzer's office trumpeted that it -- along with its counterparts in almost every other state, from Alaska to Wyoming -- had reached an agreement with the company "to replace up to an additional 1.4 million tires" identified by the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
as having potential safety problems. The Connecticut attorney general's office issued a similar release.
But despite the tone of the releases, neither the company nor NHTSA had anything new to report this week, more than two months after Bridgestone/Firestone said it would recall 6.5 million AT, ATXII and certain Wilderness tires, many of which were found on Explorer sport utility vehicles manufactured by
. The tires have been linked to more than 100 deaths.
In the interest of safety, the attorneys general merely wanted to urge consumers across the nation to take advantage of what the company already had offered to provide, after prodding from the highway administration.
Early Monday evening, Bridgestone/Firestone, the North American subsidiary of
of Japan, sent out its own statement to the news media in an effort to clarify the information circulated by the attorneys general.
"Today, the Attorneys General in New York and Connecticut issued press releases stating that Bridgestone/Firestone has agreed to expand its recall efforts," the statement read. "Those releases are inaccurate."
So why the mix-up? On Sept. 1, just before the Labor Day weekend, the highway administration issued a consumer advisory, warning that an extra 1.4 million Firestone tires were prone to failure, and that it still was trying to ensure that all the safety problems had been adequately addressed.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration explained that it had asked Bridgestone/Firestone to recall the extra tires, saying that they were even more prone to tire separation than the tires recalled on Ford Explorers and other models, but the company refused to expand its recall voluntarily.
"We are continuing our investigation, which may result in an order directing Firestone to recall these tires and any other defective tires," the administration said. "However, in view of the potential safety risk, NHTSA believes that it is important to alert the public of its concerns now."
The administration, though, added that since many of the tires in question "were manufactured years ago, it is likely that far fewer are currently on the road. Most of them were sold as replacement equipment and were not installed as original tires on new cars."
Then, on the following day, Firestone said in a statement that it would provide free inspections of the tires and, if necessary, replace them. Firestone later said it would reimburse consumers up to $140 a tire if they went to a competitor for replacements.
"This action was not an expansion of the voluntary recall," Firestone said in its Monday statement. "The company continues to believe that the recall population is proper."
The added tires identified by the administration include ATX tires originally found on the 1991 Chevy Blazer, the 1991-1994 Nissan pick-up truck and a Wilderness model on the 1996-1998 Ford F150, according to the highway administration. But the majority of the tires mentioned, some Firehawk ATX, ATX 23 Degree, Widetrack Radial Baja and Wilderness tires, were sold as replacements.
Granholm of Michigan in her statement said all consumers should "replace any consumer advisory tires as soon as possible." In its retort, Firestone said that although it believes her statement "is generally accurate," it does not "agree with her urging of consumers to replace those tires."