Firestone Tires and the Ford Explorer
Despite massive media coverage on this safety problem there has been very little information on what individual owners can do other than get their tires replaced and no exposure of the underlying problem that is responsible for the 100 deaths associated with the Firestone tire failures.What to do:
If you're still driving on recalled tires have them inspected by a competent mechanic and bring the tire pressure up to 35 psi. CHECK the pressure daily. You cannot determine the pressure of a radial tire just by looking at it, you have to use a gauge.
Light: Increased vehicle weight tends to promote tire failure and anything you put in the vehicle at a height of more than about 24" above the ground (not the floor) will raise the center of gravity and make it easier for the vehicle to rollover. People are the worst things to put into the Ford Explorer or any other SUV on this score.
Low: Higher speeds tend to increase the tire temperatures and the Firestone tire failures are apparently temperature related. Further, the Ford Explorer and most SUV’s are easier to control at lower speeds.
Level: Most of the serious accidents caused by the Firestone tire failure involved rollovers. Rollovers occur when the vehicle spins out as a result of heavy braking or as a result of hard steering. Sideslopes – one side of the vehicle uphill or downhill from the other- also tend to promote rollover. So keep the vehicle pointed straight ahead and level to avoid rolling it. This goes for the Ford Explorer and all other SUVs as well.
Don’t panic, don’t brake hard, steer straight ahead, keep the vehicle on a paved surface if possible. Tread separation is not a death sentence and may not even mean tire failure in the sense of blowout or loss of air pressure. Further, even blowouts on rear tires should be manageable, front tire blowouts should be controllable if you can keep the wheels pointed straight ahead.The Two 35s: 35 psi. 35 mph.
Don’t lock up the brakes –slow down gradually to about 35 mph and then pull off the road, but try to stay on a paved shoulder if it is available.Close the windows if they are not already up – You should have time. Slowing from 60 mph to 35 mph at a normal braking rate will take about 5 seconds, plenty of time to close the windows –but the driver should keep both hands on the wheel. All vehicles are safer with the windows up; the side glass protects against full or partial ejection. Windows up and seatbelts on is the basic safety protocol for all vehicles. Of course your seatbelts will be already on in preparation for any possible accident.
35 psi: Higher tire pressures make the tire run cooler, the Firestone tire failures are temperature related.
35 mph: There is a minimum speed required to roll a vehicle over, without this minimum speed the vehicle lacks the kinetic energy required to go over. For a lightly loaded Ford Explorer this minimum speed is probably about 35 mph –on level ground. (other SUVs are different- the CJ5 could probably go over at 26 mph). Heavily loaded vehicles will go over at lower speeds, maybe as low as 30 mph.
Tire Pressure: It is unclear why Ford recommended 26 psi for Explorer tires. There are three possible reasons: 1. Lower pressure lowers the vehicle slightly. 2. Lower pressure decreases the steering response and decreases cornering capability. 3. Lower pressure produces a softer, more car-like ride. What is clear is that lower pressures increase tire flexing and heat build up in the tires.
NOTE: Increasing the tire pressure above the Ford recommended value will probably tend to promote on -road rollovers: So you'll have to be more careful in normal driving. But this seems to be a good trade off in warm climates at least until you get the Firestone tires off the vehicle.
Early Ford Explorers had the twin I beam front suspension which produces on-road rollovers and makes off-road rollovers more likely. This is a problem they inherited from the Bronco II and earlier Ford pickups. But any vehicle can rollover if it leaves the paved surface and the wheels dig in to trip it. The real problem is that the occupants can be hurt or killed as a result of the rollover even if they are belted up and not ejected.
Seatbelts are of limited value in rollovers if the vehicle suffers extensive roof crush as most domestic and non- European imports will. This is the real problem in the Ford Explorer – Firestone tire story. While there are about 101 deaths currently associated with Explorer tire failures over the past several years, there were 10,000 deaths in highway rollover accidents last year alone and most of these preventable. Over 50% of all deaths in SUV accidents involve rollovers; the current Explorer problems are only the tip of the iceberg. Ford’s proclamations that the problem lies with the tires and not the vehicle is just propaganda. Even if the tires cause the accidents, Ford is causing most of the injuries.