U.S. investigating 200,000 Ford heavy trucks

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Saturday it is investigating whether Ford Motor Co.'s recall of 3,000 heavy-duty "Ambulance Package" trucks should be expanded to 200,000 vehicles and whether the fix is working properly.

NHTSA said it is investigating Ford's October 2013 recall of some 2011-2012 Ford F-350, F-450 and F-550 "Ambulance Package" vehicles equipped with 6.7L diesel "Power Stroke" engines. The recall 2,954 vehicles was to address a loss of sensing function of the exhaust gas temperature sensor located behind the diesel particulate filter in the exhaust system.

The investigation is reviewing whether Ford's 2013 recall should be expanded to about 200,000 2011-2012 Ford F-250/350/450/550 trucks with 6.7L diesel engines — and whether Ford's 2013 fix is working. The malfunction can cause vehicles to fail to restart, leaving vehicles stranded on the road.

Ford told NHTSA in 2013 that it had received at least 13 reports of shutdowns from ambulance operators. An ambulance failing to restart with a patient on board could be a serious safety issue.

Ford spokeswoman Kelli Felker said Saturday the company would cooperate in the investigation,

When the sensor malfunctions, the powertrain control module interprets a malfunction as an exhaust system overheat condition and commands a warning message with five audible chimes while the vehicle experiences a controlled power reduction mode -- for up to 45 seconds -- leading to an uncommanded engine shutdown when the vehicle speed falls below 4 mph, NHTSA said. Once the engine is shut down, there is no immediate restart capability, the agency said.

The recalled vehicles are equipped with four identical EGT sensors, any of which may experience a loss of sensing function resulting in the engine shutdown condition, Ford's recall remedy calls for replacing just the one sensor located behind the filter.

NHTSA said it has reviewed 30 complaints on 2011-2012 Ford F-250, F-350, F-450 and F-550 "Super Duty" vehicles with 6.7L diesel "Power Stroke" engines related to the loss of sensing function of the sensor and subsequent engine shutdown with no immediate restart capability. Complaints cover vehicles both outside and within the scope of the subject recall.

Some complaints allege multiple EGT sensor malfunctions, with some sensors having been replaced more than once. Some complaints say the recall fix is not long lasting or that other sensor locations subsequently malfunctioned, resulting in the shutdown. Some complainants report vehicles becoming disabled in the roadway as a result of the problem.

A complaint filed in February 2014 said the owner of a 2012 F-250 was driving and the warning light came on to slow down and pull over. "I had no chance to do this as the computer put the vehicle in 'limp mode.' An 18 wheeler narrowly missed hitting my truck as we moved to the shoulder and the engine died. The truck would not start for about 45 minutes," said the owner. "The real issue is Ford has designed a computer system that stops the vehicle no matter where you are to save the engine and/or the emissions system. In doing so, the lives of the driver and passengers are put at risk."

Another owner complained in October to NHTSA that because of the flood of problems, the sensors are on national back order. One ambulance owner complained in March 2014 that a new ambulance had to be sent when one failed to restart —"and delayed care to the patient."

Another 2012 F-250 owner said in a September complaint to NHTSA that he often travels to national parks with his family where there is no shoulder, no cellular service and no nearby dealerships. After he sent an email to Ford raising concerns, he said he was told "that they do not keep records on these type of problems after the 50,000 (mile) warranty has expired," he wrote.

In an April 2014 complaint, the owner of a 2011 F-350 diesel truck said the sensor failed when he was driving in California in the desert at 70 miles per hour. "The truck shut down for no reason that I could see. I had a horse trailer with five horses on board and the temperature outside was 109 degrees," he wrote. It was under warranty and "Ford took four hours to come and rescue us." The owner said the problem put his family, children and horses' lives at risk.

Ford said in a report to NHTSA that as of June 30, that 2,317 of the vehicles recalled in 2013 had been repaired.