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Ford recalls nearly 43,000 SUVs due to gas leaks that can cause fires, but remedy won't fix leaks

GABRIELA SÁ PESSOA
April 10, 2024

DETROIT (AP) -- Ford is recalling nearly 43,000 small SUVs because gasoline can leak from the fuel injectors onto hot engine surfaces, increasing the risk of fires. But the recall remedy does not include repairing the fuel leaks.

The recall covers certain Bronco Sport SUVs from the 2022 and 2023 model years, as well as Escape SUVs from 2022. All have 1.5-liter engines.

Ford says in documents filed with U.S. safety regulators that fuel injectors can crack, and gasoline or vapor can accumulate near ignition sources, possibly touching off fires.

Dealers will install a tube to let gasoline flow away from hot surfaces to the ground below the vehicle. They'll also update engine control software to detect a pressure drop in the fuel injection system. If that happens, the software will disable the high pressure fuel pump, reduce engine power and cut temperatures in the engine compartment, according to documents posted Wednesday on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website.

Owners were to be notified by letter starting April 1.

The company says in documents it has reports of five under-hood fires and 14 warranty replacements of fuel injectors, but no reports of crashes or injuries.

In an email, Ford said it is not replacing fuel injectors because the problem happens only in about 1% of the SUVs. The new software also will trigger a dashboard warning light and allow customers to drive to a safe location, stop the vehicle and arrange for service, the company said.

The company also said it will extend warranty coverage for cracked fuel injectors, so owners who experience the problem will get replacements. Ford said repairs are already available, and details of the extended warranty will be available in June.

The company said the recall is an extension of a 2022 recall for the same problem. The repair has already been tested on vehicles involved in the previous recall, and Ford said it's not aware of any problems.

Ford also said it isn't recommending that the SUVs be parked only outdoors because there's no evidence that fires happen when vehicles are parked and the engines are off.

Michael Brooks, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, called Ford's remedy for the fuel leaks a "Band-aid type recall" and said the company is trying to avoid the cost of repairing the fuel injectors.

A 1% failure rate, he said, is high, and even with the repairs, drivers still could be forced to exit a freeway at a low speed, placing them at risk of a crash.

NHTSA, he said, should do more to make sure recalls fix the root causes of vehicle problems rather than making less-costly repairs.

In the past, NHTSA has said it does not have legal authority to pre-approve recall fixes. But in a statement Wednesday, the agency said it will "closely track their performance using field data." The agency said owners who have questions should contact their dealership or Ford.

Brooks said Congress should change the law so the agency can "require something more than the rubber stamp that NHTSA is currently deploying" on recalls.

The agency, he said, has been more aggressive of late in investigating recall fixes. "That is a post-remedy inquiry that won't make the fixes better, and further stretches out the process and leaves consumers in limbo," he said.

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