Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. knew as early as 1996 that its G159 tires were unfit for use on recreational vehicles and motorhomes, but the company worked to keep the scope and severity of the tire’s problems out of public view, recently released court documents show.

Goodyear designed and manufactured its G159 275/70R 22.5 for use on metro and urban pickup and delivery trucks, such as the vehicles UPS uses for local deliveries. But instead of limiting the tires for use on those vehicles, Goodyear started marketing them for use on RVs.

That decision had disastrous consequences. When driven regularly at highway speeds, the tire’s internal temperatures can overheat and cause a degradation of its material properties, which can lead to tread separations, tire blowout, and a potentially deadly loss of vehicle control.

Goodyear’s G159 tires have been linked to hundreds of crashes because of this problem. These accidents have resulted in at least nine deaths and dozens of injuries. Alarmingly, many of the G159 tires are still in use on RVs driven by unsuspecting motorists to this day, court records obtained by the auto blog Jalopnik indicate.

Goodyear’s own internal documents point to the tire’s deadly flaw, and yet the company continued to market and sell the tires to RV owners with no warning starting in 1996. Goodyear has never conducted any safety recalls for the G159, at least officially. The company did conduct a “silent recall” to try to fix the problem without attracting attention to it, but the people affected by it remain in the dark.

Concealing failure

Documents obtained by Jalopnik also show that Goodyear drastically under-reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) the number of G159 failure claims it received when the agency asked for this information as part of a 2006 inquiry.

Goodyear reported just seven injuries from G159 tire failures, even when it had received 74 death and injury claims at the time. It also reported to NHTSA that it received only 58 tire failure reports when it was aware of 458 G159 tire failures, Jalopnik reported, citing a letter sent to NHTSA by an investigating law firm.

Goodyear has fiercely worked to keep its G159 records out of public view. For years, the company has claimed the need for confidentiality to keep trade secrets. And the recently opened court documents “describe an exhaustive legal campaign from Goodyear that involved obtaining secret settlements that prohibited victims from sharing evidence with anyone—including other victims—which prevented an official finding of a safety risk with the tire from being found,” according to Jalopnik.

On April 4, Superior Court of Arizona Maricopa County Judge John Hannah unsealed several hundred pages of documents concerning Goodyear’s G159 tires in response to a request from the Center for Auto Safety, a Washington D.C. based consumer watchdog.

Judge Hannah wrote that “Goodyear’s need to maintain the confidentiality of the information or materials produced … does not come close to outweighing the public’s need” to access specific information about the G159 tire.

“That information—primarily concerning the tire’s design, its testing, the decision to market it for use on motorhomes, and the adjustment data generated by consumer experience with it—should be made public because it relates to and reveals a substantial potential risk to public health or safety.”

RV owners who continue to ride around on G159 tires would likely find the trove of newly released information extremely troubling.

Some of the records show that, in one case, an expert testifying for Goodyear said that when properly pressurized and operating at 75 mph or more, a tire such as the G159 would generate an internal temperature of 140-150 degrees. But once a tire exceeds 200 degrees, it will start to undergo heat degradation that can lead to deadly tread separations.

Goodyear did not conduct high-speed tests of the G159 until eight months after it had started selling the tires for use on RVs, the court documents reveal. When Goodyear conducted the first two high-speed G159 tests in August 1996, both tires failed in the 75 mph stretch of the test, developing internal temperatures “well in excess of 250 degrees”— substantially higher than Goodyear’s own 194-degree threshold for tires.

Goodyear never disclosed these test results, not even when RV manufacturers sought information about G159 tire failures after becoming aware of tire-related crashes. Instead, the company consistently blamed RV owners for the failures, pointing to such things as improper tire pressure, excessive vehicle loading, and hitting road debris while covering up the hard evidence.

As Jalopnik observes, such claims suggest that “Goodyear believes the more than 700 property damage and casualty claims it received over the G159 were all due to user error.”

Ben Baker, Beasley Allen Attorney
Ben Baker

Ben focuses on product liability cases, especially vehicle crashworthiness.

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