WASHINGTON - Federal safety officials have stepped up an investigation of Ford Windstar minivans after hundreds of owners complained about broken front coil springs.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Ford Motor Co. have collected about 200 complaints about broken springs, the agency said. The automaker also has handled about 300 possibly related warranty claims. Some warranty cases may duplicate some complaints.
There is evidence the spring breaking incidents occur most often in cold-weather states where de-icing chemicals are used on roads, the agency said. In dozens of cases, the broken springs also punctured tires.
NHTSA is trying to determine if the problem represents a safety defect, requiring a manufacturer's recall. It upgraded its investigation from a preliminary evaluation to the more intense level of engineering analysis.
NHTSA officials say they believe a collapsed suspension or punctured tire could cause a vehicle to go out of control. Ford maintains that the problem is not 'an unreasonable risk to safety,' the agency said.
Ford spokesman Mike Vaughn said the company is cooperating with the investigation, but he could not speculate on its outcome.
Vehicles affected by the investigation are 1995-98 Windstars. There are about 925,000 of them in service.
NHTSA also upgraded an investigation of 1993-2000 Volkswagen Jettas and Passats. The agency and Volkswagen of America Inc. have collected 31 complaints about right rear tire blowouts causing punctures of fuel tanks or fuel filler pipes. There are about 825,000 of the cars on the roads.
NHTSA said it opened the following new defect investigation:
1994-96 DODGE RAM 2500 AND 3500 WITH 5.9-LITER TURBO-DIESEL
Problem: Throttle cable frays or breaks, impeding accelerator operation.
Complaints: 33, including one reported crash.
Vehicle population: 156,000.