By Christopher Jensen
Plain Dealer Auto Editor
Friday, November 14, 2003
Ford has notified its dealers of a problem on some of its 2004 F-150 pickups that could make it impossible to open the doors from the inside.
Clarence Ditlow, head of the Center for Auto Safety in Washington, D.C., said Ford should consider this a safety problem and recall all the F-150s.
"In the event of an emergency . . . you need to be able to open the door to get out," Ditlow said.
Ford spokesman Glenn Ray said a malfunction of the door handles would be rare, caused by a cable coming loose if excessive force is used on the door handle. He said there is no safety problem, because the windows and outside door handles will still work.
But Ditlow said rolling down the window and reaching for the outside door handle could take too long in the worst-case scenario, such as a fire.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is reviewing the technical service bulletin Ford sent to dealers to determine whether there is a safety issue, a NHTSA spokesman said.
Automakers use technical service bulletins to inform dealers of possible problems, how they may be repaired and whether they are covered by any warranty.
The F-150 bulletin said the problem could affect the rear doors on the Crew Cab and front doors on some regular and Super Cab models.
Ford has also recently informed dealers that some of the new F-150s may have steering wheel vibration at 60 mph or higher that may require replacing the steering gear.
The two problems will be covered under the warranty but are likely to be a minor embarrassment to the automaker as it launches the redesigned F-150.
However, a safety recall would be worse because a recall acknowledges a more serious defect and gets far more publicity.
Ford officials have said it is crucial to have a trouble-free launch for the popular F-Series. The F-Series has been described by top Ford executives as the automaker’s crown jewel because so much of the company’s profits depend on its success.
Ford says it has been working hard to improve its quality. Some independent studies, including those conducted by Consumer Reports magazine and J.D.Power and Associates, have shown Ford is making significant progress on some of its vehicles.