Federal regulators are investigating a possible defect in Ford Explorers following scores of complaints about exhaust and carbon monoxide pouring into the passenger compartments of the SUVs.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it had received 154 complaints from owners of 2011 to 2015 Explorers.
According to the agency, the owners said the problem occurs when the vehicle is running at full throttle, such as while climbing hills or using the air conditioning system in recirculation mode.
Along with noxious fumes in the cabin, owners have reported cases of vomiting and nausea, often involving children and pets seated in the back, where the exhaust enters the vehicle. The exhaust leak was also blamed for one low-speed crash, the NHTSA said, although no injuries were reported.
Federal officials did not say how many Explorers would be covered by the investigation, although hundreds of thousands have been sold in recent years. The NHTSA opens an investigation to determine whether there is a safety defect and a need for a recall.
The agency has been aware of the issue since at least 2014, and the number of complaints has increased more than sixfold since then. Ford has issued two bulletins to dealers on how to fix the leaks, but owners report little or no improvement.
“We will cooperate with NHTSA on this investigation as we always do,” a Ford spokeswoman said.
Among the complaints filed with NHTSA, one last September by a Kansas City resident, who did not give a name, described exhaust wafting into the passenger compartment when the engine “accelerated to 3,500 RPM or above.”
“The problem was really evident on a recent driving vacation from Kansas City to Seattle WA.,” the complaint said. “We went through several mountainous states and it was terrible, the car was constantly accelerating above 3500 RPM to maintain speed on uphill grades, the car constantly reeked of exhaust. We had to roll the windows down to keep it aired out.’’
Ford also faces a growing number of lawsuits over the issue, including a class action on behalf of 45,000 Explorer owners and operators in Florida that is scheduled for trial Aug. 8 in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale. The lawsuit seeks damages for loss of value of the vehicles due to the alleged defect, potentially amounting to tens of millions of dollars.
Ford has denied that the vehicles are defective and says carbon monoxide levels, if any, are too low to endanger health.
This story was reported by FairWarning (www.fairwarning.org), a nonprofit news organization based in Pasadena, Calif., that focuses on public health, safety and environmental issues.