The Center for Auto Safety, a well-respected nonprofit consumer safety group, formally asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in early July to investigate its claim that some cruise control cables on about 320,000 Ford Escapes were damaged during a repair for an unrelated recall, making the vehicles susceptible to unintended acceleration. In its defect petition, the safety group said the problem, which was said to exist among Escapes from the 2002-2004 model years, could have “lethal consequences.”
The original recall, which covered about 470,000 Escapes from 2002-2004 equipped with the 3-liter V-6 engine, was performed to prevent the accelerator cable from snagging on the accelerator pedal, which could have prevented the engine from returning to idle. In its petition the safety group argued that in October 2005, Ford sent a technical service bulletin to dealers cautioning mechanics to not damage the adjacent cruise control cable during the course of the recall repair. Any damage could allow the cable to snag on a ridge in the engine cover, causing unintended acceleration, the petition said. Ford has never formally informed the roughly 320,000 owners who had the repair performed that damage may have been caused to their vehicles’ cruise control, according to Clarence Ditlow, the group’s executive director.
The petition also cites the case of Saige Bloom, a 17-year-old who died in a crash in Payson, Ariz., in January. According to the petition, the Bloom family hired an expert who inspected the engine of the 2002 Escape driven by Ms. Bloom at the time of the accident and found the cable was snagged. Mr. Ditlow believes that Ford should conduct a new recall and the safety agency should pursue a civil fine, adding that “Ford knew there was a problem and knew the consequences.”
Under federal regulations, after learning of a safety problem, a manufacturer is required to inform NHTSA within five working days of its plan for a recall. There were 133 complaints on the NHTSA’s Web site from owners of 2002-4 Escapes who claimed they experienced sudden acceleration. Some owners claimed their experiences occurred before the recall, raising the possibility that the speed-control cable could fail independent of a faulty repair. Other failures occurred on vehicles that were recalled, according to the petition. Interestingly, there is no indication on NHTSA’s web site that it investigated those complaints.
It should be noted that anyone can file a defect petition with NHTSA. The agency then must decide whether the petition has sufficient merit to begin a formal investigation. Late in 2009, the Center for Auto Safety filed a defect petition asking the agency to investigate its assertion that 1993-2004 Grand Cherokees were susceptible to catching fire when struck from behind. In 2010, NHTSA granted the request and in June the agency upgraded its investigation to an Engineering Analysis, indicating its heightened concern.
Source: New York Times
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