Tag Archive | "NHTSA"

Feds Expand Windstar Probe to Front Corrosion

WASHINGTON – Federal regulators have expanded their investigation of Ford Windstar minivans to a second component after complaints from “salt belt” states of a loss of vehicle control stemming from corrosion, Automotive News reported.

The new investigation covers 1999-2003 model year Windstars.

The expanded probe by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is focusing on front subframe corrosion on the right side that has led to 87 complaints and three crashes, the agency said Tuesday. The latest investigation was opened July 20.

The government’s preliminary evaluation will encompass as many as 900,000 vehicles.

“My wife was driving at a slow speed in a parking lot, and all of a sudden there was a loud bang and she could not steer the vehicle,” one complainant wrote to NHTSA about his 2000 Windstar LX van. “One wheel in the front was straight, and the other front wheel was turned at a 45-degree angle.”

A Ford spokeswoman said the company is cooperating with the investigation, which is the first in a series of steps that can result in a recall. Repairs in a recall are paid for by the manufacturer.

In May, NHTSA said it had opened an investigation of the same pool of Ford Windstars after 234 complaints of rear axles fracturing.

Most of the axle complaints stemmed from “salt belt” states, probably because the rear axle beam collects road salt slurry and corrodes until it breaks, NHTSA said at the time.

The agency said it is conducting two investigations, one of the front subframe corrosion and the other of the rear axles.

Ford built 2.3 million Windstars from 1994 to 2003 before the model was discontinued.

The vehicles have been subject to 10 recalls involving 3.6 million vehicles, according to NHTSA records. Some Windstars were recalled more than once.

The biggest recall — of 1.7 million 1995-2003 model Windstars — was part of a larger 2009 recall of 4.5 million vehicles with faulty cruise control deactivation switches that posed potential fire hazards.

“These are older vehicles – between 16 and 8 years old – and they have faced a number of recalls,” Ford spokesperson Jennifer Moore said. “When we identify an issue with a vehicle, we do the responsible thing, issue the recall and fix the concern.”

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Feds Investigate Stuck Gas Pedals in Fords

WASHINGTON – Federal safety regulators are investigating a few reports of gas pedals becoming trapped by floor mats in 2010 Ford Fusions and Mercury Milans, The Associated Press reported.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened a preliminary investigation Friday after receiving three such complaints involving unsecured all-weather floor mats. There are no reports of crashes or injuries.

A Ford spokesman, Said Deep, said the problem was due to drivers stacking all-weather mats on top of floor mats that come with the vehicle. Ford’s all-weather mats have warnings advising customers not to pile them and to secure them properly to the floor, he said.

The issue is similar to Toyota’s problems with floor mats that led to the recall of more than 5 million vehicles worldwide. In those cases, drivers said their vehicles sped up when pedals became lodged under all-weather mats that were stacked on top of the floor mats.

To solve the problem, Toyota shortened its gas pedals and took out some of the carpet padding below the pedal.

Safety officials said the investigation covers about 250,000 Fusions and Milans. The preliminary investigation is meant to try to verify whether the complaints have merit and gauge the seriousness of any potential problems.

The Fusion, a midsize sedan, is one of Ford’s most popular models, with more than 70,000 sold in the first four months of 2010. This year, Ford has sold about 11,500 Mercury Milans, a car that is essentially the same as the Fusion.

Ford shares dipped 8 cents to $11.65 in early afternoon trading.

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Auto Safety Bill Debate Heats Up

WASHINGTON – The House held its first hearing on a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s auto safety laws Thursday, but Democrats face a tight timetable to win passage before Congress goes home this summer, The Detroit News reported.

Republicans said the draft written by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., goes too far and shouldn’t impose a per vehicle fee to pay for a $100 million increase in funding for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Waxman’s bill would mandate auto black boxes and brake override systems, and grant NHTSA the power to order an immediate stop of sales and production of vehicles that pose an “imminent danger.”

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., said that idea would “short circuit” the recall process. He also questioned whether the bill was aimed at helping trial lawyers win cases.

The bill is “driving down the wrong road,” Scalise said.

The Waxman bill would double NHTSA’s enforcement budget by adding a $3 fee on all new car sales, allow consumers the right to appeal the rejection of their safety complaints and hike penalties for automakers and executives caught violating auto safety laws. A similar measure has been introduced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.

Automakers object to some proposals, saying they go too far and impose new mandates too quickly. They back requirements for extended event data recorders and brake override systems.

Several Republicans said the new tax is unnecessary and questioned what NHTSA would do with an extra $100 million.

Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the bill was aimed at restoring “the faith of the driving public.” He said drivers had been “severely rattled” by Toyota Motor Corp.’s recall of 8.5 million vehicles worldwide over sudden acceleration concerns.

The new event data recorders proposed for all vehicles would collect far more data than current ones that are in some vehicles — 60 seconds before a crash and 15 seconds after it. Republicans raised privacy concerns about mandating the devices without more discussion.

Toyota recently agreed to pay $16.4 million for delaying a recall of 2.3 million vehicles over sticky pedal concerns by at least four months. If the Waxman bill had been law, NHTSA could have imposed a $69 billion penalty.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, called the proposed hike in fines — including up to $250 million for individual auto executives — “overkill.”

NHTSA administrator David Strickland took no position on any of the bill’s new mandates and said the Obama administration is still reviewing the bill.

But he said the Waxman bill would “significantly increase the agency’s leverage in dealing with manufacturers,” and getting imminent hazard authority “would bring NHTSA’s authority into line with that of many other safety and health agencies.”

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Auto Recall Rules May be Tightened by NHTSA

WASHINGTON – Safety advocates say government regulators may take a more urgent and tougher position on recalls, following Toyota’s callback of millions of vehicles, The Detroit News reported.

Automakers have often resisted recalls, acting only when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is poised to order them. At other times, they have fought them off completely or argued to scale them back.

But after Toyota’s two recalls linked to sudden acceleration — 5.4 million vehicles linked to floor mats and 2.3 million to sticky gas pedals — things may change for good for NHTSA as well as for the automakers.

NHTSA is considering issuing civil penalties in Toyota’s handling of the back-to-back recalls. It also is likely that the agency will act more quickly to enforce future “stop sales,” like the one ordered by Toyota, if automakers don’t have a fix.

“I think that NHTSA has been stung by (the Toyota recalls) and they should be. They have been behind the eight ball and haven’t used the authority given to them,” former NHTSA administrator Joan Claybrook told The Detroit News.

While Toyota maintains it acted promptly, NHTSA may be less willing to accept what automakers say at face value, next time.

If President Obama gets his way, the agency will get a 15 percent increase in the number of administrators, from about 60 now to 68.

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Obama Picks Senate Aide Strickland to Oversee NHTSA

President Barack Obama is expected to nominate as early as today a Senate aide as the nation’s top auto regulator — a post that will have a critical impact on vehicle safety regulations, according to The Detroit News.

David L. Strickland, 41, is expected to be announced as Obama’s pick to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, several officials said Monday.

As senior Democratic counsel to the Senate Commerce Committee since August 2001, Strickland played a major role in pressing environmental rules long fought by the U.S. auto industry. He also helped write auto safety legislation and the “Do Not Call” registry law.

The White House declined comment Monday, but did not dispute the Strickland nomination report. A spokeswoman for Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., also declined to comment. Strickland did not return messages.

The White House struggled to fill the job after its first nominee, Charles “Chuck” Hurley, withdrew in the spring under pressure from environmentalists. Senate confirmation is required.

David Kelly, who was NHTSA administrator until Jan. 20 under President George W. Bush, called Strickland, a Harvard University Law School graduate, “a solid choice.”

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