Safety Group Leans on Ford to Recall 1.3 Million Explorers

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
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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]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

Consumer advocate tracking industry trends, regulation, and the bitter-sweet nature of modern automotive tech. Research focused and gut driven.

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  • 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.

  • Canam23 I moved to Los Angeles in 1968 and half the time the air was unbreathable. It is 100% better now thanks to the work of the AQMD. If you remember, when the first pollution controls were mandated in the 70's, Detroit said it was impossible to meet them. The Japanese just started working on the problem and just did it. All the tougher laws to mandate air pollution have resulted in not just cleaner air for our children, but also much more efficient engines in our vehicles. So Stellantis, I'm not buying it.
  • Theflyersfan Nope. Has nothing to do with Gladiator sales falling off of a cliff and having 5-figure discounts. Or...YTD 2023 compared to last year:Compass +7%Wrangler -14%Gladiator -31%Cherokee -25%Grand Cherokee +6%Renegade -35%Wagoneer -31%Grand Wagoneer: -14%End of 3Q 2023: 490,106 Jeeps soldEnd of 3Q 2022: 541,297 Jeeps sold490K is still a decent number of expensive SUVs sold, especially Grand Cherokees, but it's still a decline. And people want the 4xe models, so that could reverse the trend if they crank more of them out. But let's blame the government for everything. It'll lead a news cycle on any red hat network.
  • VoGhost California is the reason Dodge and Chrysler were starved of new models for the past decade. OK...
  • Random1 I don't know what the "right" price for transit/tolls/driving should be. I'm currently a commuter from Westchester, and it is cheaper for me to commute by car on days my wife is working (she's part-time so 2x/week, I'm 5x/week). Those costs, if you care, are $18/park and a somewhat optional $6.94 toll (pay or spend about 10min to take a free bridge) vs 23.50 round-trip each on Metro-North. That's absurd, either a)transit is too expensive(and we don't need to add subway/bus like many do) or b)driving/parking is too cheap, or c) bothFWIW, the congestion charge means I'll more or less never drive in again, so I guess it'll work?
  • SCE to AUX I'm not understanding the linkage between the old State v Federal domain debate, and layoffs at Stellantis.Stellantis has serious portfolio issues, so I'm inclined to blame layoffs on them.