Goodyear knew about defective RV tires as early as 2002, NHTSA says
Detroit — Federal investigators say Goodyear knew that some of its recreational vehicle tires could fail and cause severe crashes, yet it didn't recall them for as many as 20 years.
Goodyear wouldn’t recall the tires as late as March of this year, even though investigators found that their failure caused crashes that killed eight people and injured 69 others from 1998 through 2009.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration made the allegations against Akron, Ohio-based Goodyear in a Feb. 22 letter sent to the company seeking a recall of 22.5-inch-diameter G159 tires.
Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. responded to the agency in a March 8 letter refusing to do a recall, but later it decided to conduct one, according to NHTSA documents.
The NHTSA letter says the company should have recalled the tires within five working days of becoming aware of a safety defect, which it apparently knew of as early as 2002.
“The safety-related defect is clear, identified failure that leads to a loss of vehicle control, causing crashes and potentially catastrophic consequences such as death and serious injury,” NHTSA wrote in the letter.
Documents say the tire tread can separate from the body, causing drivers to lose control and increasing the risk of a crash.
The agency posted documents Tuesday showing that Goodyear had agreed to recall 173,000 of the tires, which have been out of production since 2003.
Automakers such as General Motors and Toyota have faced large fines and prosecution from the Department of Justice for failing to recall vehicles in the time frame required by law.
In its response letter to NHTSA, Goodyear maintained that the tires were rigorously tested and fully qualified to operate at highway speeds. “No subject tire inspected by Goodyear engineers ever revealed or even suggested a defect of any kind,” the company wrote.
Goodyear said Tuesday that few, if any, of the tires are still on the road. The company said it’s doing the recall to address risks that happen when the tires are underinflated or overloaded on motorhomes.
Goodyear's G159 tires have been under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration since December 2017. On Tuesday the agency posted documents on its website saying that it had pressured the company into a recall.
The agency began investigating the tires nearly five years ago after a judge ordered the release of Goodyear data that had been sealed under court orders and settlement agreements.
Lawsuits and safety advocates allege that the tires were designed for delivery trucks and not for recreational vehicles that travel at highway speeds. They allege that Goodyear kept the problems secret for years by settling cases and getting judges to seal records.
The tires were made from 1996 to 2003. The death and injury numbers were revealed in a 2018 information request letter to the Akron, Ohio, company. The agency did not specify how many people were killed in crashes involving the tires.
Goodyear will replace the tires with a newer model at no cost to RV owners. Owners of tires used on other vehicles can exchange them for $500.
Goodyear said in government documents that the RV makers who used the tires are no longer in business, so it does not have access to registration data for the RVs with the faulty tires.
NHTSA issued a statement urging anyone who owns, rents or uses and RV or truck with 22.5-inch rims to make sure that G159 tires are not on the vehicles. “If their vehicle has these tires, they should have this recall completed as soon as possible,” the statement said. The agency said it found that the tires experienced a high failure rate when compared to similar tires.
Michael Brooks, acting executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, said the Goodyear case is one that exposes every flaw in the system designed to keep unsafe tires and vehicles off the roads.
“Sealing off the documentation that there is a distinct threat to public safety should be against the law,” said Brooks, who added that several states have such laws.
He said NHTSA should have acted much sooner after getting a solid case from attorney David Kurtz in a lawsuit against Goodyear.
“I think that the documents that were handed to them at the beginning of the investigation were enough to reach a very quick conclusion,” said Brooks, whose organization sued to get an Arizona judge to release lawsuit documents against Goodyear.
Goodyear, he said, put up a huge fight. “There was a lot of cat-and-mouse going on with Goodyear on this issue,” Brooks said. “They’ve effectively drawn out this defect process so long that they’re not going to have to replace many tires, and that was the ultimate goal, to preserve profits.”
NHTSA's statement did not address why it took more than five years for the agency to seek a recall in the case.
Goodyear's statement said the RV manufacturers who picked the G159 tire for their motorhomes were responsible for communicating appropriate load limits to their customers. The manufacturers that would have been responsible for such communications are no longer in business, the statement said.