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Washington — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is reviewing Ford Motor Co.’s 2014 recall of 740,000 SUVs to determine if the Dearborn automaker’s software upgrade fix is adequate.

In May 2014, Ford recalled 740,878 2008-11 Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner SUVs to address reports of sudden loss of power-steering assist.

Ford said the problem was the result of “a poor signal-to-noise ratio in the torque sensor” within the electric power steering system. When the system detects the problem, it shifts to the fail-safe/manual steering mode. Ford said that would require higher steering effort at lower vehicle speeds, which may result in an increased risk of a crash.

In February, NHTSA received a petition to determine if Ford met its obligations under the 2014 recall from the owner of a vehicle that experienced a torque-sensor failure after receiving the fix. The petition alleges that the Ford software update does not adequately remedy the safety defect and that the software update itself may in fact cause further issues with the power steering, causing it to fail, and ultimately requiring replacement of the sensor or entire steering column.

NHTSA said it will review the petition and decide whether to launch a formal investigation. Ford said it is cooperating.

The automaker said it has repaired 443,198 of the recalled vehicles through Dec. 31, with 24,400 owners being unreachable.

Ford’s remedy instructs dealers to check the power-steering control module for diagnostic trouble codes, to determine the proper repair procedure. If no trouble codes are present, dealers will update the software.

Last week, NHTSA said it is reviewing a separate petition into 517,945 2003-05 Ford Crown Victoria and Mercury Grand Marquis cars for lighting problems.

The North Carolina Consumers Council has asked for a defect investigation for headlight and exterior lighting failure on 2003-05 Ford Crown Victoria and Mercury Grand Marquis vehicles. The petition says a defect in the lighting control module that powers the headlights can result in the loss of vehicle headlights and all exterior lighting while driving.

NHTSA investigated the issue in 2008 without demanding a recall.

The petitioner notes that Ford recently extended the vehicle warranty for this part to 15 years or 250,000 miles. The petition also says that service replacement parts were not readily available for warranty repairs at the time of the petition submission.

dshepardson@detroitnews.com

Pedal probe

Federal safety regulators are upgrading an investigation into 360,000 Nissans over allegations a plastic piece has interfered with drivers’ ability to release the accelerator pedal.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is upgrading an investigation opened last year into the 2013-15 Nissan Versa, Versa Sedan and Versa Note over allegations that the plastic tunnel carpet cover trim panel has interfered with the driver’s ability to promptly release the accelerator pedal.

NHTSA said it has reviewed 24 complaints, including one alleging the issue led to a crash and minor injuries. The crash complaint said the owner of a 2014 Versa with 70,000 miles in July 2014 was driving 45 miles per hour when her foot got stuck, causing her to crash into another vehicle.

Some owners with large feet said they had the problem more often. One owner was wearing work boots. As he attempted to accelerate from a stop light to make a left turn, he couldn’t remove his foot from the gas pedal: “I used my right hand to grab my leg and pulled harder, immediately braking hard, then backing my foot off the brake as I squealed and skidded around the corner.”

NHTSA’s upgrade to an engineering analysis is a necessary step before the agency can formally demand an automaker recall vehicles.

David Shepardson

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