By on February 15, 2017

2016 Ford Explorer

After the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration launched an investigation into reports of a sulphurous exhaust smell in the cabins of 2011-2015 Ford Explorers, numerous complaints have rolled in concerning newer models.

Now, a California police officer claims the exhaust led him and his patrol vehicle on a date with a tree.

Last July, NHTSA launched a probe into older current-generation Explorer models after receiving 154 complaints about a strong odor. Since the first complaints in 2012, Ford has issued three technical service bulletins to address the issue. Potential remedies included sealing and coating the rear floor pan and body seams, replacing the air extractor, installing new drain valves and a software update.

According to some complaints, the supposed fix did nothing to end the odor, which often seems stronger during heavy acceleration and when the air conditioner is in use. Of the reports, only one involved a crash. No injuries were involved in that incident.

Fast forward to this week, CBS News discovered complaints submitted to NHTSA about the exhaust odor have ballooned to over 450. The tally of worried drivers now includes owners of 2016 and 2017 models.

One driver who claims the “no injuries” report is false is Newport Beach police officer Brian McDowell, who told CBS he believes he was overwhelmed with fumes while driving a 2014 model-year Explorer while on duty.

“I just had that nauseous feeling and just feeling like I had a headache,” McDowell said. After that, it was lights out. McDowell’s Police Interceptor Utility, a law enforcement version of the Explorer, left the road and impacted a tree. The officer suffered a dislocated shoulder, fractured eye socket and traumatic brain injury. However, when doctors attempted to find out why McDowell had suddenly passed out, a cause eluded them.

Now, McDowell believes it was carbon monoxide from an exhaust leak that caused his blackout. He has since filed a lawsuit against Ford. Following the crash, the Newport Beach PD has installed carbon monoxide detectors in its vehicles — some of which, McDowell claims, have gone off.

Another owner, retired Army veteran Ron Booth, told CBS he’s had his 2015 Explorer in the shop five times to fix the problem. Still, the odor persists. Booth has also outfitted his cabin with a carbon monoxide detector.

A class-action lawsuit filed against the automaker by a North Carolina was settled last year for an undisclosed amount.

[Image: Ford Motor Company]

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48 Comments on “Dizzying Number of Exhaust-in-cabin Reports Plague Ford’s Explorer...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Looks like Exploder Kwality continues.

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    This happens a lot to cops who sit in their patrol cars with the engine running and if there is any leak anywhere in the exhaust, it will find its way into the cabin. I had a car that had this issue and I had a CO detector on board all the time.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    Grrrreat. Pretty soon our overlords will decree mandatory carbon monoxide sensors in all vehicles just as those annoying tire sensors. Ford Explorer and Big Government… working together to make you buy stuff you don’t need.

    • 0 avatar
      notwhoithink

      What’s the problem with TPMS sensors? Don’t you like knowing when your tire pressures are low or seriously mismatched?

      • 0 avatar
        Corollaman

        I use a $5 tire gauge once a month. Don’t need no complicated, expensive to fix sensor to tell me I need to put air in my tires.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          Like: TPMS Sensors.

          Dislike: That when the temp is below about 20 degrees the sensors freak out and show a warning light when all tires are equal if a bit below the recommended pressure (until they warm up.)

        • 0 avatar
          raph

          @ Corollaman TPMS sensors are also handy on the fly if you pick up a puncture going down the road. In this regard I think they are more useful than keeping tabs on your cold inflation pressures before you head out.

          On some big lump of a brodozer with flotation tires a tire going flat while going down the road is immediately obvious but on many low profile tires once the pressure is critically underinflated its hard to tell until its too late and the tire is ruined or catastrophically fails.

          A tpms system will issue a warning while in operation giving a driver time to pull over and remedy the situation.

          I had an experience like this some years ago. I picked up a nail and when I had run past the double double nickel in speed I guess the penetrating object had ejected itself and the tire started to leak. The TPMS light illuminated and saved me from a potentially messy situation.

          • 0 avatar
            Flipper35

            I wish I had those sensors on my motorcycle all those years ago. We always run rim savers on our dual sports and you can’t feel a flat with those on the straights. Once you lay the bike over in a turn and the front is flat you really do lay the bike over.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        I don’t mind the indirect systems that infer pressure from wheel speed sensor data. But I hate the added expense and hassle of actual TPMS sensors in regards to swapping winter wheel sets back and forth.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        Corollaman, PrincipalDan, and gtemnykh get it.

        Feel free to pay for TPMS on your own car; don’t force me to pay for it on mine and take away my choice.

        • 0 avatar
          raph

          >>Feel free to pay for TPMS on your own car; don’t force me to pay for it on mine and take away my choice.<<

          I guess less than 100 bucks in sensors (I'm not sure of the actual OE cost but replacement sensors in the aftermarket can be had for less than 200 bucks so I imagine due to the sheer volume OEs bulk purchase stuff a tpms sensor has to be fairly cheap per unit) is a deal breaker on a car?

          I guess this same conversation must have cropped up when seatbelts were first introduced?

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            Very funny, and nice try. You’re free to have your TPMS (well, none of us are free to have them because no one can legally sell a new car without them). That’s a good point that they give you a few more seconds warning and enable you to repair a tire instead of having to throw it away… that’s actually a very good point. But I still don’t want to pay for them myself.

            I too have had a puncture and I was able to pull over and have the tire repaired. My TPMS light is on all the time because one of the sensors has been malfunctioning for years. I could feel my tire getting low by the second and I pulled over in time. It was a tidy, round, 1/32″ puncture in the tread and I was going about 75mph when it happened.

            So, my B&B friend, thank you for your snarky remark about seatbelts. Would you like me to say something snarky in return? I can tell you what it’s like to be such an awesome driver that I am one with my automobile. It is as if I can *feel* my tires’ chakra communicating with my very being, along with the symphony from all of the moving parts whenever I get behind the wheel. The masses are welcome to have their symphony of warning lights on their dashboards…

            Or maybe we could agree to disagree that not everybody wants the government to mandate every single tech gadget and electronic nanny ever invented- TPMS, backup camera, electronic stability, electronic traction control, beeping noisemakers for hybrids… I happen to like certain tech gadgets on my car, such as ABS, OBD-II, disc brakes on all four wheels, and a few other things, so please don’t assume I’m some kind of automotive Luddite.

          • 0 avatar
            mason

            TPMS should be outlawed on HD trucks or any other vehicle where wide pressure changes (loaded vs empty) are probable. It’s a dam nuisance to say the least.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            My TPMS system gives me individual tire pressures on my cell phone. It even triggers a phone alert on user settable differences. Another nice feature is that it chirps the horn when you reach the proper pressure on the tire when you are filling them. TPMS done right.

          • 0 avatar
            mik101

            @raph
            Or he, you know, lives somewhere that it’s easier to have two sets of wheels and tires you can change over yourself for winter, instead of needing the Fing programmer and two sets of TPMS.
            Never have I ever had a sudden flat that you didn’t notice by feel, and if you can’t check your tires often enough to find a slow leak (or can’t tell visually) then you have no business operating a vehicle.

          • 0 avatar
            SC5door

            “TPMS should be outlawed on HD trucks or any other vehicle where wide pressure changes (loaded vs empty) are probable. ”

            RAM 2500 and 3500 models did include a “Light Load” button at some point for the TPMS, but it may be integrated into the EVIC now in the cluster.

    • 0 avatar
      timelesstraveler

      Are you a fellow libertarian, Jim?

    • 0 avatar
      fishiftstick

      Dammit, if I want carbon monoxide in my car, I’ll have carbon monoxide in my car. I don’t need a government bureaucrat to tell me what to inha

    • 0 avatar
      SP

      I would gladly trade the TPMS sensors for a CO sensor. Flat tires, you can usually feel, hear, or see. And they might, but probably won’t, kill you. Carbon Monoxide, you cannot see or smell. And it stands a very good chance of killing you.

      I think CO sensors might possibly save more lives than the TPMS sensors.

  • avatar
    ajla

    If the problem includes the 2.0L Ecoboost, the owner is probably getting some good NOx inhalation too.

    • 0 avatar
      Adam Tonge

      Depends the specific vehicle’s problem. Could just be a stinky diff. There are multiple issues in play here, that’s why it’s been hard to diagnose. They should have been all over this years ago. This is not an Explorer exclusive problem. Other D-platform vehicles had some of these issues before the current gen Explorer was introduced.

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    This could happen to any vehicle that develops an exhaust leak anywhere along the exhaust system and can seep into the cabin of a non moving vehicle.

  • avatar
    zip94513

    I saw the video of the cop crashing. He was moving about 40mph, but there is no mention of how long the vehicle had been driven before that happened.

  • avatar
    lost1

    I have a 2016 Grand Caravan and a 2015 Ford Explorer they both do this, anytime you floor it at highway speeds you will get some exhaust smell in the cabin. I believe it has to do with the aerodynamics of the vehicle and the placement of the rear air vents located under the rear bumper. The only time I ever experience this is after WOT.

  • avatar
    CobraJet

    I notice the Explorers, especially the police versions, have dual exhausts exiting straight out the back. For years, wagon-type bodies, vans and SUV’s had pipes exiting out the side, aft of the rear wheels. I always thought that was to keep fumes from rolling up behind the tall rear of the vehicle where there seems to be a vacuum effect.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Perhaps they should change their slogan from “Go Further” to “Go HIGHER”

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    If there is CO inside the cabin, a detector should find it. If the California cop lost consciousness due to CO, it should be detectable in medical tests. So far, this is just speculation.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Ever since a smoke poisoning incident about 18 months ago, my wife has been very sensitive to certain atmospheric pollutants, including unburned hydrocarbons. For car exhaust, CO and unburned hydrocarbons usually go together. We bought an industrial-grade CO meter and discovered that there was always some CO, at very low concentration, in the cabin of our 2013 Forester XT, more when stopped. The car was in excellent condition with ~25,000 miles, all scheduled maintenance performed, and no exhaust leaks. Turns out the EJ255 is a very dirty motor by modern standards, and that was a big part of the reason we got rid of it.

    Even my 1995 Legend with 190,000 miles doesn’t have that problem. Nice clean “0” CO reading inside, once it’s warmed up.

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      I hear you about the EJ255. My 2006 Legacy absolutely reeks of unburnt fuel when cold inside and outside the cabin. I am guessing Subaru runs the engine very rich when cold to get the catalytic converters up to temp faster.

  • avatar
    supertzar

    I think the Ford Flex is also affected by this issue. Whenever I do WOT in our 2014, I always start smelling sulfur in the cabin, but that’s the only time. It’s consistent though.

    Doing some research, there are other people that have the same problem. I heard there was a TSB but it was a crap ton of work to fix it.

    • 0 avatar
      OldManPants

      “Whenever I do WOT”

      Except for first responders why would anyone habitually use WOT?

      I don’t think I’ve bottomed-out a gas pedal in 40 years.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      You can often smell that sulfur smell behind other cars going up a hill or on level ground when one pulls out to pass and accelerates with a purpose. It’s hydrogen sulfide (swamp gas) getting purged from the catalytic converter and usually not a big deal. Human smell is extremely sensitive to it.

      Random historic fact, it was weaponized and used in WWI. As such things go, it was not the most effective of the different gases because although quite deadly, it also has a very pungent odor at concentrations far, far less than toxic concentrations- which gives the recipients ample warning to take defensive measures.

  • avatar
    claytori

    “I don’t think I’ve bottomed-out a gas pedal in 40 years.”

    I was taught that the proper way to merge with freeway traffic on the acceleration lane/ramp is with WOT. I will forever remember the “floor it” command coming from the instructor in the right seat. I do this several times a day.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      @claytori- thank you for merging the right way!

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      As opposed to what is current practice: timid acceleration to 45mph, and complete obliviousness to the lineup behind them, some of whom may have to come to a dead stop at the bottom of the ramp, in order to avoid becoming a speed bump for the oncoming brodozer or semi, or who is FORCED to WOT their vehicle to barely slide in ahead of aforesaid truck, with said oblivious driver completely unaware of why the driver is flying by them at Mach 0.25, leaning on the horn, and giving the international gesture for “you’re number one!”

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Nothing new for Ford. Their heating cords were running thin in the 80s-90s

  • avatar
    jimmyy

    Fortunately, my Honda Pilot does not have the exhaust problem.

  • avatar
    White Shadow

    4th generation 4Runners were notorious for strong sulfer exhaust smell during/after hard acceleration. That’s one thing I don’t miss about my old 4Runner.

  • avatar
    fishiftstick

    What bugs about Honda’s TPMS sensors is, they don’t tell you which wheel. They need 4 sensors anyway. How much more can 3 extra dash LEDs cost?


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