A federal grand jury in Los Angeles is gathering evidence in a criminal investigation into Goodyear’s recall of older-model RV tires.
The Department of Transportation Inspector General and the Justice Department are also leading the investigation.
Federal officials with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation into the RV tires in 2017, in response to lawsuits that were filed for people who were injured or died in tire blowout accidents.
The NHTSA discovered that G159 tire blowouts were linked to 8 deaths and 69 injuries between 1998 and 2009. Goodyear knew about issues with RV tire blowouts as early as 2002, but did not issue a recall until June 2022 — and only after fighting the NHTSA for a year.
The recall involves about 173,000 G159 tires that were manufactured from 1996 through 2003. Fortunately, most of these recalled tires are no longer on the road.
The problem is that the G159 tires were only designed and tested for stop-and-go delivery trucks, but they were commonly installed on RVs and A-class motor homes, including original equipment on thousands of Fleetwood and American Tradition motor homes.
Unlike delivery trucks, RVs are heavy vehicles that travel for long distances at highway speeds, so their tires must be able to withstand intense heat. If they fail, tire blowouts can cause the RV to swerve off the road or into traffic and crash.
Goodyear’s own tests showed that the G159 tires could get unusually hot at highway speeds, increasing the risk of a blowout, but the company failed to issue a recall or warn RV owners about the risk.
Goodyear still insists that there is no safety defect with the G159 tires. In a statement, the company said that it recalled the tires to address risks that occur when the tires are under-inflated or overloaded.
“This tire hasn’t been made since 2003,” Goodyear said, and furthermore “it consistently met Goodyear’s demanding safety standards.”
In a letter seeking a recall of the tires last year, NHTSA wrote that “the safety-related defect is a clear, identified failure that leads to a loss of vehicle control, causing crashes and potentially catastrophic consequences such as death and serious injury.”