By on August 10, 2017

ford explorer police interceptor utility

Ford has assembled five squads of investigators to help police departments cope with the growing number of reports of exhaust fumes incapacitating on-duty officers in Explorer-based Interceptor Utility vehicles. While the problem appears to exist in civilian spec SUVs as well, police vehicles are getting the most attention from Ford and the press, especially after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration cited three wrecked patrol vehicles and numerous drivers looking green in the gills.

The NHTSA ramped up its engineering analysis since then, which could lead to a recall on all Explorer-based models from 2011 to 2017. But Ford hopes to get out ahead of the issue by making good on an earlier promise, dispatching its own investigative teams to ensure police departments don’t look to other automakers the next time they need to replenish their fleets.

According to Ford, it’s already making headway in solving the problem. 

Bill Gubing, chief engineer for the Explorer, told the Detroit Free Press Tuesday that Ford investigators are discovering police vehicles with holes and exposed areas near the taillights or rear hatch that could allow carbon monoxide to seep into the cabin of some Interceptor Utility vehicles.

The manufacturer blames improperly installed aftermarket modifications — common on patrol cars — for the improperly sealed cabins. This would explain why the issue affects police vehicles more often than their civilian counterparts, distancing the company from the problem.

Ford has already shored up vehicles at the Auburn Police Department in Massachusetts. Last week the department was forced to remove several SUV from service after carbon monoxide exposure hospitalized three officers. It has since moved onto Austin, Texas, where the local police stopped using SUVs entirely after eight officers became ill.

A department in Portsmouth, New Hampshire expressed similar concerns this week and is considering suspending usage of its own Interceptor Utility fleet until Ford gets around to helping them.

“We are all concerned from the front-line officers all the way up to the chief,” explained Eric Benson, Portsmouth’s training officer. “We want to get this solved. We certainly don’t want to wait until something happens. We want to take all measures we can to ensure that not only all the officers are safe but the public as well.”

Ford stated it would pay for the cost of specific repairs to any police vehicle in any city that experienced similar issues.

“By no means is our investigation complete,” Gubing said in a statement. “We’re doing everything we can to figure out what issues are out there and how we can help.”

The Blue Oval currently carries the largest share of the police vehicle market — but less than it did when the venerable Crown Victoria was still in production. Still, when you have a feather in your cap, you’re going to want to leave it there. Ford’s scramble to right the wrong, as well as its continued broadening of its law enforcement lineup, shows it aims to keep the police on its good side.

Gubing said he doesn’t see any reason for worry among Explorer drivers not wearing a badge. “From a carbon monoxide perspective, the police duty cycle is very different than what a retail customer drives,” he said.

“It creates more combustion gas at the back of the vehicle because the engine’s working harder and faster,” Gubing continued. “At the same time, there are modifications done to the back of the vehicle that certainly provide leak paths when those modifications are not done properly.”

With no holes drilled to affix additional lighting or communication equipment on civilian SUVs, Ford assumes the general public is fine. However, that won’t stop the NHTSA from investigating more than 2,700 complaints of unpleasant exhaust odors in Explorer cabins.

[Image: Ford Motor Company]

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44 Comments on “Ford Identifies Source of Dangerous Carbon Monoxide Leak in Police Vehicles...”

  • avatar

    With the amount of idling that these things do, it seems like some sort of hybrid setup would make sense for all Police vehicles. Seems like it would be a win all around except for the added battery weight.

    • 0 avatar

      A hybrid version will be here for 2020 as previously announced by Ford.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s been bounced around for a number of years. I’m not sure what the big holdup has been. The only thing I can think of is that traditional hybrid batteries aren’t used to power accessories. Police accessories would drain the regular battery rapidly.

  • avatar

    They found the leaks are coming from the pigs in the driver seats.

    Hell yeah.

  • avatar
    Compaq Deskpro

    Makes a lot of sense, in a sedan this would not be an issue as the trunk is separated from the cabin, even if CO wafted in there.

    I’m happy this one isn’t on Ford, it couldn’t have been easy converting police from a body on frame sedan to a front wheel drive SUV. The continued heavy use and feedback by law enforcement is a major factor in making America’s big cars good.

  • avatar

    Aftermarket parts destroying the safety or build of a vehicle. What a surprise.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s not likely the parts that caused a problem. More likely lazy or unknowing installers of said parts taking short cuts during the installation process that’s allowed CO to leak into the cabin area.

  • avatar

    “At the same time, there are modifications done to the back of the vehicle that certainly provide leak paths when those modifications are not done properly.”

    Any LEOs want to speculate on exactly what was added? The ExPIs around here seem to get a bike rack fitted but no extra lamps.

    • 0 avatar

      Not an LEO, but I insure their vehicles so I’ve looked at 100s of wrecked ones- there is very little put on the back of any of the explorers I’ve seen.

      They mount almost everything in existing locations. Sometimes they mount some lights under the rear spoiler but those are small holes and gooped up to keep out water. I can’t picture enough exhaust getting through those to cause a problem?

      • 0 avatar

        Kinda what I was thinking. Maybe the cage for the K-9 units in the back, but I think most of those are commercially available through WeatherTech and require little-to-no drilling.

        Just not seeing what’s been modified to the point it’s putting cops in hospitals.

  • avatar

    The Charger is doing well in this market.

    • 0 avatar
      Middle-Aged Miata Man

      I am seeing more police Chargers around my city. Looks like Fiasler has finally managed to keep them out of service bays long enough to actually do the job.*

      *Not snark. Engine woes and suspension problems on LEO Chargers have been well-documented.

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed. The early Pentastars could not take the heat. It was terrible. Now, I think it is considered to be a very reliable engine. If I see a police sedan now, it is usually a Charger. Good vehicle for the money, I think.

    • 0 avatar

      The Chrysler/Dodge 3.6 Liter Pentastar is as reliable as any V6, import or domestic, and further, more reliable than most.

      It’s one of many reasons that I’m a fan of the motor.

      They ironed out the last problem which was a slow oil-leak caused by a plastic oil filler tube that was prone to crack in 2014 model year motors.

      It’s as bulletproof as anything now.

      The 300/Charger/Grand Cherokee/Durango are all outstanding vehicles with the Pentastar V6 and 8 speed ZF-clone automatic; near or best in class in terms of motor refinement, transmission shift attributes, reliability and efficiency, rivaling the big Toyota V6.

  • avatar

    Ford is such a technologically advanced manufacturer of vehicles that they nearly have the source of interior carbon monoxide contamination in their vehicles solved.

    Ford must have wicked smart engineers, diagnosticians and advanced equipment (aka a wicked set of tools), yo.

    • 0 avatar

      The Ford engineers I know are generally quite smart.

    • 0 avatar

      Might have to default the HVAC to higher setting if parked.

      DW, stands for dim witted?

    • 0 avatar

      In the year 201i, Ford REALLY (AS IN IN THE REAL WORLD) designs and manufactures tens of thousands of Explorers (soon to be hundreds of thousands) that allows dangerous levels of carbon monoxide from the exhaust system to accumulate in the passenger cabin of its vehicles, rendering occupants disoriented, unconsciousness or worse.

      This is like….such a year 1957 problem.

      Ford’s TSB will probably be “Have service technicians perforate headliner and roof-top steel liberally and hard-wire computer desktop cooling fan thereto with direct power supply run from 12 volt outlet.”

      Ford. Quality is job #1.

      Drive Further.

  • avatar

    I guess Ford’s explanation falls a bit short on detail. Assuming a car is idling for hours on end, with improperly sealed custom taillights, perhaps new holes for wiring, really let in that much exhaust? I cannot think of any other aftermarket items that would go on the rear exterior of the car off hand. The taillights look to be at least two feet away from the exhaust outlet that is pushing exhaust out and presumably up. I would think the leaks entering the cabin, sufficient to sicken a vehicle occupant would be from exhaust fumes trapped under the vehicle or inside the engine bay. Perhaps, custom rear seats, restraints and other interior add ons bolted to floor of passenger compartment and improperly sealed are causing fumes to leak into the cabin. Seems more plausible than an exterior feature in which case Ford needs to reroute exhaust or have the tail pipes extend further beyond the rear bumper to prevent carbon monoxide from becoming trapped under the vehicle. Also, could this be a turbo problem, exhaust gasses to turbo somehow trapped under vehicle?

    I guess cracked exhaust manifolds are out then?

  • avatar

    Seems like somebody could make a mint developing a small 12V CO detector, and then convincing fleet operators to spec them in all their orders.

  • avatar

    Given that the leaks are at the rear of the vehicle and the reference to working harder/faster in police duty cycle this probably has very little to do with idling. I would hazard a guess that the aerodynamics of the Explorer trap exhaust gases in the “wake” of the boxy body and during heavy acceleration this low pressure zone fills with CO.

    Ordinarily the body is likely to be pretty well sealed with strategically-placed one-way vents on the sides at the rear of the passenger compartment that pull the interior air pressure even lower than that in the aero wake at the tailgate, thereby causing CO migration from the tailgate area through aftermarket perforations into the passenger compartment. Driving with windows open as police are wont to do may exacerbate this since flow-through ventilation hasn’t been an automotive design concept since the 1970s (80s at latest) and the wind eddies merely mix the higher CO concentration from the cargo area up into the passenger compartment.

    • 0 avatar

      I was wondering if the ‘harder/faster’ part was that police vehicles often idle higher to power all the electronics when sitting still. Many units run a lot larger alternator or even generators in some cases. It wouldn’t sound like much, but if you are idling at 1200 instead of 800 that might be enough to make a difference.

      I don’t know though- just curious on parsing this whole thing out.

  • avatar

    Improper mods causing a leak I understand, but the civilian models reporting the same leaks with no mods leads me to believe Ford is playing the blame game.

  • avatar

    Wouldn’t Police Tahoe’s have the same mods made by the same companies to install lights etc.?
    Are Tahoe’s having the same complaints about CO in the cabin?

    • 0 avatar

      Carbon monoxide isn’t just a problem in POLICE modded Exploders, but all Explorers.

      “While the problem appears to exist in civilian spec SUVs as well, police vehicles are getting the most attention from Ford…”

      I swear to god that Ford could not be a viable, ongoing company if it weren’t for their F Series.

      Even Ladas don’t have this issue.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m guessing there is something at the plant level that is causing this in the civilian models. If you don’t have a plant that’s following the sealer tool paths, you get leaks. If you have final assy operators that don’t put body plugs in, you get leaks. If you don’t have a good plant QC team, you ignore your data and don’t drive to resolution with design and manufacturing changes.

        There is probably some truth that they finally found the limitations of vehicle on wheels air leak in the C/D3 platform when it comes to vehicle size.

  • avatar

    They throw out “aftermarket modifications” – what aftermarket modifications? What are upfitters or departments’ shops doing that would modify the exhaust system?

    And, modern vehicles don’t emit CO at near the level of cars of yesteryear – is this upstream of the cats?

  • avatar

    Gotta love how Ford never takes credit for anything.

    If this was only a police Explorer issue, NHTSA wouldn’t be investigating all 1.33 million explorers made since 2011.

    But keep peddling your narrative Ford.

  • avatar

    I give Ford kudos for sending gaggles of engineers out to various police agencies in an attempt to fix the problem. Even if they play a blame game, and decide the issue is not their fault, they are saying they will foot the bill to make the vehicles safe. Not a Ford Fanboi but give credit where credit is due…My favorite cruisers were always of the Mopar variety back in the day…Diplomats excepted…

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