WASHINGTON – U.S. regulators have opened a formal investigation of 900,000 Ford Windstar minivans following 234 complaints of rear axles fracturing in 1999-2003 models.
While a snapped axle can result in loss of vehicle control, there have been reports of only two minor crashes, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said on its Web site.
A Ford spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.
The vast majority of the complaints originated from “salt-belt” states, probably because the rear axle beam collects road salt slurry and corrodes until it breaks, the agency said. About a quarter of the complaints said that axle broke at speeds of at least 40 mph.
One driver reported he heard “a clanging noise” coming from his 2000 Windstar at that speed, according to a copy of his complaint to NHTSA.
“The next day while driving the rear end of the vehicle started to shimmy,” the report said. “He pulled over to the side of the road after he saw smoke.”
Another driver, from Toledo, Ohio, said the rear axle of his 2000 Windstar broke while in a heavy traffic area, which “could have resulted in a serious accident,” he said.
The driver had the vehicle towed and the axle replaced at a cost of $913. Ford refused to help cover the expense for lack of a warranty, the complaint said.
“Ford mechanics have informed me that this is clearly a defect which the manufacturer should be responsible for,” he wrote.
NHTSA's preliminary evaluation is the first in a series of steps that can result in a recall, with repairs paid for by the manufacturer.