Safety Group Leans on Ford to Recall 1.3 Million Explorers

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
safety group leans on ford to recall 1 3 million explorers

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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7 of 15 comments
  • Dukeisduke Dukeisduke on Jan 23, 2018

    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.

    • See 4 previous
    • Anomaly149 Anomaly149 on Jan 23, 2018

      @dukeisduke 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)

  • Brn Brn on Jan 23, 2018

    Kudos to Matt for a balanced article.

  • Jim Bonham Thanks.
  • Luke42 I just bought a 3-row Tesla Model Y.If Toyota made a similar vehicle, I would have bought that instead. I'm former Prius owner, and would have bought a Prius-like EV if it were available.Toyota hasn't tried to compete with the Model Y. GM made the Bolt EUV, and Ford made the Mach-E. Tesla beat them all fair and square, but Toyota didn't even try.[Shrug]
  • RHD Toyota is trying to hedge their bets, and have something for everyone. They also may be farther behind in developing electric vehicles than they care to admit. Japanese corporations sometimes come up with cutting-edge products, such as the Sony Walkman. Large corporations (and not just Japanese corporations) tend to be like GM, though - too many voices just don't get heard, to the long-term detriment of the entity.
  • Randy in rocklin The Japanese can be so smart and yet so dumb. I'm America-Japanese and they really can be dumb sometimes like their masking paranoia.
  • Bunkie The Flying Flea has a fascinating story and served, inadvertently, to broaden the understanding of aircraft design. The crash described in the article is only part of the tale.