By Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY
What began as an investigation into a possible sticky throttle problem in 2001 to 2004 model-year Ford Escapes has now gone to a worldwide recall. Nearly 485,000 vehicles are involved.
The action covers the Escape SUV in the U.S. and the same model in Europe, which is called the Maverick. The recall applies only to models powered by the 3-liter V-6 engine with cruise control.
Ford says in those older Escape SUVs, the cruise-control cables can snag on the plastic cover on top of the engine. If that happens, the throttle can stick wide open. It will be fixed with a fastener to provide more clearance for the cable.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received 68 complaints about the problem, including 13 crashes, nine injuries and one death. It opened an investigation into the issue on July 18, and today's recall is a voluntary action by Ford. The Associated Press report says the death involved a teenage girl who died when an Escape crashed in Arizona in January.
One safety advocate says Ford's remedy doesn't go far enough:
"Ford's Escape recall announcement today continues its coverup of a defective cruise control cable it has known about since 2005," says Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety in Washington, D.C. "Rather than replace the defective cruise control cable, Ford uses a cheap fastener to raise the engine cover to try to provide enough clearance so the cable doesn't jam."
Ditlow says NHTSA should reject Ford's fix, require replacement of the cruise control cables and that the automaker should face the maximum fine for not addressing an issue they've known about for years.
Escapes have been on a recall binge. The latest version, the 2013 Escape, was recalled last week for fuel lines that can leak in the 1.6-liter engine version, possibly causing fires. There was also a recall to fix carpet padding that could make it harder to hit the brakes. Ford officials say the old Escapes don't have much in common with the latest version, except the name.