More than 2 decades after its first reported failure, the Goodyear “G159” RV tire has been publicly proclaimed “the worst tire made in history.”
This came from evidence collected in a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigation, disclosed for the first time in an Arizona court on Wednesday. Installed on thousands of motorhomes, the tire is linked to more than 700 complaints, including 9 deaths, dozens of injuries, and hundreds of crashes – rates 27 times worse than the famous Ford-Firestone scandal.
The documents, dated between 1996 and 2015, show an aggressive cover-up of serious issues with the tire. Lawsuits allege Goodyear knew this secrecy would result in future deaths and injuries. And after years of underreported claims and continued sales, the tire is still on the road today.
20 Years of Damage, Uncovered
NHTSA announced in 2017 that it had opened preliminary investigations into the G159 tire. By then, the tire was cited in at least 41 lawsuits.
The lawsuits generated hundreds of pages of documents, which the Arizona judge John Hannah unsealed after ruling the potential risk to public health more important than confidentiality.
Goodyear responded by asking Hannah to stop Jalopnik, a leading automotive news outlet, from publishing the evidence. A Goodyear attorney also wrote to Jalopnik, saying the documents were released in error. Goodyear’s attorney also threatened legal action.
Given the green light by Hannah, Jalopnik went ahead and published. The point is, Goodyear’s attempt to backtrack follows a disturbing pattern of behavior spanning years.
How the G159 Failed
Motorhomes are well-known to operate on highways at speeds above 65 mph. Yet according to numerous lawsuits, at high speeds, G159 tires generate temperatures well over 250 degrees, blow out, and spark off property damage, injuries, and death.
The G159 failed “in all positions on the motorhome (front, rear inner, rear outer),” court documents read. The failures occurred in 17 brands of motorhome across 39 separate models, and, “almost universally all of the failures occur at highway speeds.”
NHTSA started receiving such reports more than 15 years ago but said data “produced in litigation was sealed under protective orders and confidential settlement agreements, precluding claimants from submitting it to NHTSA.”
The Administration reached out to Goodyear in 2006. At that time, Goodyear was dealing with 74 casualty claims and dozens of lawsuits across the nation. The company disclosed only 7 injuries. It was also aware of 458 crown separations and hundreds of property damage claims. In total, Goodyear told NHTSA about 58 of them.
And… It Gets Worse
Throughout its legal battle, Goodyear has maintained that G159 tires do not pose a risk when installed on motorhomes. (This, despite its own records detailing the risks of use on RVs instead of pick-up trucks, which the tire was originally designed for.)
The company also failed to conduct high-speed tests of the G159 until 8 months after sales commenced. The first 2 tests failed at 75 mph. And instead of releasing the results or disclosing the true number of failure reports to RV makers, Goodyear pointed to user error.
“Tire blowouts can be related to a number of facts, however the key ones being overload, under-inflation, vehicle speeds and road hazards,” the company wrote. Because, of course, what else could 700 complaints mean?
Like many companies caught allegedly selling defective products, Goodyear has thus far refused to back down. Even after years of dishonest dealings, Hannah wrote, the manufacturer used the protective orders to silence victims and employees. Its strategy also involved destroying evidence and selectively picking what testing data to reveal in court. “Thus, Goodyear could control the information available to each plaintiff,” Hannah noted.
Secret settlements and distortion of evidence clearly put other consumers in danger. The hope is that legal proceedings prevent future wrongdoing. Whether Goodyear plans to appeal Hannah’s order or furnish more information, per NHTSA’s request, is unclear – but it has until May 4 to decide.