WASHINGTON - Ford Motor Co. has been a vigorous advertiser of its Windstar minivan as the only vehicle to earn a quadruple five-star rating in government crash tests.
The ads have included a disclaimer that the tested vehicle was equipped with optional side airbags. The disclaimer was needed because a Windstar without side airbags had not been tested.
Now one has. The ads will continue. But so will the disclaimer.
That's because the Windstar without side airbags received a score of four stars for the driver and passenger in the side-impact test - still good, but one step below the top.
Rick Morgan, chief of the government's New Car Assessment Program, said it makes sense that the absence of a side airbag would increase the chance of injury for the driver. But the score showing greater risk for the rear-seat passenger is baffling, he said.
The Windstar's side airbags are in the front seat only.
Sara Tatchio, Ford safety spokeswoman, said company engineers believe the difference stems from the number of doors. The van that got five stars for the rear-seat passenger had the optional fourth door. The one that got four stars did not.
The engineers pointed out that people in earthquake-prone areas are advised to stand in the doorways of buildings for extra protection during quakes. Apparently doors and doorframes also help in vehicle crashes, Tatchio said.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which conducts the crash tests, a five-star rating in a side impact means a 5 percent or less chance of serious injury. Four stars mean a 6 to 10 percent chance.