A 10-page mailgram from the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. to its retail tire dealers has led to mass confusion among dealers and consumers over the proper conditions of the recently announced recall of the 500 steelbelted radial tire.
The mailgram was criticized by the government in a letter to Firestone earlier this week, mostly because it contained apparent inaccuracies over what tires would or would not be accepted under the terms of the recall.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as well as Firestone dealers, the Center for Auto Safety and The Washington Post have been deluged with telephone calls complaining about unsatisfactory handling by Firestone of potential recall cases.
In Firestone's instructions to dealers, for example, the dealers are told that requests for replacement of tires "worn to the tread wear indicator" should not be honored.
"That is just not part of the agreement," said one NHTSA official yesterday, "and statements like that just serve to cause problems."
There are other problems stemming from dealer interpretation of the complex mailgram and merely from the failure of dealers to adhere to the instructions.
One Virginia dealer, for example, is only taking the first 10 racall customers each day, rather than setting up appointments.
For its part, Firestone said through a spokesman that the tentative agreement reached with the government "is fair to our customers and fair to the public." Calling the recall "a massive undertaking," Firestone said "we are doing our best to carry it out in a way that will make it as convenient as possible for any motorist involved."
But many people have called NHTSA to say that their Firestone dealer would not take back an original equipment tire because the customer was not the original owner of the car - a stipulation not in the agreement. Other consumers said they were told they would have to wait as much as a full year before they could be handled.