NHTSA ends inquiry into 1.6M Fords including Escape, Fusion

WASHINGTON -- After reviewing nearly 12,000 complaints about drops in engine power in late-model Ford Motor Co. vehicles -- including the popular Ford Escape and Ford Fusion -- U.S. auto safety regulators say they will not try to force a recall.

Ford has started a customer satisfaction campaign to address problems with the engine throttle body in nearly 1.6 million vehicles, including the model year 2009-2013 Fusion and Escape, as well as the closely related but discontinued Mercury Mariner and Mercury Milan from the same years.

Customers who come into dealerships will be able to have the powertrain control module software reprogrammed to protect the throttle body, with the normal warranty extended to 10 years or 150,000 miles.

That was enough to satisfy the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which released a Feb. 28 ruling today saying that the agency has closed a defect investigation into those models that began last February.

"This preliminary evaluation is closed," NHTSA said, adding that "the closing of this investigation does not constitute a finding that a safety-related defect does not exist."

In cars where the throttle body malfunctions, the car displays a wrench-shaped light in the instrument cluster and goes into "limp home mode," allowing the cars to be driven home or to a repair shop with engine speeds limited to 900 rpm.

NHTSA had received 1,147 complaints about this problem and Ford another 10,999 complaints. From these complaints, NHTSA says it knows of one accident that caused an injury and 11 low-speed impacts in which no one was hurt.

Investigators apparently concluded that because drivers were still able to drive the car to a safe location, it was not severe enough to justify a recall.

"Engine operation is maintained providing full power steering assist, brake assist and electrical functions," the agency's report says. "Additionally, drivers are alerted that a fault has been detected by the illumination of the wrench light."

VW case closed

Also this week, NHTSA said it has ended an investigation into tens of thousands of Volkswagens that share a fuse with the 2009-2011 Volkswagen Tiguan crossover, recently subject to a major global recall because the headlights could overheat and fail.

Volkswagen AG recalled about 800,000 units of the German-made Tiguan in November, including about 62,000 vehicles sold in the United States.

NHTSA soon started an inquiry into the model year 2009 GTI hatchback and the Jetta sedan from model years 2009 and 2010, because they used the same fuse. But the agency closed its investigation Feb. 28 after finding that the failure rate in the Tiguan was four times higher than in those other models.

VW has told NHTSA it will replace fuses in some other models through a service campaign. The agency says it will monitor complaints and take action if warranted.

You can reach Gabe Nelson at gnelson@crain.com

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