The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will decide in the next two weeks whether or not to order the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. to recall about 15 million steelbelted radial tires because of safety defects.
The action, which would be the largest tire recall in history, would effect every Firestone 500 tire still on the road. The company stopped producing the controversial tire in early 1977. The move could cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars.
Joan Claybrook, adminstrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said the decision will come "in the next couple of weeks," after congressional hearings on the tire problems are completed.
Claybrook said her agency "has never had anything like the number of complaints we have received on this tire. They have all sorts of problems . . . sometimes the steel cords come out, sometimes bubbles balloon out on the side of the tires, and sometimes they just blow."
The agency has recieved more than 2,000 complaints about the tires, and according to agency sources practically all of them have been multiple complaints - involving more than one tire. At congressional hearings last month, testimony tied 27 deaths and 31 injuries to blowout on Firestone 500's.
A Firestone spokesman expressed surprise at the pending HNTSA action.
"We cannot believe that the NHTSA has prejudged this case before the investigation is completed. Fireston is confident that a full and fair hearing will demonstrate that the steel belted radial 500 tire has no safety defects and that a recall of the tire would be unwarranted."
Firestone earlier this year sued to prevent HNTSA from releasing a survey which showed that consumer compalints were considerably higher for the Firestone 500 than any other tire. The company claimed the survey was biased.
Last week HNTSA sued the company in an attempt to force Firestone to give up certain death and injury rate documentation as well as information on the number of tires the company has taken back from consumers. A House subcommittee will question Firestone Wednesday about the tire problems.
If NHTSA decides it wants to force a recall of the tires, Firestone will have 30 days and a hearing to present rebuttal before the final determination is made.