Fires associated with Ford’s Kapton-based cruise control deactivation switch have been reported for years, but the scope and exact causes of these fires are still unknown. The timeline below outlines the extent of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s investigation into the problem.
October 27, 1998: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opens a preliminary investigation to investigate 21 cases of underhood fires from “electrical overheating of the speed control deactivation switch” in model year 1992-1993 Lincoln Town Cars.
March 11, 1999: The investigation is expanded to include model year 1992-1993 Lincoln Town Cars, Crown Victorias, and Grand Marquises. Over the course of the investigation, there are 92 additional reports of fires.
May 18, 1999: Ford announces the recall of approximately 279,000 model year 1992-1993 Lincoln Town Car, Crown Victoria, and Grand Marquis sedans with defective cruise control deactivation switches that may result in fires.
May 19, 1999: NHTSA closes the investigation in response to Ford’s recall, but continues to monitor vehicles with the same or similar switch.
September 20, 2001: NHTSA endeavors to determine if the scope of the May 1999 recall was adequate by opening another investigation. This action is prompted by 15 reports of fires in model year 1992-1994 Town Car, Crown Victoria, and Grand Marquis sedans.
Sept. 6, 2002: This investigation is expanded based on 47 reports of fires “in vehicles that were not included in Ford’s recall.”
Jun. 30, 2004: NHTSA closes this inquiry, which examines a total of 260 cases of fires involving the Kapton-based cruise control deactivation switches. At this time, NHTSA says the low rate of fires (2.5 vehicles per 100,000 vehicles sold) and the age of the vehicles (7 to 11 years) suggest that “a safety-related defect trend has not been identified.” They add that “further use of agency resources does not appear to be warranted [and that] the closing of this investigation does not constitute a finding by NHTSA that no safety-related defect exists.”
Nov. 19, 2004: NHTSA opens another preliminary investigation into cruise control deactivation switch failures and related fires in model year 2000 Ford F-150s, Ford Expeditions, and Lincoln Navigators.
Jan. 27, 2005: Ford recalls approximately 792,000 model year 2000 F-150s, Expeditions, and Navigators and model year 2001 F-series Supercrew trucks.
Mar. 22, 2005: NHTSA’s investigation is upgraded and expanded to examine model year 1995-1999 & 2001-2002 Ford F-150 trucks and model year 1997-1999 & 2001-2002 Ford Expeditions and Lincoln Navigator SUVs. There are allegations of 218 switch fires.
May 2, 2005: A fire engulfs the garage and home of Earl and Darletta Mohlis in Westgate, Iowa. Mrs. Mohlis, 74, dies, and a month later Mr. Mohlis and their adult children, with the legal counsel of Houston attorney Rob Ammons, allege that a problem with their Ford F-150 sparked the blaze in a lawsuit against Ford.
Aug. 26, 2005: Ralph Nader writes an open letter to NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey Runge calling the vehicles “automotive time-bombs” and urging NHTSA “to issue a consumer advisory detailing the life-threatening hazards of certain Ford model trucks which are prone to speed control deactivation switch failure and related engine compartment fires.”
Sept. 7, 2005: Ford expands their January recall of trucks and SUVs to include approximately 3.8 million additional vehicles: model year 1994-2002 Ford F-150s, 1997-2002 Ford Expeditions, 1998-2002 Lincoln Navigators, and 1994-1996 Ford Broncos. Their stated reason? “To correct a systems interaction that could cause the speed control deactivation switch to overheat and lead to an underhood fire.”
Sept. 7, 2005: Ralph Nader publishes a statement saying, “Ford Motor Company’s sluggish and piecemeal approach to its automotive responsibilities betrays motorists’ safety. If this part has now been recalled on three separate occasions, why isn’t it simply removed from the fleet? Ford’s action today once again corroborates the deadly hazard this cruise control switch poses to life and property—and unfortunately it leaves open the potential for more life-threatening vehicle fires.”
Sept. 7, 2005: Ralph Nader writes an open letter to Ford CEO William Ford Clay, Jr., chastising Ford for not learning from their numerous engineering mistakes that lead to vehicle fires. He states, “As acknowledged by your company, millions of vehicles with these switches are on the road. How much longer will you allow this $20 part to imperil the public?”
January 2006: NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson says dozens of engineering and environmental variables are being examined in the ongoing investigation. He adds, “We really do need to understand the root cause of failure, and we aren’t there yet.”