Ford Motor Co. is recalling 484,600 Escape and Maverick sport-utility vehicles because a cruise control defect may cause the throttle to stick, leading to unintended acceleration.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced it was investigating the safety defect July 17, based on 99 complaints, including 13 involving crashes, one of which killed a 17-year-old Arizona girl.
The worldwide recall covers SUVs from the 2001 through 2004 model years, Marcey Zwiebel, a Ford spokeswoman, said in a telephone interview.
Almost 424,000 U.S. vehicles with three-liter, six-cylinder engines will be covered under the recall, according to documents Ford provided to NHTSA. There’s inadequate clearance between the engine cover and a control cable in those models, Ford said.
Affected owners will be notified by mail and instructed to take their SUVs to a Ford or Lincoln dealer, the Dearborn, Michigan-based company said. The notices will go out beginning August 6, Ford said.
The U.S. safety regulator’s investigation remains open, pending the agency’s review of the documents provided by Ford in its recall action, Karen Aldana, a NHTSA spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement.
“NHTSA will continue to monitor any future issues involving a stuck throttle or unintended acceleration in these vehicles to ensure there are no additional safety risks that warrant further action,” Aldana said.
The U.S. investigation followed a July 10 letter from Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Automotive Safety in Washington, to Ford Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally, asking him to recall all Escapes from model years 2002 to 2004 for what he called a “lethal cruise-control cable defect.”
NHTSA should reject the fix Ford is proposing as inadequate, Ditlow said today in a statement. The agency should also impose the maximum $17 million penalty against the company, because it has known about the problem since 2005 but is only proposing a recall now, he said.
“Rather than replace the defective cruise-control cable, Ford uses a cheap fastener to raise the engine cover to try to provide enough clearance so the cable doesn’t jam,” Ditlow said.
Ford hasn’t noted an unusual number of reports about non-functioning speed controls, which aren’t a safety issue, said Zwiebel, the company spokeswoman.
The throttle in the affected cars can stick only when the speed control cable has been bent or moved out of position, Zwiebel said. Many routine service procedures require the cable’s removal, so there isn’t any one reason it can be moved, she said.
“We can’t ignore the fact that the affected vehicles are 9-to-12 years old and generally have accumulated high mileages,” Zwiebel said. “The important thing is that Ford is addressing the potential safety issue with this recall by raising the engine cover and providing additional clearance under all conditions.”
Escapes from the 2002 model year have been the subject of eight previous NHTSA investigations, according to the agency’s database. Some of the vehicles have been recalled for engine stalling, an electrical short in the antilock brake system and leaking brake fluid.
Ford recalled 11,500 new Escapes July 19 because fuel lines were at risk of leaking, causing an engine fire.
Toyota Motor Corp., Japan’s largest carmaker, recalled millions of U.S. autos in 2009 and 2010 for unintended acceleration, replacing floor mats at risk of jamming accelerators and sticky gas pedals. The Toyota City, Japan-based company paid a record $48.8 million in fines for how some of the recalls were conducted.