Carbon Monoxide and the Potential for Exhaust Poisoning in Explorers

Key Points

  • Owners are concerned about carbon monoxide poisoning in the 5th generation Explorer.
  • Ford started offering a "complimentary service program" in 2017 to replace the lift-gate drain valves, re-program the air conditioners, and seal the rear of the SUVs.
  • Consumer groups are still pushing for a recall.
A smog filled Ford interior
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Tagged
#exhaust #lawsuit #warranty

Fears over carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning first appeared back in June of 2014, when a Florida woman sued Ford for making her and her 5-year-old-daughter sick.

The lawsuit claimed that exhaust smells would fill the cabin through the auxiliary rear air conditioning, specifically when the engine was running at higher RMPs.

"Angela Sanchez-Knutson, 34, alleges she took her Ford Explorer to a dealer eight times because of smelling exhaust fumes inside the SUV, but the dealer had no answers. The lawsuit claims the Ford mechanics could smell the fumes but denied it would harm anyone, even though Sanchez-Knutson says her and her daughter suffered symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning."

A Failure to Dismiss

Ford motion to dismiss the case was denied. It probably had something to do with two Technical Service Bulletins (TSB) Ford released:

  • TSB 12-12-4 titled Explorer Exhaust Odor in Vehicle was released in December 2012. It told mechanics some 2011-2013 Explorers may exhibit exhaust or sulfur-like odors through the auxiliary climate control system.
  • TSB 14-0130 was released in July 2014, while the case was still pending. It outlined software changes that mechanics could make to the recirculation mode of the A/C unit during times of full throttle.

Ford tried to downplay the TSBs but the judge didn’t buy it. I bet they were fuming.

(I’ll see myself out).

A settlement is reached for owners in Florida

Given everything going on, Ford agreed to a settlement for 2011-2015 Explorer owners, but only those in Florida.

So where did that leave others across the country?

Feds Open Investigation into Exhaust Smells

While the Florida lawsuit was pending, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation into exhaust fumes entering 2011-2015 Explorer SUVs.

Typical complaints say exhaust fumes enter the cabins while the Explorers are operating at full throttle, such as when going uphill or merging onto freeways. Owners of the 2011-2015 Ford Explorers also say the fumes can be triggered by turning on the air conditioning in recirculation mode.

The investigation originally covered 639,000 vehicles.

A year later the investigation was upgraded to 1.3 million Explorers from the 2011-2017 model years, including both consumer and Police Interceptors.

Speaking of those Interceptors…

Explorer Interceptors Poisoning the Police

In March 2017, the Austin Police Department announced they were going to install carbon monoxide detectors in their Explorer SUVs.

Police officials say recent reports suggest officers may be getting ill from carbon monoxide poisoning in the SUVs, a problem serious enough that a safety bulletin was released on February 27, 2017.

It didn’t long for those detectors to start going off, forcing Austin PD to pull 60 Explorers from its fleet.

Meanwhile, other police departments started to follow suit. In one case, a Louisiana officer’s Explorer flipped over after she passed out while on duty.

Local media reports say the officer was taken to a hospital and tests confirmed she suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning … According to witnesses, the Explorer wasn't speeding and state authorities say there is no evidence alcohol played a part in the crash.

Ford creates a “special program” to fix CO leaks in police Explorers

By late July 2017, Ford issued a special program to address carbon monoxide concerns in Police Explorers.

The automaker limited the program to police vehicles because the CO exposure happens through unsealed gaps created from modifications for police equipment such as lights, antennas, etc.

The repair program does not apply to non-police Explorers because owners of those vehicles report exhaust fumes entering the cabins, while Explorer Police Interceptor drivers report getting sick from carbon monoxide.

The program came too little, too late for some. Three officers from the Austin PD sued Ford for exposure to carbon monoxide. A few months later, another officer sued Ford too.

Aren't Everyday Explorer Owners Also at Risk of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

NHTSA upgraded their investigation to an “engineering analysis” and says they will continue to test for exposure to CO in consumer vehicles. To date, however, the agency agrees with Ford that the risk of exposure is limited to modified police vehicles.

To date, no substantive data or actual evidence has been obtained supporting a claim that any of the alleged injury or crash allegations were the result of carbon monoxide poisoning, the alleged hazard.

That isn’t to say that everything is a-ok:

ODI has obtained preliminary testing that suggests, however, that CO levels may be elevated in certain driving scenarios, although the significance and effect of those levels remains under evaluation as part of the EA.

The results of engineering analysis will determine the need for a recall.

Carbon monoxide consumer lawsuit

Despite Ford’s assertion and NHTSA’s findings, owners continue to complain about exposure to CO.

A 2017 Explorer owner sued Ford when she was hospitalized for carbon monoxide exposure after a taking a road trip in her SUV.

[Plaintiff Mary] Boatner says that on July 6 she drove the Explorer from Alabama to Michigan and noticed a strong chemical odor. Ms. Boatner rolled down her windows for fresh air but the odor was still there … When Ms. Boatner arrived in Michigan, and for several days thereafter, she allegedly experienced restlessness, lack of focus, fatigue, nausea and headaches.

Ford’s “Complimentary Service” for Explorer Exhaust Odors

Ford finally realized they were just circling the drain, and decided to address the concerns of 1.4 million Explorer owners with a ”complimentary service” program.

Just don’t call it a recall.

As part of the service, Ford will replace the lift-gate drain valves, re-program the air conditioners, and sealing the rear of the SUVs. These are similar procedures to those outlined in TSBs issued years ago.

In other words, Ford has known about these issues for a long time, they just didn’t necessarily want you to know they know. You know?

Consumer Groups Keep Pushing for a Recall

“Complimentary service” is good news for Explorer owners, but it doesn’t go far enough according to the Center for Auto Safety.

The free customer program may sound good to some Explorer owners, but the Center for Auto Safety says the program doesn't go far enough and the automaker should not be allowed to get by with anything less than an official recall.

By not recalling the issue, Ford doesn’t have to follow NHTSA’s rules for notifying all owners. It also was able to set a deadline, December 31, 2018, for repairs.

Bottom line: fewer Explorer owners hear the news and receive the recommended repairs because Ford is refusing to call this a recall.

Lawsuits Regarding This Problem

Lawsuits about this problem have already been filed in court. Many times these are class-action suits that look to cover a group of owners in a particular area. Click on the lawsuit for more information and to see if you're eligible to receive any potential settlements.

  • Settled

    Sanchez-Knutson v. Ford Motor Co.

    A Ford Explorer exhaust lawsuit has been settled days before the trial was scheduled to begin. The terms of the settlement haven't been finalized and approved by the court. The exhaust lawsuit was filed by Angela Sanchez-Knutson, the owner of a 2013 Ford Explorer who claims exhaust smells made her and her 5-year-old daughter sick.

Generations Where This Problem Has Been Reported

This problem has popped up in the following Ford generations.

Most years within a generation share the same parts and manufacturing process. You can also expect them to share the same problems. So while it may not be a problem in every year yet, it's worth looking out for.

  1. 5th Generation Explorer

    Years
    2011–2019
    Reliability
    85th of 94
    PainRank
    39.52
    Complaints
    1689
    Continue Front 3/4 view of a Explorer

Further Reading

A timeline of stories related to this problem. We try to boil these stories down to the most important bits so you can quickly see where things stand. Interested in getting these stories in an email? Signup for free email alerts for your vehicle over at CarComplaints.com.

  1. The Center for Auto Safety (CAS) says enough with the "special programs" and "complimentary service" campaigns,

    it's time for an extensive recall program for 1.3 million Explorers with carbon monoixide problems. The CAS says the SUVs have cracked exhaust manifolds that allow carbon monoxide to enter the cabins and that claims about CO exposure have increased 900% since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation a year and a half ago. That's not even counting the thousands of complaints sent by owners to Ford and sites like CarComplaints.com.

    The "complimentary service" program only lasts until December 31st of this year. The CAS is looking for something more permanent, saying it is possible that Ford and Ford’s customers have just been lucky up until this point, but the time for Ford to take more serious action is now, before that luck runs out.

    keep reading
  2. The Austin Texas police department is starting to put Ford Explorer Police Interceptors back into service after pulling all 397 off the streets earlier this year.

    An additional 42 used by other city departments were pulled as well. The issue is exposure to carbon monoxide. After multiple officers complained about feeling sick the department made a move to equip all the SUVs with carbon monoxide detectors. Multiple officers filed lawsuits against Ford. At least one officer says the exposure led to nerve damage. Yikes.…

    keep reading
  3. Another day, another police officer accusing Ford of negligently poisoning them while on the job.

    Austin police officer Ryan Hancock says his symptoms (nausea, headaches and vision problems ) continued the next day and caused him to seek medical help. According to the lawsuit, tests conducted at the hospital showed his symptoms were from carbon monoxide poisoning. Furthermore, the plaintiff says his nervous system has been damaged by the fumes.

    Hancock is represented by Brian Chase, the same attorney repressing officer Zachary LaHood in another carbon monoxide lawsuit against the automaker.…

    keep reading
  4. The free customer program may sound good to some Explorer owners, but the Center for Auto Safety says the program doesn't go far enough and the automaker should not be allowed to get by with anything less than an official recall.

    Recalls are reserved for safety-related issues. Ford obviously doesn’t think this qualifies, but in my opinion they’re wrong.

    By calling it a “service campaign,” the automaker doesn’t have to follow the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) rules for notifying all owners. Instead, only owners who hear about the campaign through other means will get the repairs.…

    keep reading
  5. Ford will finally address Explorer owner’s concerns about exhaust entering their cabin. Just don’t call it a recall.

    From David Woods on CarComplaints.com Ford announced "complimentary service" for 1.4 million model year 2011-2017 non-police Explorers in North America. Ford insists the SUVs are perfectly safe to drive and the "complimentary service" is not an official recall.

    For whatever reason, Ford appears dead set against recalling this problem. In July 2017, the automaker created a “special program” to fix carbon monoxide (CO) exposure in Explorer Interceptor police vehicles.…

    keep reading
  6. NHTSA isn’t too happy with Ford’s response to the carbon monoxide problem. Welcome to the club.

    Ford tested 4 Explorers, some that had been repaired using the steps recommended in TSBs, and didn’t find a problem.

    Ford says all these CO levels are well below any standards, especially since investigators found only “momentary" levels that quickly disappeared. In addition, when investigators allegedly drove the SUVs without using wide-open throttles, the carbon monoxide levels were zero.

    NHTSA took Ford’s “there’s nothing to see here” conclusion under advisement, and then promptly upgraded their investigation to an “engineering analysis.” They also expanded it to include the 2011-2017 Explorer, roughly 840,000 vehicles total.

    Game on.

    keep reading
  7. There’s a new Explorer carbon monoxide lawsuit in town, and this one is expanding the size of the problem.

    [Plaintiff Mary] Boatner says that on July 6 she drove the Explorer from Alabama to Michigan and noticed a strong chemical odor. Ms. Boatner rolled down her windows for fresh air but the odor was still there … When Ms. Boatner arrived in Michigan, and for several days thereafter, she allegedly experienced restlessness, lack of focus, fatigue, nausea and headaches.

    Mrs. Boatner owns a 2017 Explorer, which falls outside the scope of the current NHTSA investigation.…

    keep reading
  8. Ford Explorer Police Interceptor carbon monoxide problems have led to three police officers suing the automaker after they allegedly crashed their patrol vehicles.

    One of the officers is from Austin. The other suffered a dangerous crash after passing out in their patrol car.

    Ford has been working with police departments to inspect the SUVs and seal any spaces created when aftermarket police-related equipment was installed in the rear of the Explorers.

    keep reading
  9. Ford Police Interceptor carbon monoxide leaks will be repaired by Ford in a special program created for Ford Police Interceptor Utility vehicles, including sedans and Explorer SUVs.

    Hey, look who showed up! Nice of Ford to finally join the discussion. Ford is limiting this program to the police fleet, because it believes the modifications made to these vehicles – for lights and special equipment – are causing the problems.

    The repair program does not apply to non-police Explorers because owners of those vehicles report exhaust fumes entering the cabins, while Explorer Police Interceptor drivers report getting sick from carbon monoxide.

    Since when are fumes entering the cabin are ok?…

    keep reading
  10. A NHTSA Ford Explorer exhaust manifold investigation has been upgraded and expanded to include more than 1.3 million model year 2011-2017 Ford Explorer consumer SUVs and Police Interceptors.

    I’m not sure what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was waiting for here. Ford has already settled one lawsuit, consumers continue to complain about headaches, police officers are passing out, and city officials want the SUVs off the road.

    Out of 2,719 complaints filed to NHTSA, there were 41 reported injuries and 3 crashes. For what it’s worth, NHTSA says there’s currently no proof that carbon monoxide caused these problems.

    Ford, meanwhile, has received 1,254 warranty claims, 606 reports from dealers and 55 legal claims.

    What. A. Nightmare.

    keep reading
  11. A Texas police department has yanked 60 Ford Explorer police vehicles off the streets after carbon monoxide detectors activated in all 60 SUVs.

    This is the same department that installed CO detectors across its fleet a few months ago. I’m guessing they didn’t like the results.

    City officials are considering taking about 400 of the Ford Explorer Police Interceptor SUVs completely off the roads until someone can determine what is causing the problems.

    City officials want the SUVs off the road, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is in town investigating … so where the heck is Ford in all of this?

    keep reading
  12. This ever-widening carbon monoxide problem is a potential disaster for Ford, one that they should plug up immediately.

    In April 2017, [an] officer was driving in Henderson, Louisiana, when she passed out and the Ford Explorer police SUV flipped over. Local media reports say the officer was taken to a hospital and tests confirmed she suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning … According to witnesses, the Explorer wasn't speeding and state authorities say there is no evidence alcohol played a part in the crash.

    Consumers are complaining of headaches, police departments are installing CO detectors across their Explorer fleets, and officers are passing out, flipping over, and landing in canals. This is as cringeworthy as it gets.

    keep reading
  13. A lawsuit concerning Ford Explorer exhaust leaks has been dropped in Illinois.

    A Ford Explorer exhaust leak lawsuit is over as a federal judge granted the wishes of Ford to dismiss the proposed class-action lawsuit.

    The lawsuit never made it to the class-action stage as the plaintiff couldn't prove his case. The judge ruled the plaintiff didn't provide enough details to prove the Ford Explorer has defects that allow exhaust fumes and carbon monoxide to enter the cabin.

    This is a setback, but not a death blow for Explorer owners wanting nationwide action for carbon monoxide poisoning. The plaintiff in this case was given a chance to amend his complaint, but failed to do so.

    keep reading
  14. Exhaust odor complaints in the Ford Explorer continue to seep in.

    The Austin Police Department has announced they plan to install carbon monoxide (CO) detectors in the 360 Explorers in their fleet. Police officials say recent reports suggest officers may be getting ill from carbon monoxide poisoning in the SUVs, a problem serious enough that a safety bulletin was released on February 27, 2017.

    The bulletin says two incidents have been reported within the Austin PD after an officer got lightheaded while driving the Explorer, and another report of a suspicious odor experienced by a sergeant driving an SUV.

    Nearly three years ago, a Florida resident sued Ford after feeling sick from exhaust fumes entering the cabin of her Explorer.

    The police department plans to use stickers that change color if CO is detected, costing about $50 per vehicle. Carbon monoxide detectors are often required by law in the home, are cars next?

    keep reading
  15. A settlement has been reached. This all went down shortly before the trial was set to begin.

    If the court finalizes the settlement, the plaintiffs will include anyone who purchased or leased a 2011-2015 Ford Explorer from Florida Ford dealerships.

    Well, that’s great for Florida residents but it stinks for everyone else. And Explorer owners know all about what stinks.

    Hopefully this settlement will lay the groundwork for future action nationwide.

    keep reading
  16. The 2017 Escape has barely even rolled off dealer lots.

    Well, you better roll it back because the popular CUV has been recalled with windows that close with too much gusto. The automaker provided very limited information but did say the power window system can exceed the "regulatory requirement for remote actuation closing force."

    That's a really fancy way of saying the windows slam. Ford hasn't announced when the recall will begin.

    keep reading
  17. Following 154 complaints and an ongoing lawsuit in Florida, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has decided to open an investigation into exhaust fumes entering 2011-2015 Ford Explorer SUVs.

    Typical complaints say exhaust fumes enter the cabins while the Explorers are operating at full throttle, such as when going uphill or merging onto freeways. Owners of the 2011-2015 Ford Explorers also say the fumes can be triggered by turning on the air conditioning in recirculation mode.

    The smells have led to headaches, nausea, and concerns of carbon monoxide poisoning.

    NHTSA says nearly 639,000 model year 2011-2015 Ford Explorer SUVs are included in the investigation.

    keep reading
  18. Ford has asked a court to throw out a lawsuit about exhaust odors inside Explorers Despite issuing a Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) titled Explorer Exhaust Odor in Vehicle.

    Not surprisingly their appeal was denied.

    Ford filed the motion to dismiss by claiming it wasn't responsible for breach of warranty claims because Sanchez-Knutson bought her Ford Explorer from a dealer, not directly from Ford. U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas didn't buy that argument, and he further rejected Ford's claim that only the federal government has jurisdiction in the exhaust claims.”…

    keep reading
  19. A Florida woman says her 5th generation Explorer is poisoning both her and her 5-year-old daughter with exposure to carbon monoxide (CO).

    The plaintiff says she complained about exhaust odors inside the cabin 8 times to a local dealership, only to be told the stink won’t hurt anyone. Yeah, about that.

    The lawsuit claims independent testing of the Ford Explorer confirmed carbon monoxide was entering the cabin of the vehicle while it was being driven.

    The CO allegedly builds up when the auxiliary rear air conditioning is on and the engine is running at a higher RPM. This matches up with other stories told by owners to CarComplaints.com, saying the problem also happens during heavy acceleration:

    When I accelerate fast, the exhaust enters the vehicle from the AC unit. It is only a matter of time before a child that is strapped into his seat dies of C.M. poisoning! The smell is extremely worse in the back seat, never mind sitting in the 3rd row! You would probably die a silent death rather quickly!

    None of this should come as a surprise to Ford, considering they issued a Technical Service Bulletin (TSB 12-12-4) in December 2012 titled Explorer Exhaust Odor in Vehicle.

    The TSB tells mechanics how to respond if a customer makes a stink about the stank:

    Some 2011 - 2013 Explorer vehicles may exhibit an exhaust odor in the vehicle with the auxiliary climate control system on. Customers may indicate the odor smells like sulfur. This Technical Service Bulletin contains steps to correct the condition, including replacing the left side rear air extractor, installing a new drain valve, and applying new layers of undercoating.

    keep reading

OK, Now What?

Maybe you've experienced this problem. Maybe you're concerned you will soon. Whatever the reason, here's a handful of things you can do to make sure it gets the attention it deserves.

  1. File Your Complaint

    CarComplaints.com is a free site dedicated to uncovering problem trends and informing owners about potential issues with their cars. Major class action law firms use this data when researching cases.

    Add a Complaint
  2. Notify CAS

    The Center for Auto Safety (CAS) is a pro-consumer organization that researches auto safety issues & often compels the US government to do the right thing through lobbying & lawsuits.

    Notify The CAS
  3. Report a Safety Concern

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the US agency with the authority to conduct vehicle defect investigations & force recalls. Their focus is on safety-related issues.

    Report to NHTSA