By on July 5, 2016


Numerous reports of an exhaust smell in the cabin of late-model Ford Explorers prompted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to open an investigation.

According to Reuters (via Automotive News), safety officials began looking into 2011–2015 Explorers last Friday after receiving 154 complaints of an exhaust odor. The issue, which is reported to be a factor in one crash (that didn’t result in injuries), persists in some vehicles even after they were repaired to correct the problem.

Ford Motor Company issued two technical service bulletins to dealers in 2012 and 2014, but the work reportedly didn’t solve the problem for everyone. The NHTSA said owners notice the smell mainly during full-throttle acceleration and when the air conditioner recirculates air through the cabin. Some owners expressed worry about carbon monoxide exposure.

A Ford spokesperson acknowledged the investigation, stating, “We will cooperate with NHTSA on this investigation as we always do.”

The NHTSA isn’t saying how many models it has investigated. An investigation often leads to a safety recall, but not always. In April, Ford recalled 2014–2015 Explorers to inspect rear suspension toe links that could weaken and fail, leading to a crash.

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33 Comments on “NHTSA Investigating Ford Explorers After Reports of Exhaust In the Cabin...”

  • avatar

    This isn’t just a problem with Explorers. My girlfriend was interested in a Flex when she was car shopping earlier this year. Then I read this:


    That was the end of that.

    • 0 avatar

      I thought this had been addressed years ago since the problem was found to be the cabin-vents at the rear of the vehicles that would suck in the exhaust if the cabin pressure was less than the outside pressure, like when having the AC on High Cool, recirculating.

      The sulfur smell is caused by the catalytic converter when it reacts to overly-rich exhaust gas.

      Hell, under the right circumstances, our 2012 Grand Cherokee had the same problem, like when coming off a hard run on I-80, and stopping to get gas.

      Oooooooooeeeeeeee! Stench! Un-ass the passenger cabin!

      • 0 avatar

        those cabin vents (aka air extractors) should be one-way valves, they’re not supposed to allow air flow into the cabin. only out.

      • 0 avatar

        Is this really the cause of that funky vent smell every car I’ve ever owned/ridden in has had?

        I’m hypersensitive to smells, colors, vibrations, noise, touch and emotion– all. It’s like being Deanna f’n Troi.

        Forrealtho– the MB GLK350(2015) AC smells terrible at 8k miles– the PT Cruiser smelled the same– the Dart(2015) has the smell, as well. The neon had it, too. I don’t feel like it could be normal.

  • avatar

    Sucking O2 out of the cabin and replacing it with CO2 was the next logical step in EGOboost evolution.

    • 0 avatar

      What’s wrong with carbonated air?

      • 0 avatar

        This. Carbonated water is awesome! Air must be, too. If only SodaStream’s and other makers’ CO2 cans weren’t so dinky and expensive for the quantities I’d need.

        The ol’ cheap printer, pricey cartridge model with bubbles.

        • 0 avatar

          I got hooked on Valser when I was away but have settled for Pellegrino here in the states.

          • 0 avatar

            Valser? You were in the wrong part of Switzerland. Henniez or bust. Red Henniez only; the wimpy green stuff need not apply.

          • 0 avatar

            Maybe in Vevey it was Henniez but in Geneva and Zurich I was served Valser. Why is Henniez better?

          • 0 avatar

            Mostly because I grew up with it.

            Maybe things have changed, but throughout my youth if you ordered mineral water in Geneva you had a 90% chance of getting some variety of Henniez.

          • 0 avatar

            I have a shot of a Valser ad in Geneva but I don’t even recall seeing the Henniez advertised at all.

            Valser is also now a Coca-Cola product so its possible the CC machine is the reason for its prominence vs your youth.


    • 0 avatar

      F150 Ecoboost oil drain plugs are made out of stuff Hyundai would use to make a window seal. It won’t be good for the reputation of aluminum vehicles when the gomers figure out their F150s are made to last about as long as a beer can.

  • avatar
    Firestorm 500

    Emergency oxygen tanks and masks are available at extra cost.

  • avatar

    I bought a carbon monoxide sensor for my old car, don’t need any poison sneaking in there. I did once before and I almost passed out.

  • avatar

    Hey my 500$ cherokee does that too… But that’s caused by the Flintstone mobile rust holes in the floor pan.

  • avatar

    Why is this just happening now? These faux explorers have been on the road since 2011. I guess having deep pockets comes in handy

  • avatar

    I think this issue is more common than folks realize for vehicles with vertical rear ends. They can create a zone of low pressure immediately behind the car and suck whatever is in the air immediately behind the car into the cabin.

    One of the several things that caused us to precipitately get rid of our newish Forester XT is that our industrial-grade CO meter showed a small but consistent concentration of CO in the cabin. The vehicle had no exhaust leaks and the emissions equipment was functioning fine. The level was not high enough to create a concern for most healthy people, but ever since my wife suffered a major CO poisoning event due to a defective oven about a year ago she has felt symptoms when exposed to even very small concentrations of CO. None of our other cars, including the ’95 Legend with comparatively primitive emissions equipment, has this issue.

  • avatar

    I found out that this happens to cops in their Crown Vics, who sit for hours with engines idling and eventually CO gets into the cabin.

  • avatar
    Hoon Goon

    This is a fitting place for my very short story.

    One day last week I pulled up at a long light behind a newish Ford Whatever sedan. I immediately noticed the fake exhaust tips, but what I noticed even more was that the real pipes were not even close to centered in the fake holes and the real pipes were set about 3-4″ inboard form the bumper cover/fake tips. I wondered if that person was getting gassed since more fumes were being caught by the bumper cover than were being pushed out the lame fake tips.

    I suspect a lot of this is because these cars don’t have a real rear-exit exhaust and it just kind of billows underneath the car. Enjoy your faux luxury.

    • 0 avatar

      “I suspect a lot of this is because these cars don’t have a real rear-exit exhaust and it just kind of billows underneath the car. Enjoy your faux luxury.”

      Except the Explorers in question have dual tips that come directly to the back of the fascia.

  • avatar

    Why buy a Ford with design defects like this when you can get a Honda Pilot? Takes a low IQ to purchase a Ford vehicle with exhaust in the cabin.

    • 0 avatar

      As one who is aggressively shopping in this segment, let me assure you that the some Pilots have issues, as well. I hope that, with the latest redesign, Honda figured out how to get the V6 to not backfire and throw an error code in its first 5,000 miles, as happened to two of my friends who owned the previous generation (one returned under manufacturer buyback). Granted, that’s hardly a representative sample, but my point is that no vehicle is perfect.

      Let’s be logical adults. One can’t blame low IQ when the issue is unknown at the time of purchase, as was the case with these Explorers.

      • 0 avatar

        The new Pilot has a different engine than the prior generation. I’ve heard of complaints about the VCM software on the second gen Pilots, I’m guessing that was the cause for a misfire?

        You’re right though, every vehicle seems to have an issue.

  • avatar

    HA, I laughed when I read the headline. My ’94 Wrangler had an extremely strong exhaust smell in the cabin at all times when I first got it, no matter what configuration I had the doors/windows in (I almost always have all of them off). Turned out the exhaust leak was where the downpipe meets the muffler and I patched it up with some putty stuff. Now I have a slightly less strong smell of exhaust in the cabin. I’m pretty sure the seven months I’ve owned it have taken 15 years off my life and given me three types of cancer.

  • avatar

    I remember certain vehicles of old that actually had warnings about leaving rear windows down (station wagons) that would allow exhaust gases to enter the rear of the vehicle when rolling down the highway of life. That being mentioned, I’ve always also thought about “Lucky” being transported in a trailer hitch mounted cage riding down the road. I’ve always wondered if the CO concentration was over the 35ppm and/or if a headache or brain damage would result.

  • avatar

    There’s a huge thread about this on the Explorer forums. I was very interested in a Ford Explorer Sport until I came across the thread.

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