WASHINGTON - After more than three years of investigating, federal safety officials have decided against ordering a recall of 1993-94 Ford Explorers despite hundreds of complaints about brakes that lock up.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that the agency and the manufacturer collected about 750 complaints concerning rear brake lockup on the vehicles. These included reports of 83 crashes with 32 injuries.
Agency officials said that no complaints have been received since December 1998, and they believe gradual replacement of the original brake linings may be the reason.
Ford Motor Co. spokesman Mike Vaughn said service departments were alerted in July 1997 to the availability of replacement linings that are less susceptible to the effects of humidity.
NHTSA said that by closing the investigation, which began in early 1996, it is not declaring there was no defect, but it believes agency resources would be better spent elsewhere.
Had a recall been required, it would have involved 668,000 vehicles.
NHTSA, in its monthly list of defect investigations, said it opened three new cases.
One investigation, of the 2000 Saturn LS, was opened because fuel spilled from a test vehicle after a crash that was conducted for the agency's New Car Assessment Program.
Following the 35-mph frontal impact, the car was tilted and fuel leaked out. Agency officials said a pressure relief valve in the fuel vapor recovery system stuck open.
Here are details of the other two new cases:
1994-95 PONTIAC GRAND AM
Problem: Fires break out in or near steering column.
Complaints: Nine, with one reported injury.
Vehicle population: 520,000.
1992-95 AUDI 100, S4, A6, S6
Problem: Fuel leaks from fitting near fuel filter.
Complaints: 12, with one reported fire.
Vehicle population: 34,000.
NHTSA also announced it has upgraded two investigations from what it calls a preliminary evaluation to the more intensive level called engineering analysis.
One stems from more than 1,400 complaints about steering problems in 1994-96 DaimlerChrysler LH sedans. They are the Dodge Intrepid, Eagle Vision and Chrysler New Yorker, LHS and Concorde.
The agency said it and the manufacturer have received a range of complaints, most involving excessive wear or failure of the rack and pinion, tie rod ends or mounting bolts. DaimlerChrysler also reported more than 55,000 possibly related warranty claims.
About 854,000 of the cars are in service, NHTSA said.
The other upgraded investigation involves airbags that may deploy when they should not. They are in 1998 Oldsmobile Cutlasses, of which about 53,000 are in service. NHTSA opened the preliminary evaluation after getting two complaints. It upgraded the case after General Motors reported it knows of eight deployments, which caused four injuries.
In addition to the Ford Explorer case, NHTSA said it closed two other investigations after finding insufficient evidence of a defect.
The cases stemmed from complaints about the following:
Inadvertent side airbag deployments in 1995-98 Volvos.
Fires in fog lamps on 1993 Volkswagen Passats.