Last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it was commencing what is known as an “engineering analysis” of Ford Explorers. This marks an intensification of the already-ongoing investigation into 2,700 reports of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning occurring in Ford Explorers. The inquiry also includes three crashes allegedly linked to CO leaks and now extends to over 1.3 million vehicles nationwide. That’s a significant increase, as there were only 638,000 SUVs when the investigation began last year.
Many of the complaints include allegations that the cabin sometimes smells like exhaust. Additionally, there have been cases of people suffering from head-aches, nausea and black outs. In Austin, Texas, several police officers have suffered from light-headedness and other more severe symptoms associated with CO poisoning, leading the City’s Police Department to take its entire fleet of SUVs off the street.
An engineering analysis is the final step before the NHTSA can order a recall on automobiles. According to a statement, the agency “is actively working with law enforcement agencies that use these vehicles to determine if this issue is related to a potential safety defect.” Additionally, the NHTSA has indicated that there is no conclusive evidence to suggest the reported incidents were caused by a carbon monoxide leak. Additionally, though carbon monoxide has been detected in small amounts, “the significance and effect of those levels remains under evaluation.” The agency indicated that, in some cases, the exhaust system can crack, which could explain why some people (namely police officers) have been smelling fumes. The Police SUVs may be specifically prone to the CO issue due to routine alterations made to the Ford Explorers when they are converted into police vehicles.
Austin Police Force
It wasn’t very long after the NHTSA announced its expansion of the CO investigation that the Austin police force decided to remove every single Ford Explorer from active duty. The decision came after several incidents of police officers passing out behind the wheel and after installing CO detectors in each of the 439 vehicles. Captain James Thibodeaux described one near-death experience of one of his officers: “When she was treated at the hospital, we requested testing for carbon monoxide, which is a special test, and her levels came out near lethal,” he told CBS News.
In a statement, Ford said, though it did not think the vehicle was inherently defective, the company “will cover the costs of specific repairs in every Police Interceptor Utility that may have carbon monoxide concerns.”
Austin is just one of a handful of police departments around the country suffering from this problem. The issue became widely known in 2014 when Officer Brian McDowell of the Newport Police crashed into a tree after passing out while driving. Chicago has faced similar obstacles.
It is possible that the CO leaks occur primarily in situations where the car has been idling for long periods of time and the air conditioning has been set to recirculation mode. Police officers often find themselves in such situations, which would explain why the issue seems to be found primarily in police cruisers. As mentioned, the tendency for the exhaust manifold to crack could lead to a CO leak under the conditions just described.
Why Not Go Electric?
It has been suggested by some that these alleged cases of CO poisoning are yet another reason to push for the eventual replacement of fossil fuel vehicles with their electric counterparts. In a post on CleanTechnica.com, James Ayres argued that with electric vehicles you simply wouldn’t have this problem. It wouldn’t even be a possibility. For now, we hope the NHTSA gets to the bottom of the issue before it becomes more serious.