Ford turns microscope on safety complaints

In the wake of the Firestone tire recall, Ford Motor Co. is reviewing every dealership repair order related to safety.

Ford's flyspecking of every safety complaint is not standard industry practice. Automakers routinely rely on spot checks of safety data or a threshold of complaints to unearth potential safety defects.

The company's change reflects the shock waves that have hit it since federal investigators linked the Ford Explorer equipped with Firestone tires to 271 fatal crashes.

"In certain components, where there is a high safety risk to consumers, there is no averaging of data, no sampling of data. We look at every single claim," said David Velliky, Ford Motor Co. global director of supplier technical assistance.

The review covers "seat belts, airbags, tires, wheel bearings, anything that if it failed would either disable a safety system or make the car unreasonably unsafe," Velliky said.

Ford is monitoring complaints manually. But it is developing a computer model that will read the repair orders and flag those that may reveal a potential defect, he said.

Velliky declined to provide further details.

Bridgestone/Firestone's recall of 6.5 million tires in August 2000 prompted Ford to initiate the new system, Velliky said. Many of the recalled tires were mounted on Explorers. At the time, Ford said it was blindsided by the recall because it was not privy to the tiremaker's warranty data.

In May 2001, Ford unilaterally decided to replace an additional 13 million Firestone tires that the automaker alleges are potentially faulty.

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