Ford launches fifth-largest recall in U.S. history

Ford announced Sept. 7 it would recall 3.8 million pickups and SUVs from model years 1994-2002 in the fifth-largest auto industry recall in U.S. history.

An inquiry by Ford found brake fluid could leak through the cruise control’s deactivation switch into the system’s electrical components, leading to potential corrosion. In rare cases, the corrosion could lead to a buildup of electrical current that might cause overheating and a fire.

To fix the problem, Ford dealers will install a fused wiring harness to act as a circuit breaker in the system. Ford says it will notify owners of vehicles affected by the recall immediately by mail. The recall includes 1994-2002 Ford F-150s, 1997-2002 Ford Expeditions, 1994-1996 Ford Broncos and 1994-2002 Lincoln Navigators.

“Our customers can be confident that this action will prevent a speed control deactivation switch fire,” said Ray Nevi, assistant director of Ford’s automotive safety office. “Our investigation was complex because the root cause turned out to be a system interaction rather than a single component and we had very few confirmed incidents to analyze.”

Three pending wrongful death lawsuits against the company charge that fires started in Ford vehicles and spread to owners’ homes. In one wrongful death suit, filed in Georgia State Court on July 15, the family of a 4-year-old girl blames her death on a fire that started in the families’ F-150 and spread throughout the house. Numerous property damage lawsuits have been filed as well. Under certain conditions, a fire can break out even when the engine is off, according to the lawsuits.

Ford officials say there is no evidence of a link between the speed control problem and any fatalities.

The recall comes just nine months after Ford was forced to recall 800,000 vehicles from the 2000 model year because of concerns over engine fires.

The F-Series pickups have been one of Ford’s best-selling vehicles. Ford set an industry record for full-size pickup sales in 2004, selling more than 912,000 F-Series pickups.

Similar cruise control deactivation switches are installed on 12.2 million vehicles that have not been recalled.