The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has expanded its probe into complaints of unintended acceleration in some Ford and Mercury vehicles that may or may not have been caused by loose or improperly installed floor mats.
Loose floor mats may jam accelerator
No recalls have yet been announced, but the investigation has been upgraded to an “engineering analysis.” That is the safety regulator’s most serious investigative grade, and is often the precursor to a recall campaign. The probe began in May 2010, targeting only the 2010 Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan. Now, the investigation has been expanded to include all Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKZ sedans from the model years 2008 through 2010. That is an estimated 480,000 cars.
The effort echoes a probe of some Toyota and Lexus models that led to a series of recalls, eventually covering more than 10 million vehicles. Toyota also faced many lawsuits over the matter and was forced to pay nearly $50 million in fines for safety violations.
Ford is ‘disappointed’
Ford, understandably concerned, says it is “disappointed” in the upgrade, since the problem may well be the result of owner error when replacing mats, or when using after market mats.
According to the NHTSA filing, “The accelerator pedal may fail to return to idle due to interference created by unsecured or double stacked floor mats in the driver’s foot-well.”
Ford said, in a statement, “As NHTSA indicated, their investigation focuses on unsecured or improperly installed Ford or aftermarket floor mats. Ford is not aware of any reports of pedal interference with properly secured floor mats.”
But the automaker added that it will cooperate fully with regulators in the investigation.
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According to the NHTSA, Ford changed the design of its vehicle pedals in 2010. It is looking into one possibility that a “heel blocker in the floor pan” of earlier models may have caused loose floor mats to bunch up and jam the gas pedal.
Floor mat or internal flaw?
Some of the 52 consumer complaints the agency has reviewed say the floor mat may well have caused the vehicles to accelerate against the driver’s will. Others, however, say the problem is in the vehicle itself.
One owner took a 2009 Fusion to the dealership following an unintended acceleration incident. The dealership said that the loose floor mat was the culprit. But the owner countered that the dealership’s service department removed the mats from the retaining hooks during its inspection.
“In my heart, I firmly believe that the car is not safe,” the driver told the NHTSA. “It was not the floor mats that caused the problem, it was that something malfunctioned and the gas pedal locked to the floor.”
The NHTSA has not given any time frame for its investigation, but, according to Autoblog, “This sounds like the kind of thing that could take a while to sort out.” Should the effort lead to a recall, owners will be asked to take their vehicle to a Ford dealership, such as Courtesy Cars, Brooklyn, CT, for a free fix.