Ford Weaseling Out Of Full F-150 Airbag Recall

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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


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  1. Deznutjob says:

    Well maybe the exploding air bag will help put out the cruise control fire just like TNT does for an oil well fire. 🙂

  2. Mickey says:

    Well said Dez. All it is that Ford is letting out a little hot air. I guess now we see how well the media will take this just as well as Lahood pushes this.

  3. […] wonder if Ford will make the news for this. An interesting article from the TH forum. Ford Weaseling Out Of Full F-150 Airbag Recall | Tundra Headquarters I wonder if Ford will make the headlines for this one?? __________________ 07' SR5 DC 4×4, […]

  4. Justin says:

    Deznutjob: The CC recall doesn’t impact the 04+ F150’s. They discontinued using that switch in the 97-03 model F150s.

    So Ford is limiting it to the Norfolk trucks, and? Where is this any different than Toyota saying the SUA problems (pedals) were only caused by those vehicles that used a specific manufacturers pedal?

    From what I’ve seen, the reports of unintended airbag deployment from other facilities (non-Norfolk) is minuscule, and is within the automotive industries average. Sure there are reports, but practically every manufacturer has reports of unintended airbag deployment, just like they have a typical annual figure of SUA. The F150s from Norfolk, clearly exceed the industry average and is why the scope is being focused on that plants vehicles. Not trying to downplay this, as it is a huge issue, especially if it eventually covers all F150s from 04-06 (were taking over a million trucks). And personally, I don’t think, and surely hope Ford isn’t trying to cover anything up. Cause if they are, we’ve seen what just happened to Toyota. And with the way Ford has been improving lately, they don’t need this type of black eye hurting them.

    On a side note, sounds like Toyota still can’t put this recall behind them. At least it sounds to be closed now though.

  5. Jason (Admin) says:

    Justin – I don’t have any data to show how many trucks outside of Norfolk had this problem, but every news report quotes the NHTSA memo which states that Ford has this problem on trucks built at other plants.

    Personally, I think this safety problem is minor and, by itself, isn’t any more interesting than a recall to replace a label or a loose bolt or a door latch or whatever. If I owned a truck under this recall, I wouldn’t lose one minute of sleep.

    What infuriates me is that NHTSA told Ford to recall 1.5 million trucks, and Ford said they would only recall 150k.

    If Toyota did that, we’d have a congressional committee demanding to see the CEO, tearful and completely pointless testimony from a victim, so-called “expert” testimony from a safety advocate who just happened to be employed by a group of defense attorneys actively suing Toyota, and testimony from some idiot “professor” who figured out how to make a vehicles throttle act crazy by creating a system of errors that couldn’t possibly be replicated in the real world.

    Basically, we’d have a circus. Instead, we hear crickets. Typical media idiocy in action.

    Also, there’s no similarity to the pedals. NHTSA didn’t ask Toyota to replace every accelerator pedal assembly they installed – just the pedals from that specific manufacturer.

  6. Justin says:

    Jason: Personally, I wouldn’t call this Ford recall minor, nor deathly serious, but it’s a concern that needs to be addressed soon. Of course some blame goes to the owner. If the airbag light goes on, that’s a sign to take the truck in. Either it may not go off in an accident, when wanted. Or it could go off unintended like we see now. So like many said about the SUA events, sometimes it’s the owners to blame even though there is a defect.

    On the # of vehicles Ford was willing to recall, it’s similar to Toyota’s initial stance. They recalled X models because they clearly had the defect. Once the investigation fully got underway, they started adding more and more models to the recall list.

    I think this is similar to what Ford is doing now. They are confident that the Norfolk built trucks have a problem. But while other facilities have had trucks with similar symptons, the figures just don’t add up to there being a major issue with those trucks and look to be more isolated incedents. Ford can always come back later and say they goofed and yes all 04-06 F150s were impacted and recall them at that point.

    And regarding the parade in front of Congress. Toyota was dealing with many more reports, much more serious injuries and deaths that could have been attributed to SUA. And you had the CHP officer and familiess nationally televised. The media caught wind of the number of complaints, injuries and deaths and ran with it. Many of the public (myself included), made more of the ordeal than it should have been, which helped feed the media frenzy. On the other hand, Ford, has had a very small number of complaints, very minor injuries, with only a couple that were a little more serious of injuries. And these problems typically occur in people’s driveway with the vehicle still in park.

    If this issue impacted 5-6 different models like Toyota’s recall did, if there were deaths potentially attributed to this issue, I can surely see Ford getting the wrath just like Toyota did. But the scenerio and issues leading up to the recalls are much different. Ford has gone an made a document stating they save X $ because they didn’t recall vehicles. They haven’t brushed this issue to the side for years, as they’ve been working with the NHTSA on determining the scope of the recall, even if their recall figures disagree. So I think a lot has to deal with the events leading up to the recall versus the severity of the recall.

  7. Jason (Admin) says:

    Justin – Agree that the owner has responsibility – much like Toyota owners who claimed unintended acceleration should have taken responsibility for failing to shift into neutral, take key out of ignition, etc. However, our federal safety authorities don’t seem to care about common sense when it comes to vehicle safety.

    Therefore, this relatively minor problem should be treated no differently than any other issue.

    You are correct in that Toyota initially refused NHTSA’s suggestions on how to manage the sticky pedal recall. Toyota said that the problem was incredibly rare (it was) and that they would develop a fix ASAP. Ray LaHood responded by threatening to hold Toyota’s “feet to the fire” for failing to stop sales of problem vehicles on a Chicago radio show, then told American Toyota owners to “stop driving.”

    While LaHood could be forgiven for over-reacting, and I agree that there is a bit of a difference here in terms of potential risk, the fact is that Ford is giving NHTSA the finger. That’s something that no automaker should be allowed to get away with. If NHTSA says recall 1.5 million, then you recall 1.5 million. If NHTSA is wrong, that’s life.

    As I said, as a safety issue I simply don’t care about this problem. As a matter of principle, I’m very upset. NHTSA’s treatment of Toyota was significantly different than their treatment of Ford for the exact same behavior: both automakers told NHTSA “no.”

  8. ASB says:

    My side curtain airbags deployed when i shut my door of my ford. I was in the garage when it happened.

  9. Justin says:

    ASB: Interesting, since this airbag problem only impacts the bag in the steering wheel. Can you post some pics for us for verification?

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