By Jon Hood

May 14, 2010
A group of Ford Windstar owners has filed a class action lawsuit in federal court in Pennsylvania, alleging that their vans' rear axles are rusting out, rendering the cars unfit, unsafe, and unmerchantable.

The plaintiffs say that a design defect collects and traps water [in the axle], causing it to rust from the inside out. Specifically, the suit alleges that the cylinder is hollow and unsealed, making it easy for liquid to enter, and lacks drainage ports, meaning that the water then gets stuck inside the cylinders and has no way of getting out.

Inevitably, the suit says, this combination leads to rust which weakens these axles, which bear significant loads while the vehicle is being operated, and renders the vehicle's axle susceptible to failing while the vehicle is being operated. The suit says that the defect is present in all Windstars for model years 1999 through 2003.

The suit contends that the defect is well-known to both Ford and others in the automotive community, but that the company has failed to take any action to address the problem.

This design flaw has resulted in documented failures of the axle assembly, some of which have been reported to have occurred during highway, high speed travel, the suit alleges. Despite knowing of the problem, the plaintiffs say that Ford has failed to remedy the defects or offer replacements for their defective, unfit and potentially dangerous products.

The plaintiffs note that the flaw has never been the subject of a recall or service bulletin, and say that Ford has never warned consumers in any fashion that their vehicles might be prone to sudden failure during operation.

Lead plaintiff Aaron Martin, of Avondale, Pennsylvania, learned the hard way that his rear axle was in less than prime condition. According to the suit, Martin's axle cracked and completely failed while he was driving the van shortly after buying it earlier this month.

The suit comes two weeks after a New York Times article revealed that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has received over 200 complaints about Windstar axle failures, but has never opened an investigation. The article cited a Ford spokesman's contention that [m]ost of the axle failures occurred after 100,000 to 150,000 miles, well beyond the factory warranty.

A NHTSA spokeswoman quoted in the article seemed equally unconcerned, saying only that each complaint is read as it is received and reviewed for a potential defect trend. As a result, were more interested in the content of the complaints than categorization.

The Windstar, which debuted in 1994 and was discontinued in 2004, has had its share of problems. Earlier models were well known for their failing head gaskets and tendency to roll over.

The plaintiffs are mainly seeking injunctive relief compelling the defendant to refund the total value of the vehicles owned by the plaintiff and the class members, or institute a recall program during which the vehicles will be repaired at no cost to the owners. The suit, which is brought on behalf of anyone who bought or leased a subject Windstar and still owns the van, alleges breach of implied and express warranties.