NHTSA Raises Concerns Over Ford’s SUV Recall for Fuel Leak Risks

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The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has raised significant safety concerns over a recent Ford SUV recall involving the potential for fuel leaks that could ignite engine fires. As part of an ongoing investigation, federal officials have demanded a wealth of information from Ford on the specifics of the recall, initiated on March 8th, involving roughly 43,000 Bronco Sport SUVs from the 2022 and 2023 model years, as well as the 2022 Escape SUVs, all fitted with 1.5-liter engines.

Highlighting the gravity of the issue, these SUVs harbor fuel injectors poised to crack under duress, paving the way for gasoline or vapor to leak perilously close to engine components susceptible to generating excessive heat. This could precipitate fires, an unwelcome stench of fuel, and escalate the risk of vehicular injuries.

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In a detailed correspondence to Ford on April 25th, made public on the following Thursday, the NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation put forth its concerns bluntly. An assessment of the recall repairs led the department to assert that Ford’s proposed remedy falls short of addressing the root of the issue and does not mandate the pre-emptive replacement of defective fuel injectors prior to their malfunction.

Ford’s proposal to counter the leaks entailed installing an auxiliary drain tube to redirect the gasoline away from heat-prone surfaces, supplemented by a software update designed to detect a drop in fuel injection system pressure. In the event of such an occurrence, the updated software system would disable the high-pressure fuel pump, slash engine power, and reduce engine compartment temperatures, while simultaneously prompting owners with a ‘seek service’ notification.

The federal agency, however, expressed a measure of skepticism in an 11-page letter to Ford, prompting the automaker to disclose any testing conducted to confirm whether this remedy effectively resolved the issue. The NHTSA also queried the necessity for hardware repairs and called for a comprehensive explanation of any alternative solutions considered, coupled with any cost-benefit analysis undertaken prior to selecting the fix.

Echoing the sentiments of safety advocates, these queries insinuated a belief that Ford might be attempting to evade the costlier prospect of replacing the fuel injectors in favor of a more budget-friendly resolution that channels gasoline onto the ground. Ford, in its defense, publicly stated on Thursday its commitment to cooperating fully with the NHTSA throughout the investigation.

As part of its robust investigation, the NHTSA has also requested an explanation from Ford on how the new software would detect a decrease in fuel pressure, the lapse between injector cracking and detection, the specifics of the alert the driver would receive. Furthermore, the agency is interested in understanding the implications of disabling the high-pressure fuel pump on other facets of the fuel system, along with the SUV’s performance parameters during pump disablement.

Integrated into the inquiry is an intent to ascertain the volume of fuel liable to leak and whether this complies with federal environmental and safety standards. In addition, the NHTSA seeks Ford’s perspective on its responsibilities – legal, ethical, environmental among others – in forestalling and mitigating fuel leaks on the roadway throughout a vehicle’s lifespan.

The automaker has been given a deadline till June 21 to furnish these details. Depending on the outcome of the investigation, the NHTSA might recommend additional measures to more efficiently tackle the issue of fuel leaks.

Defending its stance, Ford asserts that there have been a mere five instances of under-hood fires and 14 warranty replacements of fuel injectors, without any reported accidents or injuries. Claiming utmost faith in recall repairs, Ford emphasized these measures would ‘prevent failure and safeguard customers.’ Furthermore, the new software updates would activate a dashboard warning light, facilitating owners to reach a safe location, cease operation, and facilitate service arrangements. According to documents filed with the NHTSA by Ford, this problem occurs in roughly only 1% of all the SUVs.

The company also guaranteed the extension of warranty coverage for fractured fuel injectors, thereby enabling replacements for owners encountering this problem. Repairs are readily available, and extended warranty specifics would follow in June, announced the automaker.

As a continuation of a 2022 recall for a similar issue, Ford maintains the effectiveness of the repair, already tested on previously recalled vehicles. Additionally, the company refuted any necessity for the SUVs to be parked exclusively outdoors, asserting there’s no evidence of fires erupting while vehicles are parked with the engines off.

The NHTSA documentation reveals in the 2022 recall covering near to half a million Bronco Sports and Escapes, the same remedy was employed as detailed in the latest recall.