By on January 23, 2018

2016 Ford Explorer

After receiving negative attention from various policing agencies over a potential carbon monoxide leak in Explorer-based Interceptor Utility vehicles, Ford is being urged by the Center for Auto Safety to recall over a million vehicles. While the automaker hasn’t yet done so, it hasn’t been sitting on its hands, either. The automaker issued technical service bulletins to service centers, dispatched its own investigative teams to examine police fleets, and said it would work with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as the agency conducted a probe of its own.

Ultimately, Ford said the vehicles were safe — attributing the claimed monoxide leaks to aftermarket modifications common on police vehicles. However, it also agreed to examine and repair any Explorer (for civilian or official use) in the hopes of reassuring worried owners. Meanwhile, customer complaints ballooned after news of the story broke.

In July of 2016, the NHTSA had fewer than 200 Explorer-related grievances on file. The Center for Auto Safety claims that number has now grown to 1,400. 

Some of these reports could be due to media-induced anxiety. But many drivers still report strong-smelling exhaust fumes under acceleration and feeling light-headed behind the wheel. Some have even taken legal action, and at least one couple saw Ford repurchase their 2016 model year Explorer — claiming they were too afraid to drive it.

While the NHTSA points to tiny cracks in the exhaust manifold as a possible culprit, it has not definitively linked carbon monoxide exposure to any of the injuries reported by police departments. The investigation now includes Ford Explorers ranging from the 2011 to 2017 model years, but again, there’s no conclusive finding.

That’s not good enough for the Center for Auto Safety. In a public letter addressed to Ford CEO Jim Hackett, the group condemned the automaker for not recalling all 1.3 million last October when initially asked to do so. It claims complaints to the NHTSA have increased by 900 percent since July 2016.

“In response to thousands of complaints by Ford owners of being exposed to dangerous levels of toxic chemicals, and despite the owner’s manual for their vehicles noting the ‘dangerous effects’ of exposure to Carbon Monoxide, Ford continues to insist there’s nothing to see here,” said Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.

“Ford needs to stop sending mixed messages to Explorer owners and passengers, including senior citizens and parents of young children, that the vehicles are ‘safe,’ and that repairs are available only for ‘peace of mind.’ Since some Ford dealers are responsibly replacing cracked exhaust manifolds, it is time for Ford to take a more serious step, recall all of these vehicles, and inspect and replace cracked exhaust manifolds,” Levine concluded.

According to Automotive News, Ford issued a corporate response to the letter — stating that it takes the matter seriously but has found nothing to indicate there is anything wrong with the SUVs in question.

“Explorers are safe,” spokeswoman Elizabeth Weigandt said. “Ford’s investigation and extensive testing has not found carbon monoxide levels that exceed what people are exposed to every day. The safety of our customers is paramount. We encourage customers with carbon monoxide concerns to bring their vehicle to their local Ford dealer for a free service designed to reduce the concern. If they are not satisfied with the service, we encourage them to call our dedicated hotline at 888-260-5575.”

As for what the free service entails, TTAC’s Bozi Tatarevic‏ found that Ford’s technical service bulletins amounted to telling centers to use seam sealer to shore up a few holes — but doesn’t appear to deal with the possibility of a cracked manifold. But if there’s actually no issue, as Ford claims, then the repairs are only being performed for peace of mind anyway.

[Image: Ford Motor Company]

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15 Comments on “Safety Group Leans on Ford to Recall 1.3 Million Explorers...”

  • avatar

    Still looks like a non-issue to me. I’ve advised a friend who has one of these to chuck a CO detector in a door pocket, and not worry about it.

    • 0 avatar

      Non issue? Ford has admitted this is an issue by performing may changes to the police versions of the Explorer. They completely changed the exhaust tips, go through the exterior spoiler, etc.

      And they’re doing it for free. So clearly Ford acknowledges there is an issue.

      Further, you state that it’s a non-issue yet instructed a friend to drive around with a CO detector in the vehicle?

      • 0 avatar

        Good point. No car company has ever been badly harmed by a non-issue which blew up into a PR nightmare.

        • 0 avatar

          Except it’s not a non issue. Ford has admitted there is a problem.

          • 0 avatar

            “Ultimately, Ford said the vehicles were safe — attributing the claimed monoxide leaks to aftermarket modifications common on police vehicles. However, it also agreed to examine and repair any Explorer (for civilian or official use) in the hopes of reassuring worried owners.”

            Where’s the admission of a problem?

            There’s definitely a problem, but it’s not CO or exhaust leaks.

          • 0 avatar

            I’ve already told you. Ford is essentially admitting that there is indeed something wrong by fixing the police version of the Explorer for free.

            How is that not an admission of guilt?

          • 0 avatar

            I’ve already told you. This is Ford reacting to a PR problem by going through the motions to appear to be “doing something”. It’s cheaper to fix other people’s mistakes and/or humor their imagined problems than deal with the aftermath if the irrationality takes hold and seriously damages the brand.

    • 0 avatar

      The police version is modified, whether by Ford or by the installer.

      From my ecu tuning just a slight bent exhaust gasket that physically does not audibly leak will be picked up by the ecu and throw a DTC emissions code. Not unless the police version have different emission monitoring system.

  • avatar

    If it’s really just some holes in the rear of the body that need to be sealed, then fine, but it would be nice if Ford would say whether or not they’ve found any cracked manifolds.

    • 0 avatar

      “Cracked manifold” and “piece of mind” aren’t two terms that usually fit seamlessly.

    • 0 avatar

      I had two instances of cracked manifolds on an 85 Chevy S-10 V6 and it didn’t take any kind of detector other than the human ear to quickly identify the problem.

      • 0 avatar

        If the crack doesn’t open up, they don’t make much detectable sound.

        • 0 avatar

          If the crack doesn’t open up, it won’t leak much exhaust gas either.

          This smells like coachbuilders used to being able to poke holes in a Taurus trunk all day long not correctly sealing the floor of an Explorer. (it also smells like an Explorer that’s comparatively more vulnerable to holes in the floor of the single piece body structure than a Taurus)

  • avatar

    Kudos to Matt for a balanced article.

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