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Carbon Monoxide Exhaust Poisoning in Explorers

If a Ford Explorer owners tells you their vehicle makes them sick, it’s not hyperbole. The 5th generation SUV’s cabin is filling with exhaust and causing naseau, shortness of breath, and even carbon monoxide poisoning. Ford has previously issued TSBs for the issue and has been sued multiple times for exposure to danger.


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A smog filled Ford interior
It's CO joke.

A Federal investigation

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened a federal investigation into CO poisoning in the Explorer after receiving over 150 complaints from concerned owners.

NHTSA says most of the complaints describe smelling fumes inside the SUVs during full throttle applications, such as when merging onto highways or climbing steep inclines. In addition, Explorer drivers complain the air conditioning systems contribute to the fumes when the systems are in recirculation mode.

The investigation focused on the 2011-2015 model years.

Exploring Deniability

Ford is going to have a tough time denying this problem. There are two Technical Service Bulletins (TSB) related to exhaust fumes in the Explorer.

TSB #12-12-4 was sent to dealers in December 2012. It told technicians that if a customer came in complaining about exhaust, then:

  1. seal up certain areas around the rear floor pans and body seams.
  2. replace the left-side air extractors and install rear left gate drain valves.

“I bought there [sic] extended Ford Premium Warranty. I notice a bad exhaust odor in the cabin using the AC and the heater at times and had a engine light on the dash that would come and go. Took it to the Ford dealer and they fixed a purge valve sensor to get rid of the engine light. To my surprise they said the exhaust odor in the cabin has a TSB and they would have to charge me $700.00 to fix it. WHAT?” - 2013 Ford Explorer owner / Connersville, Indiana

Once again, these fixes were only to be made for owners who come in complaining about exhaust issues. While a TSB is great, what Ford or NHTSA should really do is recall the problem so every owner gets the fix before they get sick.

Taking it to the Courts

In June 2014, one month before the release of TSB #14-0130, a Florida woman sued Ford because her 2013 Explorer was making her and her 5-year old daughter sick. From David Wood on

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.

This lawsuit made sure to be anything but vague, as it specifically pointed out that CO enters the cabin when the auxiliary rear air conditioning is on and the engine is running at a high RPM.

The Follow-Up TSB

By November 2014, Ford’s motion to dismiss the case was denied. Maybe it was because – and I’m just spitballin’ here – a month after the lawsuit was announced, Ford released TSB #14-0130 which outlined instructions for how to fix the exact problem mentioned by the lead plaintiff.

Specifically, the TSB included details on software changes for how the “recirculation mode” of the A/C system operates when the throttle is wide open.

“We bought our new Ford Explorer 3.5 new in September 2013 and straight away there was a very bad smell in the vehicle when accelerating over 3,000 RMP. We took the it back to the Ford dealer and they told us it was because its new. It has since been back 4 times for the same problem and every time we get it back it’s just the same. It should come with a health warning, they are worse than cigarettes.” - 2013 Ford Explorer owner / Dubai, United Arab Emirates

A Settlement for Florida Owners

Just days before the trial was set to begin, Ford and the lead plaintiff agreed on a settlement offer. While details were not disclosed, the settlement included any owner or lessee of a 2011-2015 Explorer from Florida dealerships only.

That’s a good start, but leaves thousands of Explorer owners looking for a similar deal.

Across the Fleet

So just how bad is carbon monoxide poisoning in Ford Explorers? Just ask the Austin Police Department, who in March 2017 announced they would install carbon monoxide detectors across the entire fleet of their Explorer police vehicles.

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.” “Another incident allegedly occurred days ago when an officer driving a Ford Explorer reported feeling sick before the SUV hit a curb. The officer was treated for possible carbon monoxide poisoning and released from the hospital.

The detectors will be similar to the ones people install in their homes.

OK, Now What?

Maybe you've experienced this problem. Maybe you're concerned you will soon. Whatever the reason, you can help make sure it gets the attention it deserves.

  1. File Your Complaint at 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 the Center for Auto Safety

    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 to NHTSA

    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

  4. Spread the Word

    Social media is all the rage these days. And for good reason – it can help spread a message quickly. So get out there and start spreading this page.

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