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Feds to Probe Ford Explorer, Mercury Mountaineer SUV Transmission Dangers

Apr 30, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

Federal regulators have opened a probe into possibly faulty transmissions on Ford Explorers and Mercury Mountaineer SUVs. According to The Atlanta Constitution-Journal, some owners of these Ford SUVs have complained that they can unexpectedly slip out of park.

Consumers have filed scores of  complaints with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regarding transmission problems with the Explorer, the Constitution-Journal said.  Most involve a delayed engagement of the transmission when the SUV is shifted from park into reverse, or into reverse from another gear. Some complaints indicate problems with the vehicle slipping into gear from park.

The alleged transmission problem is also the focus of a lawsuit that started this week in Georgia's DeKalb County.  According to the Constitution-Journal, the plaintiff claims she was paralyzed after her Ford Explorer SUV slipped out of park and into reverse. Her spine was fractured after the vehicle slipped into reverse and ran over her after she exited the SUV.

Ford has blamed the woman's accident on "operator error".

The woman's Explorer was one of several Ford vehicles covered by a transmission repair service bulletin issued by the automaker in January 2005, the Constitution-Journal said.  The bulletin notified owners that the factory-installed transmission fluid may over time cause their vehicles to experience “delayed/harsh reverse engagements.” Ford told owners to take vehicles to dealers, who would install a transmission fluid additive to correct the existing fluid.

The Atlanta Constitution-Journal published its report on the Ford Explorer SUV's transmission problems on April 21.  Two days later, the NHTSA said it would be looking into the issue. Regulators are looking at 2002 through 2005 model year Explorers and Mountaineers; about 1.4 million of these SUVs were produced, the Constitution-Journal said.

The NHTSA's defect investigation documents says the agency has  received 11 complaints of vehicle rollaways after the driver shifted the vehicle into park. In addition, 61 other vehicle owners have alleged failure of the gear shift lever mechanism while shifting from or to the park position.

While Ford maintains that it does "not see a safety risk" with the SUV transmissions, the company said it would be cooperating with the NHTSA probe.


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