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Switch Suspected Of Causing SUV Fires

Jul 27, 2005 |

Some of the most popular trucks and SUVs on the road have a part that's suspected of causing hundreds of fires.

KIRO 7 Eyewitness News Consumer Investigator Wayne Havrelly says some of those fires burned right here in Western Washington.

I've met several people who experienced these fires.

They all say what happened to them doesn't seem real. Their SUVs were parked with the engines off, but for some reason, the vehicles were consumed by fire.

Chris Boyd feels fortunate his family is safe. His '98 Ford Expedition burst into flames in his driveway. It had been parked with the engine off for three hours.

"My horn started going off. I looked out the window and there was no fire, but by the time we got from the fourth floor down to the ground floor the car was engulfed in eight-foot flames," Boyd said.

The same thing happened to Valerie Mitchell when she parked her '98 Expedition outside a Kirkland grocery store.

"(I) went into the grocery store. I was in there about five minutes and I came out, and my truck was on fire," said Mitchell.

It turns out the feds are investigating over 520 complaints of Ford trucks and SUVs catching fire, possibly because of a faulty switch that shuts off the cruise control when you hit the brake pedal.

That switch has already led to a safety recall on 2000 model year Expeditions, F-150's and Lincoln Navigators.

The feds recently expanded the investigation to include some 3.7 million Ford trucks and SUVs, ranging in model years from 1995 to 2002.

Local fire department investigators couldn't determine what caused Boyd's and Mitchell's Ford trucks to burn.

However, since Chris Boyd's charred vehicle was still in his driveway, we hired an independent investigator who specializes in electrical fires to take a look.

"I see copper melting on this side down low, and I see aluminum damage to the front driver's wheel that I don't see on the passenger side," said Doug Gottshall, a fire investigator.

Gottshall said the fire appears to have started somewhere below the steering column, which is exactly where the cruise control switch in question is located.

The actual switch was incinerated in the fire, so in this case, it's tough to pinpoint how those flames first erupted.

If it wasn't for a quick response from the fire dept. Boyd says his home would have gone up in flames.

A home in Iowa home burned when a 1996 F-150 truck caught fire in the garage. A woman died and her family has filed this wrongful death lawsuit against Ford.

There's already a flurry of lawsuits against Ford on this issue, including one right here in Washington.

Ford officials tell me they're "working closely with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration but it's been an extremely complex and challenging investigation.

They point out what you've already seen: These fires have a tendency to burn evidence.

"I feel like I want to tell everybody to go out there and get your Fords checked out, especially if it's a model like this," said Chris Boyd.

In 2004, Ford started using a newly-designed cruise control deactivation switch. We paid $23 for it at a local Ford dealership.

Mechanics tell me many Ford truck owners are not waiting for possible future recalls. They're already buying the switches and replacing them on their own.

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