Ford & Firestone Revisited

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When does cancer start?

At the cellular/molecular level, probably. Which makes discovering the moment of conception – so to speak – difficult to pin down.

Political cancer is easier because we can see it and sometimes even touch it, at the critical moment  when it could have been given a bleach bath or something else hygienically suitable.

One such moment occurred in the early spring of 2000 – when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – an apparat of the busybodies and control freaks who constitute “the government” – began what would turn into a Mueller-like witch hunt focused on the supposed defects of Ford’s Explorer SUV and the Firestone tires it came shoed with from the factory.

The real defect lay with the drivers – who drove too fast on tires not meant for high-speeds and  often without enough air in them, resulting in heat build-up and failure of the tires at high speeds.

But the blame for this lay with the busybodies and control freaks who set it all in motion.

Herewith some history:

The Explorer – one of the very first “SUVs,” as they are commonly styled today – was basically a pick-up truck with its bed enclosed and carpeted. Such vehicles weren’t new in 1990 – when the Explorer made its debut.

But they were becoming common.

Previously, they were not.

Chiefly, because those pre-SUVs (models like the original Ford Bronco, the Chevy K5 Blazer, the International Scout, etc.)  weren’t suitable for daily transportation. They were trucks with enclosed beds, remember. And the trucks they were based on were – in those days – not far removed from farm implements.

They were made for work (and recreation) more than transportation.

Enclosing the bed didn’t change the design – but the marketing changed very much. The Sport Utility Vehicle was born, or rather named.

These “SUVs” – as they were branded – were designed to drive through the “loophole” (as anything which makes it legally feasible to evade a government fatwa is styled) which existed in the fine print of the federal fuel efficiency fatwas which applied a lower mandatory minimum average MPG number to what were then-styled “light trucks” – which basically meant half-ton (and smaller) pick-ups. Which in those days were – as noted above – used mostly for work and recreation and made in relatively small numbers.

Uncle – in a moment of backhanded generosity – didn’t initially apply the full force of the fuel economy fatwa’s terms to them, because doing so would have made it very hard for the car companies to continue building them without fundamentally redesigning them.

But “passenger cars” were redesigned.

Over the course of about a decade – from the imposition of the federal fuel economy fatwa in the mid-1970s to about the mid-1980s, when it really began to bite – the typical American passenger car transitioned from full-sized and rear-wheel-drive to compact-sized and front-wheel-drive.

The Chrysler K-car became the archetypical mass-market American car.

But Americans, damn their eyes, still pined for the big cars which the fatwas had made too costly to manufacturer except as low-volume/high-priced luxury cars. And then an epiphany. Someone remembered the “loophole” in the fatwas for “light trucks” and realized that a “light truck” with an enclosed bed could drive through the “loophole” just as well as a pick-up with an open bed.

And pick-ups were still big. And more powerful than the gelded four cylinder FWD “shitboxes” (in the immortal words of Brock Yates) that the fatwas had foisted on the American public.

Plus, they were capable. Trucks have 4WD and are good in the snow and for pulling trailers. A truck with an enclosed bed could be just as good – and carry more people than a truck. Add nice carpet. Amenities.

Voila – the SUV was born.

And, marketed – as the new car. As the versatile and do-anything (and some things better) than a mere car.

The ocean swelled; a tsunami formed.

SUVs became mass-market, everyday-driven “loopholes” to government busybodyism.

Then came the rub.

Many – probably most – of the people who bought their first SUV back in the mid-late ‘80s and into the early ‘90s had never driven a truck before. And were encouraged not to think of their SUV as a truck with an enclosed bed. Instead, they were encouraged to consider it a car.

And drive it accordingly.

Enter disaster, the progeny of unintended consequences born of government busybodyism and control freakishness.

The first-generation SUVs were very much trucks under their skins – and not designed for high-speed driving, much less high-speed maneuvering. The farmers, outdoorsmen and others who had been the primary buyers of trucks heretofore knew all this and drove accordingly. That is to say, slowly. And carefully. But the average Americans who bought “SUVs” often did not – and in large numbers.

Inevitably, there were spectacular wrecks.

These tend to occur when a truck with an enclosed bed is driven at 70, 80 even 90 MPH for long stretches on hot days and on tires not designed for sustained high-speed driving, as the Firestone tires in question were not.

These tires were also often run fast and hard while low on air – accelerating the build-up of heat and increasing the stress on the tire until it finally failed, catastrophically.

A sudden blowout rather than a slow leak.

While running 70, 80 or 90 MPH in truck with an enclosed bed.

A vehicle jacked up for off-road driving – riding on a suspension made for low-speed slogging.

When a tire failed violently and suddenly, the weight of the vehicle also shifted suddenly. The instinctive reaction of the driver was an over-reaction, too much steering or braking input. The truck with an enclosed bed swerved, sometimes out of control . Because of the  truck with an enclosed bed’s high center of gravity, a roll became likely at this point.

A number of Explorers  – several hundred of them – did exactly that. About 271 people were killed in these rollover wrecks. Which actually isn’t that many, considering how many Explorers (and Firestone tires) were made – which was several million.

It’s actually testimony to the general soundness of the Explorer – and Firestones’ tires – that so few people were killed. Most Explorer drivers never had trouble, despite driving their SUV beyond the built-in limitations of its design.

But rather than explain to the people buying these vehicles that trucks with enclosed beds ought not to be driven as if they were cars but with respect for their truck-descended designed-in limitations or (better yet) rescinding the federal fuel economy fatwa that distorted the market and created the problem in the first place, Ford and Firestone were put into the Thunderdome – two men enter, one man leaves – and left to slog it out.

The debacle cost Ford more than $5 billion and practically ruined Firestone.

It also cost all of us.

The solution to this government-created problem was a new fatwa that all vehicles – not just SUVs – be fitted with a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).

These were not installed for free.

In addition, they sometimes don’t work.

The warning light in the dashboard comes on but a check of the pressure manually shows all to spec. People thus ignore the warning, on the boy-who-cried wolf principle. Or they assume the tire pressure is within spec because the light does not come on. But the system may not have noticed the pressure is out of spec.

It might be sounder policy to encourage people to actually check the air pressure every so often; you know – see for themselves – rather than remain in a state of torpid quiescence because a light has (or has not) illuminated.

Back to etiology – the science of disease progression.

Ford and Firestone should have stood their ground and pointed out all the points you’ve just read about.

That the federal fuel economy fatwa created the “SUV” as a mass-market response to unnaturally downsized cars; that “SUVs” would probably have never come into existence absent the fatwa and so remained low-volume niche vehicles for people who understood what they were for (and not for) and drove them appropriately. (Note the fact that there was no Rollover Crisis before “SUVs” became mass-marketed as alternatives to downsized cars. This was because the people who bought “SUVs” before they were called “SUVs” drove them with respect for their limitations.)

Ford and Firestone should have explained that  driving a truck with an enclosed bed at 70, 80 or 90 MPH on a 100 degree day for hours at a time on underinflated tires not designed for high-speed driving even when properly inflated is probably not a very good idea.

They both could have spent a fraction of the billions it eventually cost them on a marketing blitz to educate people that this bad idea – the “SUV” – was the unintended result of busybodies and control freaks – aka, “the government” – dictating to people (via fatwa) how much gasoline their cars will be allowed to use.

Instead, more of the same – and tire pressure monitors for all.

Plus a whole lot more.

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. The fallout from the Ford/Firestone drama is still with us to this day.
    Try to rent a tow dolly or vehicle trailer from UHaul or Penske.
    You will be asked what specific car you will put on the dolly/trailer.
    If you mention it is a Ford SUV or Truck you cannot rent the equipment. Some also ding you for the Mazda suvs, which is just a small Ford SUV.
    Some towing companies will not tow Ford SUV’s.
    If you ask they will always tell you it is because of the Ford/Firestone issue – from over 15 years ago.

    Safety does not make you safe. You make you safe.

    • Fortunately for Mazda owners, Ford sold its Toyo Kogo (aka Mazda) shares some time ago; Mazda is independent, and has been for some time. The only affected vehicle would be the older Mazda Tribute, which was a first generation, two door Escape. The newer Mazda SUVs wouldn’t be affected, since they aren’t based on any Ford vehicles.

    • What difference does make what vehicle is on the trailer? Dolly maybe. But even so a dolly isn’t the same as driving the thing.

      If it is about pulling the trailer I find it laughable that people would be turned away because they showed up to rent a trailer with an F-150.

  2. If one has a VAG product, the TPMS can be easily programmed out – at least on my cars. VW use the rolling diameter of the tires and not pressure sensors.

  3. Well it sure is a surprise to hear that a Blazer or 4wd pickup was not suitable for everyday transportation!

    I guess we old farts didn’t know any better when we drove them to work every day and across the country as well as in the woods and the mountains. I had a brand new 1980 K-10 and drove it 80 mph where I could get away with it, and never felt the least bit unstable or unsafe. The 1973 K-20 that I had before that was also rock solid although I don’t know that it could even go that fast – LOL. Of course, any surviving examples that you might drive today are probably pretty well wore out and apt to wander around and lean a bit.

    Maybe it’s just a Ford thing, and I wouldn’t understand?

    • dread, I grew up in the crowd that used those 4WD vehicles like there wasn’t anything else TO drive. We drove em to the tank and pulled out cows and then drove to Co. for a summer vacation. We drove them to funerals and weddings, to hell and back and to and from jail. We drove them 100 mph all damn day long. So they ate gas? They’d also climb a tree if necessary and carry alls your chirren in comfort doing so. They were great to road hunt from, great to take to the mountains to hunt….or the prarie, great to haul boats with….they were just great.

      I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been going somewhere and come across a situation where I had to say nothing to the passenger who got out and locked the hubs at the same time I did. Hell, they were even chick magnets, another thing we hunted with them. And the military surplus jobs were even more fun than the ones bought new. Many of them had 6.2L diesels that never said die.

      • Where in Colorado did you go for vacation? We may have crossed paths when I lived up in the mountains.

        And yeah, I recall one afternoon/evening when on the spur of the moment I took three cabin/café gals up Cross Mountain in my 1973 K-20. There was a place that was pretty off camber as they say but the four of us were squished in pretty snug hip to hip // wink

        Coming back down, I could see the angle of that square hood with the valley floor below and – well, that’s when you realize how much of a side hill you are driving! Those old tall trucks were actually pretty damn stable.

        • dread, back when I had a new Nissan 4WD pickup I and a friend decided to go up a rock trail that led to the top of a big mesa near Buffalo Gap, Tex. Those mesas are almost always exceptionally steep and the trails are one cutback after the other. I was about half way up and had a hard right turn to go back to the left about 160 degrees. This thing was worn down so it had a bit of a dip in it with lots of loose rock.

          The communications companies back then that commonly had to service towers on those mesas since that’s where towers would be. The old Nissan just spun a front and rear tire(no locking diff’s were available from not only Nissan or the aftermarket)and was basically stuck. I backed way down the road(sic) and tore off at a much higher pace than I had before. I just barely eeked getting through and we had a laugh since those type of things are replete with danger of rolling and on those mesa roads, continued rolling.

          Well, he had a new Blazer(I think this was 82) so we got back in it with the wives and kids. The Blazer never spun a tire and it was quite literally a Sunday drive. He stopped where I stopped the first time, not because he couldn’t go but to show the difference. Then he eased into it and with no fanfare, we crawled up to the top with no drama.

          A couple weeks later I ran off the road on a similar backroad having gone into the curve too fast but stopped just at the edge. I try to back up and the damned pickup starts to slide down this steep slope sideways. Then I tried going forward and that was worse. So I backed up and was committed to going to the bottom of the gorge since no matter what I did, it was going that way.

          That’s one of those scratch your head things and cuss things. The next week I went to a tire store I had done lots of business with and hence, got good prices. I’d do such as find 3-5 people who needed a new set of tires, then go make a “good” deal for that many tires. I wouldn’t even take the vehicles in, just load up that many wheels and have them mounted and balanced…and in the case of high performance, they had a machine that made the tires perfect circles via taking off tread till there were no low or high spots, a tire lathe in effect.

          So I got to the guy and buy 4 new wheels(15X7.5) and 4 new 30.5X15 radial AT’s, took them home and changed tires and wheels. Somewhere, I still have the original wheels for that pickup.

          It was the difference in night and day but not being able to get LSD for it(or me….dammit), it never performed the way it should/could have.

          Ten years later the 4WD market was going gangbusters and I could get any thing I wanted. On a different note, the neighbor just bought a 2019 Ford 250 Powerstroke. It has a switch for the rear diff and an electric operated locking diff. Now that’s a damn good move I salute Ford for doing. They got away from Trac Loc, the best move they ever made.

          • BTW, almost all of the communications companies used Subaru’s back then for maintenance vehicles. The little things would go nearly anywhere.

          • I guess that at one time Subaru offered a low range on some of their cars?

            I’d challenge a Soobie to do what I did this morning with my x-cab LWB Chevy pickup – actually NOT because I don’t want the wreckage stuck in some hopeless spot up on the hill behind my house! Very steep grades that you can’t get a run at, and side hills where you better go damn slow else you might end up down in the coulee. Only moment of question was a place with a twist and that was only an issue because the wheel base is just too long for that and not much “flex” with the IFS. About one spin of the LF/RR and kept on going. A little wider turn might help next time.

            I cut this “road” up on a steep corner of my property for fire fighting access, and for getting wood and fixing the fence. I had to pack a pounder and a roll of wire up there a couple years ago!

            My 73 K-20 would go amazing places, some that I may have actually been the first to go through with a long bed pickup. But get it in a bit of mud with a twist and it was helpless. I think the frame had more flex than the suspension!

  4. We would about read the Explorer/Firestone “safety scandal” news and shake our heads. My wife had a 1990 Bronco II that with it’s short wheelbase was even more unstable than the Explorer platform, and she never had a problem. And, it had Firestone ATX tires on it from the factory. We took that truck 4 wheeling in some of the roughest terrain and never had a flat tire. We’d bring it back from the beach on Sunday afternoon, give it a wash and she’d take it to work on Monday morning like nothing happened. We knew the recommended tire inflation on the Explorers was a joke. You’ve to to look on the side of the tire to see what the max inflation is. I would inflate somewhere between there and the recommended (on the high side), and if it’s riding too hard, let a little air out. Did my own brake/engine/trans/TC/axle maintenance and never had a breakdown in 10 years of ownership.

  5. Does anyone have any thoughts on Pirelli P7s? I bought a set a couple years ago for my 08 Impala and they’ve been pretty good for me. Just curious to get anyone else’s take on them. Thanks!

    • I had a set of 225/45 17’s (Not P7’s) on my Audi 100. Absolutely the worst tires I ever had. I had a sidewall failure on the left rear, an out-of-round tire on the right front and a bubble inside the tread of the left front tire which burst and left the tire flat while the car was parked overnight. I replaced the left rear at my cost because Pirelli said, their investigation showed I was running too little air. Bullshit! I had washed the car the day before and I ALWAYS check pressures afterwards. The right front was replaced with no cost to me however, when the left front went flat, I immediately replaced all four tires with Continentals.
      I was so upset about the quality of the tires as well as Pirelli’s attitude, I reported the incident to NHTSA even though I hate this worthless fucking Government agency.

      • I first used Dunlop tires when I changed to radials. I had one that had to be replaced because of belt problems. Next set I had was Michelins which were good tires but way too tall for their numbers.

        I hit gold with Pirelli back in the late 70’s that were dry only tires but they were great….in the dry. I was told this before I bought them and since it doesn’t rain much, I didn’t worry a lot.

        Then I went through various brands, avoiding US tires when I bought them. I finally bought some Toyo’s for my 4WD one ton and loved those tires. I took them off with a quarter inch of tread at 58,000 miles since I actually need tires for 4WD. I replaced them with the same tire and loved them and they were great tires too, just like the first set, never needing rebalancing and smooth as a baby’s butt.

        Then I tried some Toyo’s on the wife’s car from Sam’s. They all went to hell, one almost causing me to have a bad wreck but I saved it or at least a high berm on the edge of the barditch saved me and when I got down to a decent speed, I just spun the wheel and floored it till it was 180 from what it had been and stopped. I didn’t have to “look”. The front driver’s side tire was so misshapen a blind man could have seen it. All four of those tires did similar and were replaced under warranty at which point all four replacements did same.

        I had made a friend a couple hundred miles from home where I was working. He owned a tire store and refused to do shit such as swap steering tires from one side to the other and didn’t make any bones about swapping sides with any tire. I told him about my Toyo’s from Sam’s and he told me that Sam’s buys seconds. He can’t touch their price since the seconds pass the DOT minimums but aren’t 1sts. They can still be sold but aren’t the best tire a manufacturer makes. Makes sense to me.

        The last tire I bought are 265/75 16’s and are B.F. Goodrich All Terrain T/A’s K02, the newest iteration of that tire. Big sipes, big tread and gaps and quiet like no other tire that size I’ve heard. The tread wraps around the sidewall and they’re great in any crap including snow and ice. At $1250/set I didn’t consider them cheap but I gave up on cheap tires decades ago.

        My dad was the cheap tire guy….until the day when he and the wife had a blowout on some Firestone aramid belted radials that were part of that Firestone test bed tires the BIL used. They were out in the middle of nowhere, mid-afternoon with temps over 105 and him trying to change tires on the side of the road in his late 60’s. Some good samaritan came along and did it for him.

        Once back at home, he wasn’t a happy camper so I volunteered to get him some good tires. I bought him a set of those Pirelli big car tires and they lasted like crazy with nary a problem and I think he sold the car with those tires still on it. He raved about those tires and never mentioned money again when buying tires. He’d take my word on needing a new set and just send me to get him what he needed. Hell, he had plenty of money and only drove American cars because of living in a small town.

        • I bought 4 Toyos back around 2006 (?) for our Suburban after ruining yet another tire. At the time they were very expensive compared to other brands. Those tires went to hell in a hurry; I think I ruined two of them in a year and the remaining two practically wore out in maybe 10K miles. I got them from an old time service station (gone now, of course) so they shouldn’t have been seconds.

          • dread, it’s not all “one” brand in my view. I was buying Class E tires which were great. And the wife’s Toyo’s might not have been seconds, they could have just been crap. But two sets and it makes you think. And that car was easy on tires and since she drove it, they weren’t wailed on but she never saw a bad thing in the road she didn’t want to drive over. We have a collection of things, such as the pieces and parts of an electric wire post puller just off the top of my head. She ran over big driveshaft parts off a big rig.

            When she first got the car second hand, it had a plug in a tire unbeknownst to me or it would have had a patch on it. She shed the plug and went off backward through a mesquite pasture. It was the luckiest thing I’ve seen since there was virtually no damage to the car other than the tire.

            She’s hit countless large animals including such as deer, hogs, coons and no telling what else, oh, a power pole lying in the weeds which I told her to not back up on since I knew it was there. She told me to shut up , she was driving right before it stopped the car. At the time I had a freshly broken leg, had just drug myself into the car after I had to pound the door to keep her from running over me and I really didn’t give a damn when she hit the pole. To this day she denies it even though months later I went over and retrieved trim off the side of the car. Yep, she lives in De Nile for sure.

  6. What I find most interesting is how few people actually know or realise the history of how things are they way they are today…. and like you say its hard to find the exact point of the start of the cancer.

    Ask most people why gas is expensive – most will say its because of those evil greedy oil companies and those fat cats…. little realise that most gas price increases over the past 20+ years are due to tax rises….

    Why cars have suddenly become flimsy and smaller, or overly complicated – most will say because of evil car companies trying to cut costs. Few will ever realise how much is down to government regulation… most dont even now what CAFE is….

    And those annoying TPMS sensors which you have to occasionally reset for no real reason – well even I had no idea they were mandated by our dear leaders!!

    No wonder the google keeps sanctioning you for thought crimes….. you keep reminding the world whats what and who is really responsible for our world going the way its going !!

    On a separate note – something slightly funny that will make you realise how absurd some of these rules are…… yesterday was watching Doug Demuros review of the McLaren Senna. A car that sold for over a million dollars. Even it has Auto Start/Stop (because we all know how much people buying million dollar cars worry about a dollar on gas). Funnily, in the centre console there there were like 4 buttons – Drive, Neutral, Reverse, turn off ASS…..

    • People don’t want to know how things got this way. I’ll try to teach people and they will go into ridicule mode. They don’t want to know. They want to leverage the problems for what they want or simply repeat what they were told.

      Gasoline in 90% silver US coin is as cheap as it ever was even with the taxes.

      • youre right – in real terms gas today is cheaper than ever before all the adulteration and taxes.

        Most people cannot imagine it though. I think many may not want to know, but there is also this impression given by the media that the US particularly has no regulation around emissions and pollution, and you feel this a lot more outside the US where you hear headlines like the US didnt sign Kyoto or the US got out of the Paris con…. Even though I like to think I know a thing or two about cars….. I never realised how much modern cars are influenced by regulation, particularly in the US till I started reading Erics articles…. (and I always thought it was the EU which was the sole driver of auto regulation)

  7. Thanks for that Eric. I didn’t know the history on the firestone incident. It seems operator error had to be blamed on the manufacturer. I do think that people should buy the correct speed rated tire though especially if they are going to drive 80+ mph consistently. This comes down to the owner. Cars are point and shoot so the majority don’t think about car maintenance these days and tires are a big part of it.

  8. Great article Eric, thanks.

    I had forgotten a lot of this as well…we all get caught up in the daily calamities and tend to forget just how in the hell did we get to this point.

  9. I have word from a Ford employee that the problem with the tires was caused by chains on the assembly line rubbing against the insides of those tires and compromising the structural integrity of the sidewall. I will leave it at that.

  10. I have owned first and second gen explorers, and liked them both. Most of the comments about the first gen are bang on, the “twin traction beam” front and the undersized junky rear were definitely just like the ranger, nothing to write home about but perfectly suitable for driving around farm country at 55 or 65. Like I said, it was no great shakes but I liked them.
    The second gen is a far better animal which I like enough to have swapped the whole chassis under a couple of rods. Good 4 wheel power disk brakes, decent 15 inch alloy wheels, power rack n pinion steering, ford 8.8 rear end (as stated- with disks), and longitudinal torsion bar front suspension, in other words a pretty decent system and very popular for swaps. In all, it is a pretty sophisticated heavy duty car suspension which actually handles really nicely at modern interstate speeds.
    Just my inflated $2 worth- it’s easy to bash them but Ford did really nice work in my opinion on the second gen chassis. Now the 4.0 V6 was an entirely different story. They ruined a marginally good OHV design by putting a jackshaft through the cam journals, and driving really cheap single roller chains and cheap plastic tensioners on all 4 chains to make a self destructive and disposable SOHC motor. And the french 5R55E tranny was equally junk. With the Windsor 302 and the 4R70W it is a pretty good setup.

  11. Remember too that when the SUV craze started the NMSL was still in effect. Nobody was supposed to go faster than 55mph. It wasn’t until the mid 1990s before it was repealed and then it took time for higher speed limits to show up. Some places soon after but others took years. Even now much of Illinois’ population still lives in under the NMSL since the state refuses to set expressway speed limits in much of the Chicago area to the 85th percentile. Keeping them at 55-60mph. Plus decisions made in the NMSL era would linger on. The vehicles built in the era would be on the roads for years to come.

    • I grew up in Rockford and went to school in chicago. Everyone is going 80mph when they can on 90/94. Outside of chicago the speed limit was finally raised to 70 but there are creepy speed encforcement signs along the highway with a drone saying speeds are enforced by airplane.

      • Last I heard the ISP sold the plane years ago. Have never heard of drones being used for that purpose.

        The markings are still on the roads however.

  12. I don’t mind them ironically enough, one of the few nannies I’m couldn’t care less about, though I’ve probably gotten use to them as I started driving in ’06-07.

    That said, Government is the problem to everything and I just wish someone would go to Washington and actually eliminate agencies and tell the busy bodies to drop dead while eliminating the fatwa’s.

    Also, I only know what I’ve read and heard, but I could never trust a firestone and would rather walk than trust them on any of my vehicles

  13. I put the blame for all of this squarely on Ford Motor Company. On their door placards, they recommended air pressure of 26 psi for “ride comfort” 26 PSI on a 4000 lb SUV driven in hot climates at 75-90 mph is an invitation to disaster. If they had recommended 35 psi, that would have never happened. Of course, you can’t depend on the average idiot to inflate their tires at all, so the government saw the need to impose stupid TPMS warning lights. Rarely do they warn you of more than an impending flat, but they have successfully added around $20 per wheel to the cost of a tire installation. Again, Ford is to blame for this as the max inflation pressure of the HT Dueler whatever tires was at least 35 psi if not 44. Ford to their customers: Drop Dead.

    • A tyre dealer explained to me that the placards are designed for softer rides. I was running my 16 inch tyres at 28 psi when he noticed and told me the real reason why the placard was written the way it was, as I was using that info. So I now run my tyres at 36-38 psi. The tyre dealers know better than the car manufacturer the capabilities and faults of their tyres.

    • On TPMS, probably 1/4 of the cars I have been in with it, the light is on. A couple of people I have pointed it out to have said they checked the tire pressures with a manual gauge and the pressure was fine so now they just ignore the light. So when a tire really is going low, say at highway speeds, they will still ignore the light as they have been for months.

      Point being, these ‘safety’ devices are conditioning people to be irresponsible and helpless. Why pay attention if the car will stay in its lane automatically? Why check your tire pressure if the car is supposed to do it? ETC.

      Then again, half of the people I know could not fry an egg either as they have not cooked a meal, ever.

    • Ford’s not the only one to use tires that are skinny and taller than they need to be. That helps with “comfort” but plays hell with handling and safety. For decades I used the one/one substitute going down one size in height and adding one in width or thereabouts. My 265/75 16’s were exactly the same height as the 235/85 16’s they replaced…with a two inch wider wheel. They cost a couple mpg but the pickup was like night and day compared to stock wheels and tires. I’m not sorry to see those tall skinny things go away.

    • Ford has a long history of flat-out not caring about their customers once they have the money, ranging from petty annoyances like horsepower-eating exhaust defects (1999 Mustang Cobra) to actually fatal problems.

      What I heard about the Explorer/Firestone thing is that, as others have said, Ford caused the problem by lowering tire pressures for ride comfort rather than coming up with a (time-consuming, expensive) engineering solution; when this started causing wrecks, they threw Firestone under the bus to protect themselves and in the process destroyed a 100-year-old supplier relationship.

  14. Eric,,,
    Ever heard of Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) fatwa. It is being blamed for some terrible automotive numbers in the EU. Wonder when it will arrive in the US?

  15. Some memories aren’t meant to be dragged back up. As a 25 year old, newly minted Firestone tire engineer, I found myself right in the center of this debacle. The moment I had my basic training on their methods and systems I began getting tasked with sorting, cataloguing and testing thousands of tires a week that were coming in from the Wilderness recall. All under orders from Uncle. The old Firestone world HQ in Akron was a massive building. Yet we had the better half of the entire (then unused) 4th floor laid out with literally thousands of tire sections slated for a host of tests and analyses by Uncle. I’ve worked on many large projects for many large companies, but nothing before or since has ever matched the scale of this. It was overwhelming, exhausting and unprecedented. And while this article is dead accurate on all the bureaucratic meddling that set the stage for this fiasco, at the end of the day only one thing really happened here: Ford made a POS vehicle that was death on wheels, then lied about it over and over and over. To Firestone, to the government and to the public. Even as people were permanently injured, paralyzed and killed. Without question many short sighted, reactionary decisions by government bureaucrats set the stage. Bureaucrats literally never get things right. But Ford alone unleashed the grim reaper on an unsuspecting public, knowing full well what they were doing. And when the chickens came home to roost, Ford, the biggest lobbyist on Capitol Hill at the time, thought they could lie, point fingers, call in favors and make it go all away. Merck did this when they spiked patient samples with rabbit blood to deceive the FDA about the efficacy of their MMR vaccine. Purdue Pharma did this when they presented clinical trial results to the FDA that said OxyContin would only be addictive to 1% of patients. I use these examples because the FDA is its own bureaucratic mess, but in these cases was told blatant, willful and fantastical lies by businesses that had traded their souls for big profits. And the finger should be pointed where it belongs. Ford did the same. The Explorer generated huge profits. One factory that made them was turning revenues bigger than the GDP of whole countries. On paper it was a goose laying golden eggs and Ford wasn’t going to let the facts get in the way of that. If you’ve seen the skidpad and crash test footage of the Explorer prior to release you’d be crazy to think the thing was safe for the road. So Ford suppressed them (for about a year. Then their one employee with a conscience leaked them to us and Frontline). On any semi-aggressive maneuver these things flipped and pirouetted like an Olympic diver. On the skidpad they rolled over like a trained dog. With all apologies to Eric this DID NOT require hours of over-rating driving in extreme heat. The ‘inflation pressure’ lie was all but disproven yet still persists today. Numerous Explorers flipped over in parking lots and driveways. In 1995 alone Explorers had over 1500 rollover incidents that DID NOT involve tire failures. One Explorer literally flipped over in the parking lot of one of Ford’s own facilities at 5mph (about 100 of us had a still shot of this as our screen savers). It went on for the better part of a decade. And when Uncle was finally compelled to ask why, Ford’s answer was stunning: “Its the tires”. Except it wasn’t. The tires probably only saved lives. Turns out the Wilderness AT had the lowest failure rate of any tire in its class. As much as 20% less that some of the tires that Ford and Uncle declared ‘suitable replacements’ as part of the recall notice for the Wilderness AT. And what was probably the single biggest single tire analysis in the history of tires confirmed this. But Ford never had to hear any talk of a recall. They had lobbyists working around the clock to assure that, and their marks abided. Explorers got to stay, and continue flipping over on their replacement tires for years after. All par for the course for Ford who had been through this same routine less than a decade earlier with the Bronco 2. We lost over a billion dollars. Not surprisingly Uncle doubled down and we were sued by all 50 state attorney generals in one class suit. And our 100 year old, globally famous brand name was dragged through shit over lies. Willful lies. Lies that cost hundreds of people their lives. Lies that Uncle willingly believed because it gave him an out, while keeping his campaign coffers chock full. Ford eventually couldn’t keep up the charade and suffered heavy damage. We had mostly recovered by then because we still did an honest business and had brand loyalty. They were dragged in and out of court for years after but the press had already gone home (9/11 proved to be a timely distraction for them). It was an interesting life lesson for a 25 year old aspiring libertarian. And the reason that in the time since, I have never spent one second at the wheel of a Ford vehicle and never will. Do so at your own risk. That TPM light won’t save you from a company that has proven over and over that your life is less concern to them that next quarter’s earnings. Uncle will always be Uncle. But Ford is a f%$^&ng disgrace with 40 years and thousands of lives lost or ruined to prove it.

    • Holy smokes, epic input. Thank you for this. It is why Ford lived to see another day and why Boeing after killing 350+ people is still in business in 2019.

    • “That TPM light won’t save you from a company that has proven over and over that your life is less concern to them that next quarter’s earnings.”

      I suspect the sordid thing will repeat itself where Boeing did the same selling redundancy as an option.

    • Ditto, awesome input. I remember when this was all going on, I started to buy Firestone tires to install. I got good deals at the stores during the late 1990s to around the late 2000s. I should have bought stock before they got bought out by Bridgestone. Since the buyout, Firestone stores have gotten progressively worse and the operators more apathetic. In any case, my experience with Ford has been horrible as well. I never blamed Firestone at all for any of this. Ford builds horrible vehicles that handle like a dump truck.

    • Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone were BIL’s. Ford’s have been shod with Firestone’s since day one.

      I consider myself as having a bit more insight into Firestone tires than maybe most. My BIL worked for an oilfield company back in the 60’s and 70’s that was a real life tester of Firestone tires. Their car tires sucked badly, commonly having blowouts, belts in radials go agly and rapid wear. I never knew of them to own any Ford vehicles except for a couple pickups.

      Those tires often blew at speed to the point a Firestone rep finally told my BIL those tires were not made to run over 55mph and he was causing his own problems.

      In this same period of time, I’m thinking it was ’69, a local firestone dealer got a big shipment of Firestone SS performance tires with a brand on them saying they were not DOT legal and could only be used on non-road going equipment. Of course the guy who owned the place sold them like hotcakes because they were super cheap.

      I knew a couple of guys who worked for decades at a plant in Waco, Tx. making them. They didn’t run them on their vehicles.

      By the time the 80’s rolled around you could hardly find a Firestone tire and when you did they weren’t safe, at least the car tires didn’t seem to be….and I’m not speaking of Ford’s. I had a buddy that had a new T-Bird in 70, a behemoth but a great car for him…he loved it. He showed it to me one day and said it has a great a/c and doesn’t overheat and similar(factory shocks were pitiful and it leaned this way and that but it was smooooth). He opened the hood and everything was fairly much GM parts right down to the a/c compressor, power steering pump and Donaldson coolers. It came with Firestone 721 tires. They were worn out in a couple years and he had a blowout on I 20 a few mile from home so he put the spare on that had never been on the ground. It blew out before he got home. I think he put some Goodyears on it at that point.

      Once I found a source for radials in 71 or 72, I never used another American tire…..till I bought a vehicle with an American brand I don’t recall and then bought a pickup with Wranglers. Those AT Wranglers were helpless and I replaced them and the wheels when they were almost new.

      Vehicle wheels make a lot of difference too. I had 235/85/ 16’s on a 3/4T 4 WD Chevy pickup and a friend had the same size tire on 6.5″ wheels on his comparable Ford pickup compared to the 6″ wide wheels on the Chevy. That extra half in made all the difference in the performance of the tires with the tires on the 6.5″ wheels handling better and getting better traction.

      Now we have gone complete Idiocracy with wheels and tires since the automotive companies went along with ghetto style wheels and tires or “reuhms” and tires as they have become known.

    • Word of advice buddy; break up the wall of text!

      I’m sure you had a great story to tell, but it’s hard to read it when everything’s on the same line.

      • Hi Zane,

        His story is really interesting but, I second your point, paragraph breaks are very helpful and make it more likely that people will read long posts.

        BTW, do you know how to access the main comments page? As the threads go on, the width shrinks and can be hard to follow. I’ve found it’s easier to read comments on the main comments page and then access a particular post from there.

        Anyway, if this is redundant info for everyone, I apologize.

        I put this link in my toolbar:

        This sends you directly to the comments page. You do need to register and sign in to access to this page. It lists every comment in temporal order. It also shows comments awaiting moderation that do not show up in the particular comment thread following an article. This can be helpful to those anxious that your post has been deleted (the system does this to all of us sometimes). Directly to the right of each comment there is the name of the post and a “view post” link which takes you to the top of the article.

        To access a particular comment, click on the date and time link on the right side of the screen (in the “submitted on” column). This takes you directly to that comment. If it is early in a thread you can reply directly to it. If it does not have a reply button under the comment, scroll upward until you find a comment on that thread with a reply button. Clicking there will put your comment in that thread. If you’re really anal and want your reply to be directed to a specific person, scroll up until you find the most recent comment from that person with a reply button and click on that.


    • I’m glad someone who worked there has finally said this, instead of me. I have worked on automobiles since I was 13, just over 40 years, and the Bronco-II/Explorer/Ranger platform makes a CJ-5 or Suzuki Samurai look stable as Gibraltar! Taking a turn in a Bronco-II was lethal above 15 mph, the thing rode like it had stale marshmallows for suspension! The 1st generation Exploder was just a Bronco-II in a cheap suit and tie, and just as lethal, more so when you considered the target buyer, middle-class middle agers. The abnormally narrow frame has ALWAYS made it a falling hazard on any shop lift, and I loathe to work on them! The 4WD motor is a joke, a modified wiper motor held to the transfer case by 3 6mm bolts with 8mm heads. They corrode to the point of siezure, the snap the bolts during removal, leaving the shop with an immobile hulk that now requires transfer case removal to repair! When everyone else was improving their production QC , Ford was still setting the bench for SHODDY!

    • Union Carbide in the 80s ran on a platform of the safest chemical company on earth and that they were deeply committed to safety. Through a series of mistakes, a poorly maintained chemical plant in India released a toxic chemical that killed thousands of people at Bhopal. After that incident, thousands of people left Carbide as they had psychological problems working for a company that had committed mass mayhem.

    • Great to hear the inside story, dutch. I worked on a few Ford vehicles and got attacked by them at every chance. What was easy to do on a Dodge or GM was immensely difficult on a Ford. I have never owned a Ford and would own a yugo over a Ford. And since the early 80s I’ve refused to touch a Ford for anyone.

    • All I can say is that Firestone “500” radials were pretty awful, and were subject to a massive recall. FIrestone used a number of short-cuts to rush the tires to market. They even used modified bias-belted tire production equipment (faster than scratch-building radial-specific gear), resulting in terrible rubber adhesion and separation problems. Those tires acquired a terrible reputation with the general public, not via safety-nazi propaganda or corporate finger-pointing, but through the real-life experiences of those who bought them. (I fortunately never purchased a set myself but people I knew who did had terrible problems with them.)

      To this day I avoid Firestone tires due to the 500.

      • The bias ply Firestone 500 was pretty good as far as I know. My mom ran them on her car and then later the Transport 110 on her pickups.

    • Dutch, I come here to learn from people like you in the comments just as much as I come here to read Eric’s take on things. Much appreciated!

  16. There is more to the Ford/Firestone fiasco. Drivers who complained about the “harsh ride” were told to deflate their tires to below the recommended minimum pressure. While this softened the ride considerably, this one move contributed to the rollovers in the vehicles.

    • BINGO!

      While many of these factors contributed to this problem, the unintentional under inflation was the proximate, and primary cause.

      Kudos to Anarchyst for cutting right to the heart of the matter.

      FWIW, that generation of Exploders did ride bad in many ways, but especially harshness.

  17. I’m sorry, but today but not maybe back then, Firestone tires are garbage and not well respected in my neck of the woods.

  18. Two comments: First that my ’14 VW Jetta Sportwagen has TPMS. However, it is based on the RPM’s of the wheel further based on the circumference of a fully/properly inflated tire. It has gone off twice for me, and both times it was b/c I had picked up a nail. There is a button inside the glove compartment for easy reset. Now earlier revs, had (I think) a sensor inside the rim, and they had to telemeter the data back to the computer. Very iffy type of design.

    Second thing is that I experienced the same type of driving dynamic with 90’s Chrysler minivan I had rented. It was peculiar b/c I had never experienced that before. Namely, a very nice ride while going straight, up to very high speeds, but cornering was an entirely different manner. The minivan did not corner as well as it went straight. No car really does, of course, but the disconnect between the two, for that van, was gigantic. Like Eric points out, a full size (truck based) van or a truck (either small or 1/2 ton) you *know* it’s not gonna corner well even when you are driving in a straight line! So you drive accordingly.

    Lastly, as the CAFE marches forward, we saw a repeat into the 1/2 ton trucks. That’s why you see all those crew cabs with itty-bitty beds. Now, CAFE is hitting those vehicles (ecoboost, 4cyl Silverado, alum bodies, 10spd, etc., etc.) Dunno how long the dynamic of the 90’s early SUV’s will last with the 1/2 ton trucks. Eventually *it will* run out. Then guess what? Mark my words, passenger cars will then be based on 3/4 ton trucks, b/c they have no CAFE! Then we will see the absolute ridiculousness of sky-high 3/4 ton crew cabs with 5ft beds!

  19. In reference to the nitrogen gas tire inflation: The earth atmosphere is approximately 80% nitrogen and 20% oxygen so really what is the benefit in the real world of inflating your tires with 100% nitrogen?

    • MY wife was sold that crock when she got her Xterra and for the first year we had to take it to tire shop or car dealer to get the tires inflated, major pain in the ass. then we said, what the hell is the point and just refilled with air.

      • MM, I once had free use of nitrogen and used it in my tires. It was a boon to not get super high pressure on a hot day when the highways had been so hot for so long that even cool air wasn’t a cure for inflation pressures.

        3 weeks ago we had 19 degrees one day and 13 the next with it never getting out of the 20’s. Two days later it was 85. The old saying about the weather in west Tx. couldn’t be more accurate “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a bit and it’ll change”.

        If you had two ports on a truck wheel it would sure help a lot on high pressures to purge and fill with nitrogen.

    • It’s not the 20% oxygen, it’s the water vapor. Water vapor will condense and expand at a greater rate than dry air. So if you park outside in a part of the country with large temperature swings you will probably need to pay more attention to tire pressure than if you use N2.

      A shop that maintains the desiccant in their air system shouldn’t be much of an issue. Using the “free air” station at the convenience store will probably make things worse. I had nitrogen put in this set of tires and it seems to hold pressure much better. Even when driving at highway speeds I don’t see much more than a pound or two difference from cold.

  20. I don’t know about anyone else, but in every car I’ve had, I can TELL when the tire pressure is too high or too low. The car reacts to bumps differently. My Nissan’s transmission doesn’t shift as smoothly, either, when the tire pressure is off.

  21. This is a typical government drone response nowadays: force engineers to come up with an idiot-proof solution while the government schools spew out better idiots. The last thing a government employee wants is a smarter populace that realizes the government for what it is.

      • Back on the moon? Pence is retarded enough to believe that NASA has ever sent a human beyond near Earth orbit. BTW, I know that the Earth isn’t flat.

  22. TPMS is not just a crutch, it is a broken one! I fight with these pieces of garbage almost daily. Some new automobiles have individual pressure display windows for each tire. It is not unusual for me to inflate all 4 tires to an identical pressure, only to find the car display reading 4 different numbers on the display! Ok, that’s at least a 5 psi spread, counting the actual pressure I inflated them to, so what good is the garbage?
    The margin of error on my stick gauge is 1/2 psi, but their “state of the art digital sensor” is clearly beyond even practical usefulness.
    MOST automobiles simply have an “idiot” light, and IF it is actually responding to a low sensor output, the actual tire pressure is down to 24 psi or less. Once “actual” tire pressure is remedied, most system don’t respond or reset as intended, and require sensor re-set at a dealership, and more often than not, outright replacement. Being on the inside myself, I will tell you now this is all for profit, and safety concerns by the industry are zero. The same goes for the nationwide Nitrofil scamming, but we’ll save that one for another day.
    Lastly, of course, is the after-affect of leaving the modern driver in a state of impotence regarding car maintenance and service needs. “just wait for a light to come on” is the common practice, which is then often followed with “just ignore the light until it quits running”.

    Eric’s teeth may hurt, but mine are falling out!


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