Ford says it is recalling 575,000 Windstar minivans sold in the U.S. and Canada because the axles could fracture.

The recall involves older models 1998 to 2003 and the carmaker says vehicles with high mileage may be especially vulnerable.

In a very small number of cases, Ford said, the axles have fractured in certain locations on the right and/or left side, and affected vehicle handling.

We will notify affected owners in the very near future and ask them to bring their vehicles to their local dealers for inspection and any necessary repairs, the company said in a statement.

Preceded by lawsuit

In May, a group of Ford Windstar owners 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 said, 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 recall for the Windstar which is no longer in production applies to vehicles in 21 states, the District of Columbia and Canada where road salt corrosion is more common.

At no charge to customers, Ford dealers will reinforce the axles of the affected vehicles as parts are available. If its determined the axle cant be reinforced, it will be replaced as soon as parts are available, the company said.

Ford also said it will provide for rental vehicles for customers until the rear axle of their vehicle has been replaced.