WASHINGTON -- Most of the 1.4 million vehicles Ford Motor Co. recalled in mid-2001 because of a suspected defect in front seat belt buckles passed dealer-conducted tests. Buckles were replaced in only a small percentage of the vehicles.
But complaints that some of the belts do not stay latched continue. Federal safety officials are expanding an investigation. Another recall is possible.
Ford spokeswoman Kristen Kinley says the company is cooperating. But she says the automaker does not know whether the complaints involve only vehicles that passed the test or include vehicles that received new buckles.
Ford warned dealers that improper use of the testing tool could allow defective buckles to pass the test, according to documents on file with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Affected vehicles are the 2001 Mercury Grand Marquis; Lincoln Town Car and Navigator; and Ford Crown Victoria, Windstar, Ranger, F-150 through F-550, Expedition and Excursion.
The agency and automaker have received more than 540 complaints. They include reports of nine injuries and one death. Ford also handled more than 10,000 possibly related warranty claims, NHTSA says.
In another seat belt case, NHTSA opened an investigation of 2004 Toyota Sienna minivans. The agency cited eight consumer complaints that belts for second-row seats jam in webbing guides. A jammed belt cannot retract and is considered a
safety hazard in a crash.
Some owners told NHTSA that dealer repairs did not last and the problem recurred. About 75,000 of the vehicles are in service.
Here are other defect investigations undertaken by NHTSA:
2003-04 FORD SUPER DUTY F-SERIES PICKUPS, EXCURSION; ALL WITH 6.0-LITER DIESEL
Problem: Engine stalls without warning.
Complaints: More than 3,200, including 14 crashes with two injuries, and nearly 13,000 possibly related warranty claims.
Vehicle population: 384,000.
2004 LEXUS RX 330
Problem: Brake power assist fails.
Vehicle population: 146,000.
2000-02 SATURN L SERIES
Problem: Taillights fail.
Vehicle population: 282,000.
You may e-mail Harry Stoffer at