The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is expanding a probe into 1.33 million Ford Explorers from the 2011-17 model years over mounting reports of exhaust odors inside the cabin. The announcement of an Engineering Analysis (EA) comes on the heels of a large number of reports of carbon monoxide exposure by owners, with more than 2,700 complaints now registered for the issue since the automaker and the NHTSA became aware of it.
The issue of exhaust fume leakage into the cabin may be linked to three crashes and 41 injuries, the NHTSA noted.
"The alleged injuries, as affirmatively indicated on the VOQ reports, range from unspecified to loss of consciousness, with the majority indicating nausea, headaches or light headedness," the NHTSA stated. "One police incident alleged a crash with related injuries, and a second police incident reported a physiological injury allegedly from carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. Another reported police incident resulted in a rollover crash event with injuries."
However, NHTSA has not definitively linked injury reports to carbon monoxide poisoning.
"To date, no substantive data or actual evidence (such as a carboxyhemoglobin measurement) has been obtained supporting a claim that any of the alleged injury or crash allegations were the result of carbon monoxide poisoning, the alleged hazard," the NHTSA said.
Despite the lack of conclusive and documented linkage between injury reports and carbon monoxide poisoning, the NHTSA notes that carbon monoxide levels "may be elevated in certain driving scenarios."
The upgrade of the probe to an EA follows a total of four technical service bulletins issued since 2016, with exhaust manifold cracks believed to be the cause of the problem at least in a portion of the complaints. Initially, the probe focused on some 638,000 Explorers.
Last week Ford indicated that the issue is believed to be largely confined to Explorer Police Interceptor vehicles, almost all of which have holes drilled through various parts of the SUV for equipment mounts, pointing to possible points of intrusion for exhaust fumes. The automaker said that it will cover the costs of repairs in allPolice Interceptor Explorers regardless of modifications made.
"Ford’s investigation into this issue is ongoing. However, the company has discovered holes and unsealed spaces in the back of some Police Interceptor Utilities that had police equipment installed after leaving Ford’s factory," the automaker said in a statement.
The NHTSA said it is working with at least one police department to monitor carbon monoxide levels in police-spec Explorers, but a recall for the vehicles has not been issued. The probe is currently at the EA level, the step prior to a recall.
If you suspect that your vehicle may have this issue, you can contact NHTSA at safercar.gov to file a complaint.