Ex­haust odors probed in Ford po­lice SUVs

Reg­u­la­tors are look­ing into car­bon monox­ide in Ex­plor­ers. Au­tomaker says al­ter­ations may be to blame.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By James F. Peltz and Charles Flem­ing

Ford Mo­tor Co. and fed­eral reg­u­la­tors are in­ves­ti­gat­ing con­cerns raised by po­lice de­part­ments around the coun­try about ex­ces­sive car­bon-monox­ide lev­els and ex­haust odors in their po­lice Ford Ex­plor­ers, caus­ing of­fi­cers to fall ill.

The Po­lice Depart­ment in Austin, Texas, said it pulled nearly 400 Ford Ex­plor­ers from its fleet af­ter find­ing that 20 of­fi­cers tested pos­i­tive for el­e­vated lev­els of car­bon monox­ide, in­clud­ing one who briefly blacked out be­hind the steer­ing wheel.

And in Auburn, Mass., the Po­lice Depart­ment said three of its of­fi­cers had been sent to the hos­pi­tal for “high car­bon-monox­ide lev­els” and that one of­fi­cer was in a mi­nor crash as a re­sult.

Ford said the prob­lem might in­volve po­lice-re­lated al­ter­ations made to the ve­hi­cles af­ter they leave the as­sem­bly plant, which can leave holes and un­sealed spa­ces. Mod­i­fi­ca­tions to po­lice cars can be made in-house or by third-party ven­dors.

The au­tomaker said it does not be­lieve the prob­lem ex­tends to non-po­lice ver­sions of the pop­u­lar sport util-

ity ve­hi­cle. In the U.S. last year, Ford sold 216,294 Ex­plor­ers and 32,213 ver­sions mod­i­fied for po­lice use, known as Po­lice In­ter­cep­tor Util­ity ve­hi­cles. To­gether, they ac­counted for 9.5% of the com­pany’s to­tal U.S. sales.

“Driv­ers of reg­u­lar, non­po­lice Ford Ex­plor­ers have no rea­son to be con­cerned,” Ford said. “We have not found el­e­vated lev­els of car­bon monox­ide in non-po­lice Ford Ex­plor­ers.”

But the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion said the com­plaints have ex­tended to reg­u­lar con­sumers. The agency said it had re­ceived re­ports of three crashes and symp­toms such as loss of con­scious­ness, nau­sea, headaches or light­head­ed­ness.

The agency said it was prob­ing the mat­ter on model year 2011-2017 Ford Ex­plor­ers — both po­lice and non-po­lice ver­sions — “to de­ter­mine if this is­sue is re­lated to a po­ten­tial safety de­fect.”

NHTSA said the prob­lem with the po­lice ver­sion might be cracks in the ex­haust man­i­fold that “may ex­plain the ex­haust odor.” The man­i­fold col­lects ex­haust gas from the en­gine and de­liv­ers it to the ex­haust pipe.

But the agency said that so far, “no sub­stan­tive data or ac­tual ev­i­dence ... has been ob­tained sup­port­ing a claim that any of the al­leged in­jury or crash al­le­ga­tions were the re­sult of car­bon­monox­ide poi­son­ing, the al­leged haz­ard.”

Ford said it would in­ves­ti­gate all the re­ports, “in­clud­ing the ex­haust-man­i­fold is­sue” cited by NHTSA.

Ford also said it would pay the costs of re­pairs “in ev­ery Po­lice In­ter­cep­tor Util­ity that may have car­bon-monox­ide con­cerns, re­gard­less of mod­i­fi­ca­tions made af­ter leav­ing Ford's fac­tory.”

The au­tomaker noted that when a po­lice depart­ment in­stalls emer­gency light­ing, ra­dios and other equip­ment, “they have to drill wiring-ac­cess holes into the rear of the ve­hi­cle. If the holes are not prop­erly sealed, it cre­ates an open­ing where ex­haust could en­ter the cabin.”

There are about 126,000 Po­lice In­ter­cep­tor Util­ity ve­hi­cles used through­out U.S. law en­force­ment, in­clud­ing the Los An­ge­les Po­lice Depart­ment and the Cal­i­for­nia High­way Pa­trol.

No LAPD of­fi­cers have re­ported car­bon-monox­ide is­sues and none of the depart­ment’s fleet of 1,003 Ex­plor­ers has ex­pe­ri­enced toxic gases leak­ing into the ve­hi­cles’ cab­ins through holes in the trunk, said Var­tan Yegiyan, as­sis­tant com­mand­ing of­fi­cer of the LAPD’s Ad­min­is­tra­tive Ser­vices Bu­reau.

The depart­ment did have about 60 to 65 Ex­plor­ers that re­quired re­place­ment of the ex­haust man­i­folds, although the is­sue did not re­sult in fumes in the ve­hi­cles’ cab­ins, he said.

The cars have all been re­paired and re­turned to ser­vice with as­sis­tance from Ford engi­neers, Yegiyan said.

The CHP, with 1,700 Ex­plor­ers in its fleet, said that “oc­ca­sion­ally com­plaints arise” and that the CHP “ad­dresses them on a case-by­case ba­sis.” But the CHP said it had not in­stalled so­called CO meters, which mea­sure car­bon-monox­ide lev­els in the air, on its stan­dard pa­trol ve­hi­cles.

Po­lice in Manch­ester, N.H., and some de­part­ments in Rhode Is­land and Mas­sachusetts have in­stalled CO meters in their pa­trol Ex­plor­ers un­til the is­sue is re­solved.

“We would urge other de­part­ments to have their cruis­ers tested and/or pur­chase de­tec­tors to en­sure ev­ery­one’s safety,” Auburn po­lice said on Face­book.

The Ex­plorer and other SUVs con­tinue to be a bright spot in what has oth­er­wise been a tough sales year for Ford. Ex­plorer sales in July to­taled 18,763, up 12.9% from the same month last year. The fig­ures do not in­clude po­lice fleet sales.

Ford said that if any driver of an Ex­plorer no­tices an ex­haust odor, cus­tomers should take it to a Ford dealer or call 888-260-5575.

NHTSA also said any Ex­plorer owner con­cerned about a safety is­sue can call 888-327-4236 or sub­mit a com­plaint at NHTSA.gov.

‘We have not found el­e­vated lev­els of car­bon monox­ide in non-po­lice Ford Ex­plor­ers.’ — Ford Mo­tor Co.

Jay Janner As­so­ci­ated Press

THE PO­LICE DEPART­MENT in Austin, Texas, said it pulled nearly 400 Ford Ex­plor­ers from its f leet af­ter find­ing that 20 of­fi­cers had el­e­vated lev­els of car­bon monox­ide, in­clud­ing one who briefly blacked out.

Ri­cardo B. Brazziell As­so­ci­ated Press

AUSTIN PO­LICE Chief Brian Man­ley speaks Fri­day about tak­ing the depart­ment’s Ex­plor­ers off the streets over safety con­cerns.

Chris­tine Hochkep­pel AP

THE AUBURN, MASS., Po­lice Depart­ment said three of­fi­cers had been sent to the hos­pi­tal for “high car­bon-monox­ide lev­els.” Above, Deputy Fire Chief Glenn John­son, right, and Po­lice Chief An­drew Sluckis.

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