CAS Letter to Virginia Attorney General

The Center for Auto Safety is the nation’s premier independent, member driven, non-profit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to improving vehicle safety, quality, and fuel economy on behalf of all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.


July 15, 2002

Honorable Jerry Kilgore
Attorney General of Virginia
900 East Main Street
Richmond VA 23219

Dear Attorney General Kilgore:

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, 1 fatal fire crash
with 1 deaths occurred in Virginia.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.

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. (Attachment A.)
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 Virginia
Code §§ 59.1-207.34 thru 59.1-207-.39 (the "Secret Warranty
which requires auto makers to notify owners by first class
mail of "any extended policy program under which a manufacturer undertakes
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

Since Ford contends that TSB 01-21-14 is not safety related, it falls
four-square within Virginia’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

Virginia should require Ford to comply with its Secret Warranty Law and
order immediate notification to all 1998-2001 Virginia 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 Virginia 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
Executive Director

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.)


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