The Ford Motor Company is attempting to declare an end to the almost decade-long effort involving six recalls of cars and trucks flawed with a fire-prone cruise control system, even though only about 34 percent of the flawed vehicles have been repaired.
The Ford vehicles covered by the recalls have a faulty cruise-control deactivation switch that can develop a short circuit and spark a raging fire, usually when the truck is parked and unattended.
After almost nine years of recalls and hundreds of fires in Ford cars and trucks, the automaker will send "final repair notices" to 3.5 million Ford truck owners next month. The final repair notice is theoretically the last time the automaker will attempt to warn owners of the affected models.
However, Ford said the "final" notice isn't really final. "We will mail final repair notices multiple times if customers do not respond to the initial mailing," a company spokesman said.
After being delayed by a shortage of parts, the recall effort is now picking up speed, Ford said.
We are ramping up suppliers and final repair parts quicker than planned, said Wes Sherwood, Safety Communications Manager for Ford.
We sent 1.5 million owners of cars involved in the recall final repair notices in March. We will send about 3.5 million truck owners final repair notices by May, ahead of our original target of June, Sherwood said.
Sherwood said that Ford has already mailed most customers involved in the earlier recalls four to five letters, to notify them of the recall.
We also go through considerable expense purchasing independent auto registry data that tracks vehicles by VINs as opposed to the owner information in our records that customers may not necessarily update when they move or purchase a vehicle, Sherwood said. The independent registries allow us to get the most current customer contact information that we are aware of because they track service records and state-level ownership changes.
The recalls of Ford cars and trucks containing the faulty cruise control switch began in 1999 and covered Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles from 1992-2004.
Almost 12 million Ford vehicles were involved in the six recalls, according to documents Ford submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Ford reported to NHTSA earlier this year that just more than 4 million of the recalled vehicles have been repaired to date. Ford also reported 834,000 of the recalled vehicles were not delivered, exported, stolen or scrapped.
That leaves more than 7 million Ford cars and trucks in the U.S. that could potentially catch fire with devastating results. The reports suggest a gap between Fords final repair notices and vehicles still on the roads containing the flawed cruise control system.
According to reports filed with NHTSA, Ford repaired 67.68 percent of 262,695 vehicles recalled for the faulty cruise control switch in 1999 or 175,158 cars and trucks.
The automaker repaired 70.91 percent of the 740,451 vehicles in the first 2005 cruise control switch recall or 507,408 cars and trucks.
The second 2005 recall of 4,297461 Ford cars and trucks resulted in a 51.16 percent completion rate or 2,086,172 vehicles.
In 2006 Ford recalled 1,522,395 vehicles because of the faulty cruise control switch but the repair rate dropped to 43.10 percent or 616,810 vehicles.
There were two Ford recalls for the fire prone cruise control switch in 2007. The first involved 156,657 vehicles. Ford reported repairing 76,072 for a 50.59 percent completion rate.
The second 2007 Ford recall involved 4,987,281 vehicles. Ford reported on February 28 that 547,100 of the cars and trucks were repaired for an 11.90 percent completion rate.
That leaves more than 7.1 million cars and trucks Ford has been unable to find or repair.
Feds warn Ford owners
In a strongly worded and highly unusual statement, NHTSA in February warned owners of the recalled vehicles to go to a Ford or Lincoln Mercury dealer as soon as possible and have the potentially dangerous cruise control system disconnected.
A NHTSA spokesman told ConsumerAffairs.com that the agency is "monitoring the recall closely."
Regulators warned the switch could cause a vehicle to catch fire even while it is parked and the ignition is off. The switchs function is to cut off the cruise control when the driver taps the brakes.
NHTSA advised consumers in the February warning that many Ford dealers would disconnect the switch as a drive-through service and interim repair until parts are available.
Ford safety communication spokesman Sherwood would not confirm or provide company numbers of how many vehicles Ford has repaired.
We don't release completion rates but the NHTSA consumer advisory has good info that we support. Recalls technically never end as there are never 100 percent completion rates, which is why we keep them open well after most customers respond, the Ford safety spokesman said.
The Ford spokesman conceded that the automaker underestimated public response to the safety recall and failed to obtain sufficient parts to repair the fire-prone Ford cars and trucks.
Sherwood said the automaker is now ramping up suppliers for the parts needed to repair the cruise control switch. Sherwood said Ford had not stockpiled enough parts for the unprecedented demand for repairs last September, after the August recall.
Angry Ford owners
That demand, along with the parts shortage has led to repair delays, frustrating and angering many Ford owners.
I feel that Ford is not being honest about the completion of the repairs for this recall. I was told in August of 2007 that the repair parts were delayed and they would be in October. That soon became February of 2008. Now I am told the dealers do not know when the parts will be available. I can not get a straight answer from anyone, wrote a Ford owner in Everett, Washington.
Since the recall began, NHTSA has linked 65 fires to switch failures. The agency also received 1,472 complaints or allegations of engine compartment fires related to the switches before the investigation was closed in August 2006.
The agency received 60 more fire complaints since the inquiry ended.
ConsumersAffairs.com has received a constant stream of complaints about Ford vehicles erupting into flames since NHTSA issued the urgent consumer advisory that Ford owners have the cruise control switch repaired or disconnected immediately.
A Ford truck owner in Hitchcock, Texas saw his 2000 F-150 pick up erupt into flames April 1. I was coming back from the grocery store and I stopped to grab my trash cans when I smelled something burning under the hood, wrote the Texan.
All of the sudden flames started coming out from underneath the hood against the windshield before I could even shut the door, he said.
The Texan's truck was totaled.
I've had all recalls fixed by a Ford certified dealer. I had the truck for almost two and a half years and it always ran fine and had no problems. I am guessing it had something to do with the recalled part, since my story is similar to other people who had the problem, he said.
A 1991 Ford Explorer burned in Coplay, Pennsylvania April 4. At about 12 p.m. I was awoken by a passerby yelling that my truck was on fire, the owner wrote. I ran outside to discover my Explorer engulfed in flames.
A Troy, New York woman watched her Ford Explorer destroyed by fire April 4. Here we are in 2008 with I don't know how many recalls on the Explorer and mine just burned up, she said.
April 6 in Olive Branch, Mississippi a 1998 Ford F-150 burned. The truck had been sitting in the driveway for about 5 hours.
We heard the alarm going off. When we looked outside the engine compartment was completely engulfed. Before the firefighters got the fire out it had burned everything but the bed of the truck, the owner wrote.
Two Ford fires reported to ConsumerAffairs.com involved vehicles not covered by the lengthy cruise control switch recall.
On April 13, a Black River Falls, Wisconsin woman watched as her 2005 Ford Explorer Sport Trac went up in flames in a shopping center parking lot. The recall for the Explorer Sport Track covers 2001 and 2002 model years.
On April 15, a Ford Escape, not covered by the recall burned in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Approximately 1 a.m. last we awoke to the sound of the car alarm going off in our Ford Escape which was parked on the street in front of our house. When I looked out the window to investigate I saw smoke billowing out from the front wheel wells. Within seconds the smoke turned to flame.
The owner said the truck was last driven the afternoon before the fire and added, We had never been informed by Ford of any problems with the vehicle.
The faulty cruise control switch is suspected as the cause of several dwelling fires.
A 2002 Ford Expedition parked in a homeowners carport is suspected as the cause of a fire in Madison County, Ohio that killed a woman and her two children. The origin of the fire was narrowed to a 10-foot space in the carport although investigators have not yet determined the cause.
At least three wrongful death suits have been filed against Ford in fire-related incidents.
The recalled vehicles are:
1. 1993 2004 F150
2. 1993 1999 F250 (gasoline engine)
3. 1993 1996 Bronco
4. 1994 1996 Econoline
5. 1997 2002 Ford Expedition
6. 1998 2002 Lincoln Navigator
7. 1998 2002 Ford Ranger
8. 1992 1998 Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car
9. 1993 1998 Lincoln Mark VIII
10. 1993 1995 Ford Taurus SHO with automatic transmission
11. 1994 Mercury Capri
12. 1998 2001 Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer
13. 2001 2002 Ford Explorer Sport and Explorer Sport Trac
14. 1992 1993 and 1997 2003 Ford E-150-350 gasoline or natural gas vehicles
15. 2002 E-550 gasoline engine vehicles
16. 1996 2003 E-450 gasoline or natural gas vehicles
17. 1994 2002 F-250 through F-550 super Duty trucks (gasoline engine)
18. 2000 2002 Ford Excursion (gasoline engine)
19. 2003 F250 F550 Super Duty, Ford Excursion
20. 1995 2002 Ford F53 Motor home chassis
21. 2002 2003 Lincoln Blackwood
Ford truck and SUV owners wanting more information about the fire danger in their vehicle or the recall may contact Ford at 1-800-392-3673 or NHTSA 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153).
Ford Hopes to Wind Down Recall of Fire-Prone Vehicles...