Nader writes to Ford, urges recall of all vehicles with “hot-wired” cruise control switches

September 7, 2005

William Clay Ford, Jr.
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer
Ford Motor Company
1 American Road
Dearborn, MI 48126

Dear Mr. Ford:

As you are aware, an ongoing defect investigation of Ford Motor Company trucks and SUVs is being undertaken by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration due to high rates of speed control deactivation switch (SCDS) failure and related engine compartment fire.

This is not the first time Ford vehicles have been the subject of a fire-related defect investigation. In fact, Ford Motor Company seems to regularly manufacture vehicles that demonstrate a disturbing tendency to ignite—-whether in operation or not. The 1971-76 Pinto. The 1983-87 E-series van. The 1991-93 F-series truck. All were recalled because of the life-threatening fire risk they posed to person and property. In 2002, the Center for Auto Safety identified 16 fuel fed fire recalls by Ford and noted that Ford repeatedly designed in these hazards time and time again. The 2002 CAS letter is attached.

But Ford Motor Company does not learn from these engineering mistakes. Puzzling!

In fact the same SCDS currently being investigated by NHTSA (NHTSA Action Number EA05005) is the very same component that was the cause of the fire-related recall of the 1992-93 Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car (NHTSA ID 99V124000). Unfortunately, Ford continued to manufacture other vehicles with this switch following the recall of these cars.

This decision has come back to haunt the company. On January 27, 2005, Ford alerted NHTSA that it would recall certain model year 2000 F-150, Expedition and Lincoln Navigators and certain model year 2001 F-150 Supercrew trucks due to speed control deactivation switch failure. These trucks are a fraction of the 3.7 million vehicles being investigated by NHTSA right now—-and all have the same switch that was the subject of the earlier SCDS recall.

And so this switch has now twice resulted in a major recall campaign. The symptoms and failure mode are the same: a resistive short develops in the electrical SCDS which impairs cruise control function and/or the brake lights. Subsequently the part may smolder, burn and ultimately ignite volatile brake fluid within the engine compartment.

Reports of the damage caused by SCDS failure are devastating, often resulting in the total incineration of the vehicle and sometimes nearby structures as well. More ominous than the destruction, however, may be the indiscriminate timing of the fires, which can occur even when the engine has been off for minutes, hours, or days–because Ford engineered these switches to be powered at all times.

NHTSA recently offered its own assessment of the danger associated with SCDS failure in an email to CNN: “Any Ford owner experiencing problems related to the cruise control switch should get the problem repaired at a Ford dealer, and until you do, NHTSA now tells Ford owners, do not park your vehicle in your garage.”

NHTSA’s advice is pertinent to far more Ford owners than the 3.7 million who own F-150’s, Expeditions and Lincoln Navigators being investigated by the agency. According to CNN, Ford has acknowledged using the same or similar switch in 16 million vehicles. The attached document, “Speed Control Strategies”, was submitted by Ford to NHTSA and identifies numerous model vehicles that are designed with SCDS configurations identical to the already recalled 1992-93 Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis, Lincoln Town Car and the 2000 F-150, Expedition and Lincoln Navigator. As acknowledged by your company, millions of vehicles with these switches are on the road.

How much longer will you allow this $20 part to imperil the public?

At this juncture, following hundreds of complaints and two recalls, it behooves Ford to remove all such parts from the fleet. I strongly urge you to immediately recall every vehicle manufactured with speed control deactivation switches designed and configured similarly to the ones responsible for the 1992-93 Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis and Town Car recall as well as the 2000 F-150, Expedition, Navigator and 2001 F-150 Supercrew recall.

Such action by Ford Motor Company will demonstrate thoughtful regard for public safety. Indeed, it might signal a change of course for the 102 year-old corporation, which has for over three decades shown a peculiar disinterest in fire-proofing certain segments of its vehicles.

Sincerely,

Ralph Nader

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