CAS Letter to California Attorney General
July 15, 2002
Honorable Bill Lockyer
Attorney General of California
1515 K Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
Dear Attorney General Lockyer:
Not since the Ford Pinto has America seen a passenger car fuel tank defect like the Ford Crown Victoria. Based on the limited available public data for 1994-2000, the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) has identified 30 burn deaths in 70 fatal fire crashes in the 1992-2001 Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car. Of these, 6 fatal fire crashes with 7 deaths have occurred in California with fire identified as most harmful event in 3 crashes with 4 deaths.1 Although Ford claims this is a police cruiser problem, more fire deaths have occurred in the public fleet which has the same fuel system. Of the 6 California crashes, only one is known to have occurred in a police vehicle.
The root cause of the Ford crash fires is a poorly located gas tank in the crush zone of a rear impact where it can be punctured by any number of objects between the bumper and rear axle. Ford has identified two such puncture mechanisms (1) an attaching hex nut bolt for the park brake cable and (2) a sharp tab on the rear stabilizer bar U-bracket and told dealers how to eliminate these puncture hazards in Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) 01-21-14 on October 22, 2001. Every 1992-2001 Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis and Town Car should have these repairs made to reduce the risk of fire crashes in rear impacts.
Ford told NHTSA on April 29, 2002 "the TSB-described modifications would be performed at the request of the vehicle owner."2 Ford never notified any consumer of the free repair even though Ford's own data show the Crown Victoria is 4.8 times more likely to be involved in a fatal rear impact fire crash than the comparable Chevrolet Caprice.
By failing to notify consumers of the free repair under TSB 01-21-14 on October 22, 2001, Ford violated California Civil Code §§ 1795.90-1795.93 (the "Secret Warranty Law") which requires auto makers to notify owners by first class mail of "any program or policy . . . under which a manufacturer offers to pay for all or any part of the cost of repairing . . . any condition that may substantially affect vehicle durability, reliability, or performance, other than service provided under a safety or emission-related recall campaign."
Since Ford contends that TSB 01-21-14 is not safety related, it falls
four-square within California's Secret Warranty Law. Indeed, Ford
took safety out of the TSB during its drafting and limited application
of the TSB to "Body" and "Fuel" parts performance.3
Although NHTSA has initiated a safety investigation, Ford is vigorously
challenging the investigation on the grounds that there is no safety defect
and that it will not do a safety recall. Ford
told NHTSA on February 8, 2002:
The information and documents provided in this response and the excellent real world performance of the subject Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis, and Town Car vehicles over a ten-year period provide compelling evidence that there is no defect related to fuel system integrity in rear impacts in the vehicles.4
California should require Ford to comply with its Secret Warranty Law and order immediate notification to all 1998-2001 California Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car owners who were entitled to a free repair under TSB 01-21-14 on October 22, 2001 when it was issued. In addition, we urge you to initiate an investigation as to whether you have authority under any California law to obtain a similar free repair that could prevent crash fires in full size 1992-2001 Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Cars.
Clarence M. Ditlow
1 The terrible toll will go higher when data from the national FARS is obtained from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for 1991-93 and post 2000 under the Freedom of Information Act.
2 April 29 letter from James P. Vondale, Director Ford Automotive Safety Office, to Kathleen C. DeMeter, Director NHTSA Office of Defects Investigation. (Attachment B.)
3 Attachment C is a copy of the draft TSB and the editorial directive to remove Safety from its scope.
4 Letter from James P. Vondale, Director Ford Automotive Safety Office, to Kathleen C. DeMeter, Director NHTSA Office of Defects Investigation. ( Attachment D.)