DETROIT — Ford Motor Co. is recalling nearly 1.4 million Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ sedans in North America because loose bolts could allow the steering wheel to come off.
The automaker said it knows of two accidents and one injury linked to the problem, which federal regulators began investigating in October. Ford said the steering wheel bolt can loosen over time, resulting in detachment of the wheel and a loss of steering control.
Ford began looking into the problem nearly three years ago but said at the time that it lacked enough evidence of a defect.
The recall covers Fusions and MKZs from the 2014 through 2018 model years. Most were made in Hermosillo, Mexico, though Fusions built in Flat Rock, Mich., from 2013 through 2016 are included.
Dozens of Fusion owners complained to regulators at NHTSA about loose or wobbly steering wheels over the years, including a Georgia driver who said the wheel of a 2015 Fusion detached in September.
"While driving to Athens, went to turn in gas station and the steering wheel fell off in my lap," the complainant wrote.
Last month, the owner of a 2014 Fusion in Tennessee made this complaint: "While driving on interstate, steering wheel came loose and car veered off interstate. I regained control, but steering wheel is still loose ... as repairs will cost beyond my means at this moment."
Ford is telling dealers to install a longer steering-wheel bolt "with more robust thread engagement and larger nylon patch placed properly for proper torque retention."
Documents Ford filed with NHTSA say one accident involved a Fusion being totaled when it hit a manhole.
The documents say Ford first learned of a Fusion steering wheel coming loose in June 2015 and opened an internal inquiry the next month. That probe found 137 reports of loose steering wheels but "did not identify any trend" and was closed without action, Ford said.
It's the second time in the last month that an automaker has recalled vehicles to fix steering wheels that can fall off. Hyundai recalled about 44,000 of its Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport crossovers in late February, saying the steering wheel assembly could break.