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 wanted the case dismissed but was denied by a judge. 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 TSB, but the judge didn’t buy it. Man, 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.”
Are Consumers 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.