WASHINGTON — The federal government opened a preliminary investigation Tuesday into Goodyear tires that have been linked to 15 deaths in accidents involving tread separation, similar to the problem with Firestone tires now being recalled nationwide.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received 37 complaints about tread separations on Goodyear’s Load Range E tires, including reports of 31 crashes in which 15 people died and 129 were injured. Twelve of the deaths occurred in the United States and three in Saudi Arabia.
Goodyear spokesman Chris Aked said the Akron, Ohio-based tiremaker spent about two years investigating 30 accidents involving the tires and attributed them to problems such as overloading, underinflation or damage from road hazards and debris.
Load Range E tires are heavy-duty tires made primarily for commercial vehicles, including light trucks, vans and trailers. The investigation will examine 21 million tires manufactured between 1991 and 1999, although Goodyear estimates about half are no longer being used.
The NHTSA opens any safety investigation with a preliminary evaluation in which the government and manufacturer exchange paperwork that includes any complaints. An investigation eventually can lead to a recall, but many end without such action.
The Load Range E tires are sold under many different brand names and sizes, and NHTSA said it would develop a complete list during the investigation.
Aked said about a third to a half of the tires were sold as original equipment and the rest were replacement tires. He said a complete list of vehicles that have the tires was not available, but it includes large trucks made by Ford Motor Co. and Daimler-Chrysler AG, including the Dodge Ram and Ford 250 and 350 series trucks, many of which have been modified for commercial purposes.
Ford Motor Co. President Jacques Nasser, at an appearance in Washington, said it was premature to discuss the Goodyear investigation and he did not think it would not undermine confidence in Ford vehicles.
"It’s an early study by NHTSA," he said. "Let’s not overreact at this point until we get some facts on the table."
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