Ford Weaseling Out Of Full F-150 Airbag Recall
A little more than a year ago I noted that Ford F150’s had a mysterious exploding airbag problem, reporting that NHTSA was investigating F150 airbag complaints. In that article I predicted that Ford would likely need to recall some trucks, as their own internal documents indicated airbags were spontaneously exploding due to an electrical short. From Jan, 2010:
In light of Toyota’s recent recall problems, Ford would be wise to get ahead of this thing as quickly as possible…The F150 is Ford’s most popular vehicle, and they can ill-afford to have consumers question the truck’s safety… Hopefully, Ford will manage this issue better than Toyota
Today Ford announced that they would be recalling F-150s to fix this problem, but reportedly Ford will only recall 150,000 trucks rather than the approximate 1.5 million that NHTSA has requested. Ford argues that the only trucks effected by this airbag problem were built at the Norfolk, VA plant, yet NHTSA investigators have found evidence of spontaneously exploding airbags on F150s made at other plants (link).
In March of 2010, Toyota came under heavy fire when records showed that Toyota executives attempted to “negotiate” their way out of a NHTSA floormat recall to save money. Today, Ford seems to be doing something similar: Rather than replacing airbag assemblies on 1.5 million trucks as suggested by NHTSA, Ford is only going to replace 10% of the assemblies.
Evidently, 90% of 2004-2006 F150 owners who may be driving around with a spontaneously exploding airbag aren’t important to Ford.
Ford Negotiating Size and Scope of Airbag Recall?
Considering Toyota’s tremendous publicity fiasco of 2010 – from their slow response to recall concerns to the evidence of “negotiated” recalls – it’s hard to believe Ford would attempt to limit the size and scope of a safety recall. However, Ford seems to believe that they can get away with something that Toyota was (rightly) lambasted for not even 6 months ago. Consider the following:
- NHTSA requested that Ford recall 1.5 million vehicles
- Ford feels that Norfolk-built trucks were the only problem units, so they have only recalled those units
- NHTSA has recorded complaints of spontaneously exploding airbags in F-150s that were not built at the Norfolk plant
- Ford changed their airbag system design in 2006, and F150s made after that date do not have this problem
It will be interesting to see how NHTSA responds to Ford’s decision to limit the size and scope of their recall. If NHTSA determines that Ford’s recall wasn’t large enough, they will call for a public hearing. If the result of that hearing is to mandate a larger recall, will there be a fine? NHTSA fined Toyota just shy of $50 million dollars in 2010 for “being slow to respond to safety concerns” – is there a fine involved when an automaker flat-out refuses to conduct a recall?
Why Ford Is Recalling The F-150
According to NHTSA complaints, 2004-2006 F-150 driver airbags have been known to detonate as soon as a key is inserted into the ignition. Mostly minor injuries have been reported – burns and scrapes, with a few chipped teeth and fractured hands, arms, wrists, etc – and evidently these injuries aren’t significant to Ford. According to KVVU News, Ford execs tried to “negotiate away” this recall:
In May, Ford told the government that the problems didn’t “present an unreasonable risk to vehicle safety” because there was a low rate of alleged injuries and the air bag warning lamp provided an “obvious warning” to drivers….Richard Boyd, NHTSA’s acting director of defect investigations, wrote in a Nov. 24 memo that…Ford did not believe the issue “warrants any corrective action” because the number of reports and incidents were low, owners received “adequate warning” from the air bag warning light and the “resulting injuries are minor in nature.” The government said Ford should conduct a recall “to remedy this defective condition.”
Ford executives seem to have taken the position that F-150 owners should have had enough common sense to get their airbag fixed when the airbag light came on…but that seems a little flippant. What if you were heading to the dealership to get the airbag fixed when it suddenly deployed? What if you couldn’t afford the repair? The airbag’s failure mode should be spontaneous detonation, should it?
Also, since when did common sense matter in a safety recall? Fears of unintended acceleration in Toyota products led to a series of massive recalls, despite evidence that the problem was both uncommon and easily responded to by removing the ignition key, shifting into netural, etc.
It says here that Ford will be expanding the F150 recall very soon. It also says that Ford executives should be lambasted for trying to weasel out of a safety issue – just like Toyota’s execs were lambasted before congress about this same time last year.
Filed Under: Auto News