Goodyear and its G159 RV tires are the focus of two federal investigations attempting to sort out why the tires are prone to deadly failures at highway speeds and which Goodyear officials were involved in the company’s decision to rate the tire for higher speeds than it could handle.

Newly released court documents obtained by the auto blog Jalopnik indicate the company’s knowledge of the G159’s fatal flaws went all the way to the top and have continued with no public acknowledgment of the problem for more than a decade.

According to the court records, Goodyear billing records show that CEO Rick Kramer personally approved settlements of G159 tire failure cases as early as 2008, when he was head of the company’s North American unit. But his awareness of the problem likely went back even in further. In June 2007, Mr. Kramer was slated to meet with a Goodyear attorney to review a case involving a G159 tire failure on a Fleetwood RV that resulted in a crash killing two people.

At least 41 lawsuits have been brought against Goodyear, alleging its G159 275/70R 22.5 tires are prone to overheat, degrade, and fail when used at highway speeds. The tires have been linked to at least 10 deaths and dozens of injuries.

Driver complaints about the G159 tire have triggered the federal investigations. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is looking into the allegations of heat-induced failures when driven at highway speeds. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s criminal investigative arm is looking at the company’s handling of the alleged problem.

NHTSA’s findings could result in potential fines of $105 million, while the probe underway by the DOT’s Office of the Inspector General could lead to criminal charges.

Goodyear made the G159 specifically for use on regional delivery trucks, which normally don’t travel great distances at higher speeds. The tires, which the company manufactured between 1996 and 2003, were safety-rated for 65 mph. About two years after Goodyear introduced the G159 tires, it sought to expand the market for them by promoting them for use on recreational vehicles – a move that would require the G159 to be rated for 75 mph.

According to Jalopnik, in one settlement request memo, company lawyers noted that test data showed the G159 tires passed Goodyear’s tests for a 65-mph rating, “but would not have satisfied Goodyear’s standard for qualifying the tire at 75 mph.”

Later tests the company conducted showed the G159 could rate at 75 mph, but many experts, including Goodyear engineers, had previously warned that the tires would be prone to heat-induced failure at the temperatures they registered during tests at that speed.

Nevertheless, Goodyear decided to increase the G159’s rating to 75 mph in 1998. Claims alleging blowouts, tread separations, and serious crashes in RVs with the tires rocketed after Goodyear promoted the tires for those vehicles.

Court records also show Goodyear worked aggressively to settle G159 lawsuits. The company secured settlements in nearly every case, Jalopnik noted, allowing it to shield the problem from public view and bar plaintiffs from sharing information with NHTSA regulators.

But despite its own internal concerns about the tires, Goodyear’s defense strategy has been to blame the RV drivers for G159 separations and blowouts.

According to Jalponik, “Goodyear’s argument in case after case has been that user-error is to blame for the accidents — overloading the vehicle, under-inflated tires, vehicle speeds, road hazards.”

Approximately 40,000 G159 tires ended up on RVs made by 19 different RV manufacturers. Despite the mounting reports of tire failures and crashes, Goodyear never recalled the G159. Records obtained by lawyers indicate that many of the dangerous tires remain in use.



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