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Ford recalling 3.8 million vehicles

Trucks and SUVs recalled for switch that could cause fires. Also, Toyota recalls nearly a million.

September 9, 2005; Posted: 3:53 p.m. EDT (1953 GMT)

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NEW YORK (CNN) - In one of the largest recalls in the history of the auto industry, Ford Motor Co. said Wednesday it is recalling approximately 3.8 million pickup trucks and SUVs for a cruise control switch that has caused engine fires, even with the vehicle parked and the engine off.

Toyota is recalling nearly a million of its pick-ups and 4Runner SUVs to fix a potential steering problem.

The recall includes 1994-2002 model-years of F-150 pickup truck, Ford Expedition, Lincoln Navigator and Ford Broncos.

Ford had already recalled more than 1 million year 2000 vehicles in two separate recalls to replace the cruise control switch.

CNN launched an investigation into the fires earlier this year after receiving complaints from numerous Ford owners who said their vehicles caught fire when their engines were off and the keys weren't in the ignition. And in March, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an expanded investigation into the 3.8 million vehicles, after receiving 660 complaints of spontaneous fires.

Now, NHTSA says it has received a total of 1,170 allegations of fires related to the cruise control deactivation switch.

The switch, which costs about $20, shuts off the cruise control when the driver firmly steps on the brakes. The switch is located under the hood of the vehicle and is attached to the brake master cylinder on one end and wired to the cruise control on the other.

On most of its models, Ford designed the switch to be powered -- or "hot" -- at all times, even when the vehicle is off. Inside the switch, a thin film barrier separates brake fluid from the switch's electrical components.

Investigators say fires can occur when the film cracks and brake fluid from the master cylinder seeps into the electrical side of the switch, corroding it. In its statement Wednesday, Ford said its investigation found that to be true.

"In rare cases, the corrosion in the electrical components can lead to increasing resistance and higher electrical current flow through the system," the company said. "Together, these conditions could lead to overheating and, possibly, a fire at the switch. This system interaction is the result of the close proximity and orientation of the speed control components in the recalled vehicles."

Ford said to fix the problem it will install a "fused wiring harness between the speed control deactivation switch and the speed control mechanism of the affected vehicles."

"This will act as a circuit breaker, eliminating the electrical current to the switch in the rare event of increased current flow through the switch," the company said.

Ray Nevi, the assistant director at Ford, said, "Our customers can be confident that this action will prevent a speed control deactivation switch fire."

He added, "Our investigation was complex because the root cause turned out to be a system interaction rather than a single component and we had very few confirmed incidents to analyze. Despite this complexity, our solution effectively addresses the cause."

The company said that until the replacement parts are available, customers driving the vehicles in question "are instructed to take their vehicles to a Ford or Lincoln Mercury dealership to have the speed control deactivated."

Ford said it would be notifiying owners by mail. More information is available on the Web at www.genuineservice.com, or via a hotline at Ford's Customer Relationship Center at 1-888-222-2751.

Also, Toyota announced Tuesday that it will issue a voluntary "Special Service Campaign" for 978,000 vehicles. The campaign involves certain power-steering equipped 1989-1996 4Runner SUVs, compact pick-ups and T-100 pick-ups.

In these vehicles, a crack can develop in the steering relay rod if the steering wheel is turned repeatedly under conditions requiring extreme force, such as when the vehicle is stopped. In the worst possible case, the company said, the rod may fracture causing a loss of steering control.

Owners of these vehicles will be notified by mail, Toyota said, beginning in mid-September. Customers with questions are directed to contact Toyota customer service at 800-331-4331.

NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson said the Ford recall is the fifth largest auto recall in the nation's history. The four other top recalls of cars:

-- In 1996, Ford recalled 7.9 million vehicles for faulty ignitions

-- In 1971, GM recalled 6.7 million vehicles for engine failure

-- In 1981, GM recalled 5.8 million vehicles for a rear axle problem

-- In 1972, Ford recalled 4.1 million vehicles for a shoulder-belt problem

Related stories:

Ford document: Millions of vehicles have fire risk part

Woman's 911 call: 'My garage is on fire!

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