Facing concerns about possible exhaust fume leaks in more than 1 million of its midsize Explorer SUVs, Ford is telling owners it will inspect the vehicles and, if necessary, make free repairs.
The Explorer came under scrutiny when reports began to surface that some versions of the popular SUV, modified for use by police, may have been experiencing exhaust fume leaks, including deadly carbon monoxide, into the passenger compartment. That briefly led some police departments to pull their Explorers out of use until repairs could be made.
But despite the automaker’s insistence that civilian versions of the SUV “are safe,” there has been growing concern that the issue is more widespread than initially thought. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration currently has an open investigation underway.
The investigation covers Ford Explorers sold from the 2011 to 2017 model-years, a total of 1.35 million of the utes. The Explorer underwent a major redesign in 2011 and that, experts suggest, could have resulted in the problem.
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A major safety issue with the Explorer could pose a significant challenge for Ford. One of the first models to target everyday motorists, rather than traditional SUV buyers, the Ford Explorer was, for a number of years, the best-seller in the midsize utility vehicle segment. It lost its crown, however, due to an early safety crisis that saw score of deaths and injuries in rollover crashes.
Ford blamed its tire provider for the problem, though Japan’s Bridgestone-Firestone insisted the issue was due to engineering problems with an earlier version of the Explorer.
Early generations of the vehicle used a classic body-on-frame design. The current Ford Explorer adopted a crossover-style unibody platform.
What role that might place in the latest safety issue is uncertain. Indeed, there remains plenty of debate over what actually is happening. What is clear is that a number of police departments found that officers assigned to drive Ford Explorers on duty were experiencing a variety of problems, including nausea, headaches and drowsiness.
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In July the city of Austin, Texas decided to pull 400 Explorers from its police fleet because as many as 20 Austin police officers had been found with elevated blood levels of carbon monoxide, enough that three remained off the job.
At a news conference, interim police chief Brian Manley said, “I stand here confident that we’re making the right decision today based on what we know with the carbon monoxide exposure issue that we’ve had and the impacts that it has had on our workforce.”
Austin was just one of the cities worried about carbon monoxide problems with its police SUVs. After an officer passed out behind the wheel and crashed her Explorer into a ditch in Henderson, Louisiana, a special test for carbon monoxide revealed she had near-fatal levels of the gas in her blood, according to the city’s police chief.
Ford initially blamed modifications made by outside vendors to some police versions of the SUV for the problems. But NHTSA has received more than 1,100 complaints from civilian owners for Explorers sold during the 2011 to 2017 model-years. The complaints are similar to those raised by police officers, including headaches, drowsiness and unusual odors, according to an analysis conducted by the Associated Press. Ford itself has received over 2,000 complaints from owners and dealers, as well as warranty claims and some legal claims.
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The automaker plans to notify owners of the Explorer sold during those seven model-years, advising them they can bring their vehicles into dealer service departments between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31. All work will be completed at no charge.