Washington The tire pressure that Ford recommends for Explorers is lower than what Bridgestone/Firestone suggests and makes the popular sport utility vehicle less safe, a tire company executive told Congress Thursday.
The tire maker wrote Ford this week requesting it raise the recommended pressure from 26 pounds per square inch (psi) to 30 pounds, Bridgestone/ Firestone Executive Vice President John Lampe told a House Commerce subcommittee.
"We now know that at 26 psi there is a low safety margin for the Explorer as compared to some other SUVs," Lampe said. "Running an Explorer on low tire pressures, overloaded, in hot climates appears to be a part of the problem that we're now facing."
Firestone tires, which have been linked to 101 U.S. traffic deaths, are standard equipment on the Explorer, the world's best-selling sport utility vehicle.
Helen Petrauskas, Ford's vice president for environment and safety engineering, countered that "for the better part of 10 years Firestone agreed and repeatedly supported and certified to the recommended tire pressure of 26 psi."
Bridgestone/Firestone last month recalled 6.5 million ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires, most of which were original equipment on Explorers.
To spur returns and keep recalled tires away from used- tire dealers, the company said Thursday it would pay $10 each for tires returned to a Bridgestone/Firestone dealer.
Thousands of people, most of them Explorer owners in warm-weather states, have reported tread separations, blowouts and other problems with the tires.
Lower pressure gives tires more grip and a softer ride, but causes them to wear faster and creates more internal heat because of greater friction with the road. Experts for trial attorneys suing the two companies have speculated that heat from the lower pressure weakened the bond between the tires and their treads.
After the hearing, a Bridgestone/Firestone spokeswoman could not cite any testing the company had done recently to decide that 26 psi was unsafe but said the tire industry accepts 30 psi as the best level.