WASHINGTON (July 13)—A Ford polymer scientist´s deposition in a Texas court case partially contradicts Ford's recent decision to advise its vehicle buyers to replace their tires after six years of use regardless of their condition, according to spokespersons for the tire industry.
John M. Baldwin, Ford polymer science technical specialist who leads the auto maker´s research in tire aging, told lawyers Dec. 17, 2004, that it´s obvious the properties of the rubber in the Firestone tires recalled in August 2000 changed dramatically over time. But when asked if older tires are less resistant to belt separations than new tires, Baldwin said, "I´m not comfortable making that assessment yet, to be honest with you."
"Based on these statements, we would submit that Ford doesn´t have data showing a direct correlation between tire age and tire performance," said a spokesman for the Rubber Manufacturers Association, which has staunchly fought all suggestions that tires may have an "expiration date."
A committee of the American Society for Testing and Materials is developing test protocols for tire aging, collaborating with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in its effort to develop tire aging test requirements for federal tire safety standards. Some industry officials, however, are skeptical. "There are so many variables involved that we honestly don´t know whether they´ll ever come up with an accurate test," said Becky MacDicken, government affairs director for the Tire Industry Association.