Faulty switch prompts recall of 3.6M Fords

8/4/07

Automaker now has recalled 10.4M vehicles to fix cruise controls tied to potential fires.

Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. announced Friday that it is recalling another 3.6 million vehicles because of ongoing problems with a cruise control switch that has already sparked several fires and prompted five other recalls. All told, the company has now recalled some 10.4 million vehicles because of the defect, making it the largest recall for a single vehicle problem in U.S. history.

The latest recall involves more than a dozen cars, trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles built between 1991 and 2004, including such popular models as the Ford F-150, Mercury Mountaineer and Lincoln Town Car.

The issue involves a speed control deactivation switch manufactured by Texas Instruments Inc. The switch, which is powered at all times, can leak over time and increase the chances of an electrical fire. Fires in vehicles covered by previous Ford recalls have led to garage and house fires, and deaths in several states.

Ford spokesman Dan Jarvis said "a handful" of additional fires prompted this latest recall, but he stressed that none of these had resulted in any accidents, injuries or deaths.

"We saw a very low number of reports in early Crown Vics," Jarvis said, adding that these incidents would not normally have warranted a recall. However, because of lingering concerns about the switch and the serious nature of previous incidents, he said Ford decided to issue a broader voluntary recall.

Friday's recall comes as the automaker tries to rehabilitate its image with consumers. Ford cars and trucks have closed the quality gap with their Asian rivals in recent studies, but the buying public remains wary because of previous quality concerns. At the same time, the automaker is struggling to return its North American automobile business to profitability, and can ill afford the cost of so many repairs.

Ford urged to expand recall

Vehicle safety advocates have long urged Ford to expand its recall to include every model that uses the potentially faulty switch. Even the latest recall still does not include every vehicle that uses the switch.

"Everybody knew the recall needed to be expanded," said Sean Kane of Safety Research and Strategy Inc., a vehicle safety analysis and advocacy group based in Massachusetts. "Until they expand it to include everything, you're always going to have an issue that is going to arise."

A total of 16 million Ford vehicles use the Texas Instruments switch. That means about 5 million cars and trucks that use the switch still haven't been recalled.

Kane accused Ford of dragging its feet in order to keep costs down, adding that the Dearborn-based automaker was quietly pressured into adding these vehicles to the recall list by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"NHTSA was pivotal in making this happen," he said. "This is probably some of the finest work they have done."

Ford said the recall was entirely voluntary and denied that any agency or group had pressed for the recall. However, in a letter to NHTSA dated Aug. 2, Ford acknowledged it was contacted in March by the federal agency regarding reports of fires in older Crown Victoria sedans.

Ford will begin notifying owners of the affected vehicles by mail on Aug. 13. Jarvis said it will take at least a month to get all of the recall notices out to motorists.

Problems surfaced in '90s

The company plans to install a fused wiring harness on the covered trucks and SUVs to eliminate the potential for a future fire. Ford does not have such units available for the cars covered by the recall, so owners will be instructed to take their vehicles in to have the switch disconnected until the appropriate parts are ready in October. They will then have to take their cars back to the dealership to have the new wiring harnesses installed.

Problems with the Texas Instruments switch first surfaced in the late 1990s, prompting Ford to recall nearly 280,000 1992 and 1993 Mercury Grand Marquis sedans. A year later, NHTSA began an investigation after receiving complaints about engine fires in Ford vehicles that used the device. As that investigation expanded, Ford recalled more and more vehicles, including 740,000 F-150s, Ford Expeditions and Lincoln Navigators. Ford argued that there was no conclusive evidence that the systems were malfunctioning until September 2005, when it recalled another 3.8 million pickups and SUVs.

By then, the issue was linked to more than 1,100 engine fires. Some of those had destroyed homes, resulting in at least two deaths.

Last August, Ford recalled another 1.2 million vehicles after another death was linked to the switch.

This and other cases have resulted in a number of lawsuits across the country, many of which Ford is still fighting.

Ford's latest recall includes the following vehicles:

  • 1998-2002 Ford Ranger
  • 1992-1998 Lincoln Town Car
  • 1992-1998 Ford Crown Victoria
  • 1992-1998 Mercury Grand Marquis
  • 1993-1998 Lincoln Mark VIII
  • 1993-1995 Ford Taurus SHO (automatic transmission)
  • 1999-2001 Ford Explorer
  • 1991-2001 Mercury Mountaineer
  • 2001-2002 Ford Explorer Sport
  • 2001-2002 Ford Explorer Sport Trac
  • 1992-1993 Ford E-150, E-250 and E-350
  • 1997-2003 Ford E-150, E-250 and E-350
  • 2003 Ford E-450
  • 1993 Ford F-series
  • 1993 Ford Bronco
  • 1994 Mercury Capri
  • 2003-2004 Ford F-150 Lightning
  • 1995-2002 Ford F-53 Motorhome

    Previous reports

    Ford recalls 800,000 pickups, sport-utes
    U.S. to probe 3.7 million Ford pickups and SUVs
    Lawsuit claims Ford pickup caused fatal fire
    A little girl dies; attention turns to a faulty Ford part
    Fires prompt huge Ford recall