Can I replace all-terrain tires with all-season tires?
I have a 1999 Ford Explorer with P255/70R16 Wilderness AT tires. My particular tires have NOT been recalled, at least not yet. But I'd feel safer replacing them. My owner's guide recommends replacing them only with other all-terrain tires. Although I sometimes drive on streets that have not been plowed in the winter and on gravel roads for short distances, I don't do any true off-road driving. So the tire dealer recommended I purchase all-season tires instead. What's your opinion? -- Cheryl
TOM: Well, first of all, I don't blame you for replacing your tires even though your specific Firestones haven't been recalled yet. Firestone has argued that it was the manufacturing process that caused the bad tires. But how do we know it wasn't the design? And even if it was the manufacturing, how do we know that the same manufacturing processes weren't employed at other Firestone facilities? We don't know.
RAY: And in fact, if I were Ford, I'd voluntarily replace any Firestone tires that a customer is scared to drive on (we've heard from many scared Explorer owners over the past few months). Ford would probably make you a customer for life by showing that much concern for your safety, wouldn't it, Cheryl?
TOM: In any case, I wouldn't take the tire dealer's word alone for which tires to use. While there are certainly some well-informed and honest tire dealers, some of them are more concerned with selling what they have in stock than getting the correct tires on your vehicle.
RAY: You CAN put SOME all-season radials on your Explorer, But you need to check with Ford first. If you go to the Ford Web site (www.ford.com), there's a link that says "For official Ford News on the Firestone recall, click here." That takes you to a page where you can click on "Recommended Replacement Tires." Look up the year and configuration of your Explorer and choose a tire from that list. Or if you don't have Web access, you can call Ford at (800) 660-4719.
TOM: Remember, vehicle performance is tested and calibrated using certain types of tires. If you change to a different type, rating or size of tire, you take the chance that you're going to change the handling characteristics of the vehicle.
RAY: That might be desirable in some cases -- for instance, an all-season tire (which is closer to a passenger-car tire) probably WOULD give you a smoother ride in the Explorer. But if it's not a tire deemed acceptable by the manufacturer, there may be other handling changes that you can't predict.
TOM: And while that might be less dangerous on a sedan, it can make the difference between staying upright and rolling over on a vehicle with a high center of gravity, like this one.
RAY: So look for one of the tires recommended by Ford. That's the safer way to go, and that's the whole reason you're getting new tires, isn't it?