US turns spotlight on Ford recall
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The US Government’s vehicle safety agency is reviewing a Ford recall of thousands of cars, SUVs and vans that can run low on coolant, potentially causing them to overheat and catch fire.
The review comes after the company proposed a remedy that doesn’t fix the problem.
Ford notified the agency about the recall, which has caused 29 engine fires, in paperwork dated last week. The company said it would install a sensor that warns owners when coolant is low in the 1.6-litre turbo-charged engines.
The sensor does not solve the underlying problem of vanishing coolant.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said on Tuesday it was reviewing the recall. “The agency will take appropriate action as necessary,” a spokeswoman said. She would not provide further details.
The agency confirmed the review after journalists raised questions about Ford’s remedy.
The agency could determine that the fix solves the fire problem, or it could open an investigation to see if more repairs are needed.
Experts say coolant shouldn’t become depleted in newer cars, and that Ford may be cutting costs by shifting responsibility for the problem to owners. Coolant could be leaking from a number of places, or the engine could be burning it, both of which could cause significant trouble down the road — especially if owners don’t religiously watch coolant levels and act immediately if they get low.
“All you’re doing is monitoring a symptom, not solving a problem,” said the managing director of automotive engineering for the AAA, John Nielsen.
“A healthy engine doesn’t leak coolant at all. Ever,” he said.
In New Zealand the recall includes 980 Kugas and Fiestas. These are Kuga SUVs from the 2012-2014 model years, plus the 2014 and 2015 compact Fiesta ST.
Ford said engines can overheat if coolant gets low, causing the cylinder head to crack and spew oil that can catch fire. No injuries have been reported.
Parts won’t be available to install the coolant-level sensor until later this year.
In the meantime, Ford will send letters to owners telling them how to check coolant and add some if it gets low.
Company spokeswoman Elizabeth Weigandt said the sensor solved the safety problem. “You would stay informed as to how much coolant you have in the engine,” she said. “That would address the unique risk of the cylinder head cracking.”
The new sensor would turn on a dashboard warning light, she said.
Sean Kane, president of Safety Research and Strategies Inc, a Massachusetts firm that does auto testing for plaintiffs’ lawyers and other clients, said Ford likely is trying to avoid costly engine repairs that would cure the coolant leaks.
“It sounds like they have a bigger issue. More likely than not they don’t want to repair that issue,” he said.