NHTSA probes sticking Ford throttles

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IOL mot pic jul18 Ford Escape 2003 . Probe covers Ford Escape SUVs from 2001-2004, such as this 2003 model, as well as Mazda Tribute clones.

US Government safety regulators are investigating complaints that throttles can stick on older-model Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute SUV’s and cause them to crash.

The probe, announced on Tuesday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, affects 730 000 SUVs with V6 engines from the 2001 to 2004 model years.

The safety agency said it had received 99 complaints from owners of the SUVs alleging 13 crashes, nine injuries and one death caused by the problem. According to agency documents the throttles on the SUVs can fail to return to idle when the driver takes his foot off the accelerator pedal.

Sixty-eight of the complaints were about the Escape, and 31 involved the Tribute, an almost-identical vehicle made by Ford for Mazda.

Investigators are looking into whether the sticky throttles could have been caused by repairs made as part of a 2004 recall of the same vehicles. About 590 000 of the vehicles were recalled in December 2004 to fix an accelerator-cable defect, and the documents say the repairs could have damaged the cruise control cable.

“We will fully cooperate, as we always do, with the NHTSA.”

Ford spokeswoman Marcey Zwiebel said the company was aware of the investigation but wouldn't comment on specifics.

The Escape has been one of Ford's most popular vehicles since it went on sale in 2000, with more than 2.1 million sold. It was the top-selling small SUV in the country in three of the four years covered by the recall. It was outsold by the Honda CR-V in 2002.

The investigation is among the larger probes started by NHTSA in 2012. While many affect fewer than 100 000 vehicles, the agency this year began looking into door fires affecting 1.4 million Toyota Camry sedans and RAV4 compact SUVs. It also expanded a fuel-tank fire probe in older-model Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs to include 5.1 million vehicles.

NHTSA investigations are the first step toward a recall

However, they don't always cause cars and trucks to go back to dealerships for repairs. The investigation comes just over a week after the Centre for Auto Safety, a Washington, DC advocacy group, petitioned the NHTSA to investigate the Escape and Tribute problems.

The group also asked for a hearing to decide whether Ford and Mazda met their obligations to notify owners and fix defects in their vehicles. The NHTSA can fine automakers if it finds they didn't notify owners in a timely manner.

But the NHTSA denied the group's petition, saying it believed it could gather all the information it needed without a hearing and that a hearing could distract from its investigation. The NHTSA said it had been looking at Escape and Tribute problems since early in 2012, after the driver of a 2002 Escape was killed in a crash in Payson, Arizona, in January. - Sapa-AP

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