By TIMOTHY AEPPEL
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. said it is expanding its premium tire warranty
to cover far more of its tires but is shortening the coverage period to
three years from five, quietly acknowledging that the age of a tire can
affect its durability.
Tires naturally begin deteriorating soon after
they are put to use. So the older a tire
becomes, the more chance it has to develop
structural problems that can lead to failures
such as tread separations. The tire industry
offers an array of warranties based on varying age minimums as well as
mileage and other factors.
"It became clear we were doing our consumers a disservice by giving the
impression that they could expect their tires to last that long," a
Firestone spokeswoman said.
The change applies only to replacement tires and therefore doesn't
affect the majority of the 6.5 million tires recalled by Firestone in
August. Nearly all the tires now subject to recall were sold as original
equipment on Ford Motor Co.'s popular Explorer. Firestone is the U.S.
subsidiary of Japan's Bridgestone Corp.
Firestone announced its expanded warranty at a meeting this week in
Las Vegas of 4,000 of its dealers. The annual get-together, typically a
time when the company lays out promotion plans for the next year, was
overshadowed by Firestone's recall. The company used the event to
reassure dealers that it was committed to rebuilding consumer
confidence in the brand.
Under the new plan, nearly all passenger and light-truck tires sold by
dealers will be covered by warranties that pledge to replace tires free of
charge when they become "unusable for any reason attributed to
workmanship or factory defect" for the first three years after they are
bought, or four years from the date they are made or until they are
worn to 2/32nds of an inch of remaining tread depth, the
industry-recognized standard for a worn-out tire.
Previously, the premium warranty offered such coverage for five years
from purchase or six years from manufacture.
"What they're saying in essence is that they can't guarantee the tire
beyond three or four years," said Max Nonnamaker, an independent tire
Mr. Nonnamaker contends all steel-belted radials have a limited service
life and tire makers have done little to warn motorists about the age
limitations of tires.
Firestone said the change would mean the premium warranty now
applies to 97 tire lines, compared with only 53 before. The program also
extends a 30-day money-back guarantee, which allows drivers to get a
full refund for any reason within the first month of buying tires. The
company's standard warranty on replacement tires only extends 12
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