Ford Refuses to Expand Recall, Goes on Defensive

07/29/96

In March, Ford announced it would replace the ignition switches in 8,759,000 vehicles in North America, the largest recall of automobiles by a single carmaker in U.S. history. The switches were recalled because of a design flaw: they could cause a fire in the steering column, even when the vehicle was not running. The recall covered 1988-90 Escorts; 1988-92 and some early 1993 Mustangs, Thunderbirds, Tempos and Mercury Cougars and Topazes; 1988-89 Crown Victorias and Mercury Grand Marquis; 1988-89 Lincoln Town Cars; 1988-91 Aerostar minivans; 1988-91 Bronco sport-utility vehicles and F-series pickups; and 1988 EXPs. Ford said 1.3 million switches have been replaced in the recalled cars, so far, and that they are being replaced at an average of 22,000 per day.

Two months after Ford issued the recall, NHTSA requested more information on 1.37 million Ford vehicles that were not recalled but appeared to have a high rate of fire compared to the recalled vehicles.

On Thursday U.S.A Today reported that the automaker sent a 9 page letter to the NHTSA refusing to expand the recall and stating that "most people who may experience a fire just do not have" the expertise to tell how a fire started. NHTSA officials said they could not comment on the written response until they had a chance to review it.

Ford Motor company is defending their stance on the recall. Here are some facts compiled by the associated press in relation to the issue:

  • There have been more than 900 reports of fires from the switches in this country. In some cases, fires occurred even when the vehicles were parked and shut off.
  • Ford has long said the fire reports Ford disclosed to NHTSA included all those they knew of that could have started near the steering column _ meaning unverified reports as well as fires that could have been caused by something other than the ignition switch.
  • Ford did not recall any vehicles prior to 1988 because the automaker tied the switch fires to a faulty design change made by a manufacturer in May 1987. That change reduced the space between a battery and ground terminal, creating the potential for a short circuit and fire, Ford officials said.
  • NHTSA specifically requested additional information about more than 100 fires in the steering columns of 1986 and 1987 Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car passenger cars, Ford Aerostar minivans and E-series vans.
  • Helen Petrauskas, Ford's vice president of environment and safety engineering said there were a total of 127 claims of ignition switch or steering column fires among the Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis, Lincoln Town Car, Ford Aerostar and E-series minivan vehicles.
  • Ford tracked down car owners for 77 of those vehicles, but only nine still had the car available for inspection. Of the nine, Ford inspectors determined only one had a fire in the ignition switch, Petrauskas said.
  • "We didn't base our decision to recall on numbers (of fire reports). We based it on being able to identify a root (engineering) cause why this was happening," said Petrauskas.
  • Petruskas acknowledged that in 1990 there appeared to be 10 Econoline vans and four Aerostar vans--all model year 1986 vehicles--that burned because of an ignition switch fire. But she said that was an isolated "flurry of incidents" because those vehicles were heavily used in business fleets.
  • Paul Dever -- The Auto Channel

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