Auto Safety Group Wants Ford to Recall SUVs for Exhaust Leak

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The Center for Auto Safety, a nonprofit auto industry watchdog founded in 1970 by Consumers Union and Ralph Nader, has called on Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) CEO Jim Hackett to recall all 1.3 million Ford Explorers for model years 2011 through 2017 because of suspected carbon monoxide (CO) leaks.

According to the Center’s announcement Tuesday, Ford has “failed to take seriously the thousands of consumer complaints which had been filed with NHTSA, Ford, and the Center for Auto Safety” as of last October when the Center first called on Ford to take action on the complaints.

The Center claims that the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has received at least 1,381 complaints from drivers and passengers, in addition to more than 2,000 that Ford itself has received.

The most likely cause of the CO leak, according to a report from the NHTSA last July, is a cracked exhaust manifold. Ford disagreed and instead suggested what the center calls “less effective repairs such as reapplying weather sealant and reprogramming the climate control.”

Executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, Jason Levine, said:

In response to thousands of complaints by Ford owners of being exposed to dangerous levels of toxic chemicals, and despite the owner’s manual for their vehicles noting the ‘dangerous effects’ of exposure to Carbon Monoxide, Ford continues to insist there’s nothing to see here. Ford needs to stop sending mixed messages to Explorer owners and passengers, including senior citizens and parents of young children, that the vehicles are ‘safe,’ and that repairs are available only for ‘peace of mind.’ Since some Ford dealers are responsibly replacing cracked exhaust manifolds, it is time for Ford to take a more serious step, recall all of these vehicles, and inspect and replace cracked exhaust manifolds.

In its letter to Hackett, the center noted:

Despite the thousands of complaints, incidents, and injuries, there are no reported deaths associated with this dangerous defect – yet. It is easy to imagine a roadside crash caused by Carbon Monoxide exposure resulted in a fatality but was written off as ‘drowsy driving.’ It is possible that Ford and Ford’s customers have just been lucky up until this point, but the time for Ford to take more serious action is now, before that luck runs out.

Here’s a complaint filed with the NHTSA last August (all caps from original):

DRIVER LOST CONSCIOUSNESS WHILE CAR IN MOTION ON HIGHWAY, STRUCK POLE, TOTALED CAR. HAVE SINCE LEARNED ABOUT PROBLEMS WITH EXHAUST SYSTEM IN THIS MAKE/ MODEL. UNFORTUNATELY DID NOT KNOW AT THE TIME TO BE CHECKED FOR CARBON MONOXIDE. CONCERNED ABOUT POTENTIAL FOR INJURY TO OTHER OWNERS/PASSENGERS OR PEOPLE SHARING THE ROAD.

Visit the Center for Auto Safety website for more information and links to the center’s letter to Hackett and the NHTSA investigation.