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Recalls Recommended By AG Napolitano

REUTERS is reporting that Arizona's attorney general has asked Ford Motor Co. to recall hundreds of thousands of cars, including police cruisers used across the United States, alleging they tend to leak fuel and catch fire after high-speed, rear-end collisions.

Attorney General Janet Napolitano urged Ford in a letter sent earlier this week to recall several model years of Crown Victoria sedans, the vehicle of choice in most U.S. police departments, and fortify their fuel tanks with extra protection.

Citing the deaths of two Arizona officers in vehicle fires, she said the state had already made its own modifications to Crown Victorias to reduce the risk of fuel tanks being punctured in collisions.

"The State of Arizona has serous concerns that the (Crown Victoria police car) in its present condition may be defective and may pose an unreasonable risk of harm to state employees," Napolitano said in her letter.

The cars' fuel tanks are located behind the rear axle. Napolitano noted this was similar to the Ford Pinto, the infamous 1970s-era model blamed for deaths in rear-end collisions.

Police cars are at risk from rear-end crashes when they pull vehicles over on the highway shoulders. One Arizona officer died after his vehicle was rear-ended by a car traveling about 65 miles (105 km) per hour.

Ford told the state the vehicles had passed its own 50-m.p.h. rear-end crash tests. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) standards call for a 30-m.p.h. test.

"We don't agree with the conclusions drawn in the attorney general's letter, but we take her concerns seriously and we continue to work closely with her office and with NHTSA," said Ford spokesman Ken Zino.

Ford sent a bulletin to dealers last October asking them to make two minor repairs to police Crown Victorias to lessen the risk of axle parts puncturing the fuel tank in a high-speed collision.

Based on the bulletin, the NHTSA in November opened a preliminary probe into Crown Victorias, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Cars built between 1992 and 2001. All three vehicles share the same design.

NHTSA said it had so far linked eight deaths and 15 injuries to high-speed rear-end crashes that led to fires in the sedans. Others have linked an additional three deaths and nine injuries to crashes, but these have not been verified by NHTSA.

The Crown Victoria and Grand Marquis have been among Ford's most profitable cars. Ford has sold about 500,000 Crown Victoria police cars over the past 20 years.

She said Ford claimed modifying the vehicles to protect their fuel tanks was impractical and perhaps even dangerous, but noted that Ford had made similar modifications in other vehicles.