Yesterday, the non-profit Center for Auto Safety filed a petition with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “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,” which “could have “lethal consequences.” Writes the New York Times Wheels blog:
The original recall, which covered about 470,000 Escapes from 2002-4 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, however, 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 claims Ford should conduct a new recall and the safety agency should pursue a civil fine.
“Ford knew there was a problem. Ford knew the consequences,” he said in a telephone interview.
This “unintended acceleration” problem may sound familiar. Remember that massive Toyota problem (which we covered quite a bit, like here)? Oh, it’s not over. Just a few days ago, Toyota “added Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h crossover vehicles from the 2010 model year to the list of vehicles it has recalled” saying “[i]n these cars the accelerator pedal can get stuck at full throttle when trapped by ‘an unsecured or incompatible driver’s floor mat.’” Still?
And last month, Ditlow said "it's just a matter of time before Chrysler is forced to recall as many as 5 million Jeep SUVs built from 1993 to 2007.” That’s because “[t]he fuel tanks of Jeep Grand Cherokees built after 2004 are located in front of the rear axle” which presents “a risk because the fuel tank is near the back of the vehicles. ‘Just looking at the design, as a safety advocate, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize an unshielded tank, hanging below the rear bumper, is unsafe,’ Ditlow said.” Chrysler disagrees, so we’ll see if NHTSA orders a recall. Right now, it’s conducting an engineering analysis.
But Sean Kane, president of Safety Research and Strategies, is worried. He says that “he is concerned that NHTSA's decision to expand the number of vehicles could lead to a dismissal of the case without a recall. ‘Frequently that is done as a tactic to try and minimize the numbers,’ Kane said. ‘If they spread out the accidents across more vehicles ... then you have low number of incidents and that is a reason that the agency can use’ to not order a recall.”
And here’s another problem: resources:
Mr. Ditlow lamented what he said was the slow pace of the investigation, but said the agency had its hands full. “We want N.H.T.S.A. to move faster, but the only way it would move faster is if it had more resources and authority,” he said. “N.H.T.S.A.’s band of defect investigators is going up against trillion-dollar companies.”
Talk about scary.