Ford Motor Company is recalling more that 1 million F-Series pickup trucks and corresponding Lincoln versions built during model years 1997 through 2004 because of fuel tank fires. The Ford recalls result from the automaker’s latest corrosion problem caused by rusting fuel tank mounting straps that can fail. This leads to the tank dragging on the road and potentially breaking fuel lines resulting in leaks and, potentially, fires.
At least three fires and one injury are involved in this safety defect. Ford had previously maintained that no such problem existed.
In a filing with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) made public today, Ford said that it would conduct regional recalls covering the District of Columbia and Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin. These are areas which use large amounts of road salt during the winter.
Critics of such regional recalls point out that this means some potentially defective and unsafe vehicles are missed by such money saving actions. In this case, a national recall would include about another 1.6 million Ford trucks. Owners concerned about the fires should contact their dealers.
In a statement Ford said that it is aware of “eight incidents alleging sparks or fires, three of which led to vehicle fires and one injury. The others self-extinguished or were put out by onlookers.”
In September of 2010 NHTSA opened the original investigation in the Ford fuel tank problem. However it wasn’t until NHTSA upgraded the investigation to an Engineering Analysis this past May – requesting more detailed data on the issue – that Ford decided to recall the vehicles.
The history of this NHTSA defect investigation is the latest example of the growing toughness of NHTSA, along with its increasing ability – helped by the internet – to gather safety defect data. It is also another example of the Toyota Unintended Acceleration Recall Effect, where NHTSA was accused during U.S. Congressional hearings of being the lapdog of the auto industry after it ignored the deadly Toyota safety problem for years. NHTSA subsequently imposed millions of dollars in fines on Toyota, while exonerating itself from culpability.