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Mounting Number of Fires Linked to Faulty Switch Forces Ford to Recall 3.8 Million SUVs and Light Trucks

Ford is no longer able to evade mounting evidence of serious fire risk

Sep 8, 2005 | www.newsinferno.com

In a short letter (http://199.79.180.162/prepos/files/Artemis/Public/Recalls/2005/V/RCDNN-05V388-9228.PDF) to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Director of Ford Motor Company’s Automotive Safety Office announced a major recall involving some 3.8 million vehicles.

As required by federal regulations (49 CFR Part 573) the letter was accompanied by a detailed report describing the history and scope of the problem.

Although the attached report includes the acknowledgement that there have been allegations that “three deaths” and other injuries have been linked to fires caused by the faulty switch, Ford strongly denies the connection. 

The recall actually expands upon one already in operation and being monitored by the NHTSA (http://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/problems/recalls/results.cfm); however, it marks the first time that the giant automaker itself has openly acknowledged the seriousness and massive scope of the problem.

Only last month, Ralph Nader demanded the NHTSA alert vehicle owners to the potential fire hazard in numerous models of Ford and Lincoln SUVs and trucks. Nader wrote to Jeffrey Runge, head of NHTSA, insisting he issue a public warning about "life-threatening hazards" from a faulty cruise control switch in those vehicles.

At that point, Ford was in the process of recalling about 750,000 Ford F-150s, Expeditions, and Lincoln Navigators manufactured in 2000.

That recall was to replace cruise control switches which may catch fire in the above mentioned vehicles. The NHTSA, however, was continuing its investigation to determine whether the same fire hazard exists in another 4 million Ford SUVs and light trucks.

The government investigation, which began in March, involves F-150 pickups manufactured from the 1995 to 1999 and 2001 to 2002 and Ford Expeditions and Lincoln Navigator models from 1997 to 1999 and 2001 to 2002.
The NHTSA has received more than 550 complaints of engine fires as a result of the cruise control switch in the Ford models.

The most dramatic case wherein one of these faulty switches has been blamed for a serious fire is the one involving the Mohlis family. 

As we previously reported, after 911 was called, 74-year-old Darletta Mohlis died in an attempt to escape from her burning house. Her three children and husband, Earl, are suing the Ford Motor Company in a wrongful death action claiming a faulty cruise-control deactivation switch on Mr. Mohlis’s 1996 Ford F-150 pickup truck caused the fatal fire. 

In its ongoing investigation of fires linked to faulty cruise control shut off switches in Ford vehicles, CNN has already reported that despite the fact that Ford is aware of 16 million 1992 to 2003 vehicles at risk, only slightly over one million have been recalled.

The switch (manufactured for Ford by Texas Instruments) costs $20.57 and has already being linked to 559 fires reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Many of these fires have completely destroyed the vehicle. In this case, however, Mrs. Mohlis died when her entire house burned down after the family pickup truck caught fire while parked in the garage.

The fires are spontaneous and often occur when the ignition switch is off and the key removed. This is because Ford designed the switch to remain on or “hot” at all times. When a crack develops in the film (supplied by Dupont) separating the brake fluid from the electrical circuit, the leak will cause a fire.

Since May 1999, Ford has recalled a total of 1,071,000 vehicles in two separate recalls. CNN reports, however, that a document it has obtained shows Ford is aware that it installed a total of 16 million of the switches between 1992 and 2003 in the following vehicles:

·    Mark VII/VIII from 1994-1998
·    Taurus/Sable and Taurus SHO 2.3 L 1993-1995
·    Econoline 1992-2003
·    F-Series 1993-2003
·    Windstar 1994-2003
·    Explorer without IVD 1995-2003
·    Explorer Sport/Sport Trac 2002-2003
·    Expedition 1997-2003
·    Ranger 1995-2003

In March 2005, the NHTSA opened an expanded investigation into more than 3.7 million of these vehicles. Ford, however, chose not to recall all of the vehicles arguing that the switch has performed well for years in most vehicle models.

As a result, Ford has limited their recalls to those models “with an increasing fire rate report.” A recent recall notice was clear as to the risk, however.  Ford stopped using the switch last year in favor of a new design.
In the case involving the Mohlis family, inspections of the truck and fire scene have been performed by two experts hired by the family’s attorney, officials from the NHTSA, and inspectors from Ford.

The family’s experts, an electrical engineer and a certified fire investigator, believe the switch caused the fire. Ford claims the fire started elsewhere and spread to the truck and the switch had nothing to do with the fire. The NHTSA has made no public statement as to its investigation or findings. Mr. Mohlis stated the truck had been parked in the garage and shut off for four days before the fire.

The mounting pressure from consumer advocates (like Nader), the steady stream of reports of fires linked to the very same switch, the ongoing NHTSA investigation, and consistently bad publicity related to this issue (like CNN’s investigative reports) probably played a role in Ford’s belated acknowledgment that there is, indeed, a serious problem and its not going to go away.

The recall is the fourth largest for Ford and, according to NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson, the fifth largest auto recall in the nation's history behind: (1)1996, Ford recalled 7.9 million vehicles for faulty ignitions; (2)1971, GM recalled 6.7 million vehicles for engine failure; (3)1981, GM recalled 5.8 million vehicles for a rear axle problem; and (4)1972, Ford recalled 4.1 million vehicles for a shoulder-belt problem.

The NHTSA announcement describes the remedy as follows:

“AS AN INTERIM REPAIR, OWNERS WILL BE INSTRUCTED TO RETURN THEIR VEHICLES TO THEIR DEALERS TO HAVE THE SPEED CONTROL DEACTIVATION SWITCH DISCONNECTED. AS SOON AS REPLACEMENT PARTS ARE AVAILABLE (EXPECTED MID-OCTOBER 2005), OWNERS WILL BE INSTRUCTED TO RETURN TO THE DEALERS FOR INSTALLATION OF A FUSED WIRING HARNESS. THE INTERIM OWNER NOTIFICATION IS EXPECTED TO BEGIN DURING THE WEEK OF SEPTEMBER 12, 2005. OWNERS SHOULD CONTACT FORD AT 1-800-392-3673.”

Ford’s recall number is 05S28. Customers can also contact the NHTSA directly through its Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-3274236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153), or by going to http://www.safecaar.gov.


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