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Buyers can replace Firestone tires now

Bridgestone to pay for tires that have been switched

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Bridgestone Corp., which is recalling 6.5 million Firestone brand tires amid a U.S. safety investigation, said consumers don't have to wait to replace tires under a three-phased plan announced last week.

The world's second-largest tire company said consumers can go to any dealer authorized by Bridgestone or Ford Motor Co. to replace the tires. It has also agreed to reimburse customers up to $100 for any tire that has already been replaced, including those from rival companies.

Bridgestone has been urged by safety groups to widen and increase the pace of the recall. Bridgestone said on Wednesday that it was recalling its Firestone brand 15-inch ATX, ATX II tires made in North America, and its Wilderness AT tires of the same size made at a plant in Decatur, Ill. The tires are the subject of a federal probe of at least 62 deaths since 1992.

The company had initially said the first phase of recall would take place in Arizona, California, Texas and Florida. The entire recall was scheduled to be completed in about a year.

Ford, which is Firestone's largest customer, had already authorized its 5,000 dealers to replace tires when requested, including with tires made by other companies.

Investigators are now examining almost 800 cases involving the deaths and 100 additional injuries, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration said. As of Aug. 3, the agency had identified 21 deaths and 193 crashes, many of them involving Ford's best-selling Explorer sport utility vehicle.

Bridgestone's reimbursement policy covers tires that were purchased between Jan. 1 and Aug. 8 at company-owned Firestone Tire and Service Centers or authorized Bridgestone/Firestone retailers. The policy also covers competitors' tires that were bought at other stores between Aug. 9 and Aug. 16.

The company said the policy will be explained to customers on its Web sites at www.bridgestone-firestone.com or firestonetire.com.