Ford Explorer Under U.S. Review on Exhaust-Leak Complaints

Jun 20, 2014 1:50 pm ET

(Updates with lawsuit information from second paragraph.)

June 20 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. auto-safety regulators are looking into complaints that exhaust fumes, which can contain potentially lethal carbon monoxide, may build up inside Ford Motor Co. sport-utility vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration action on model year 2011-2014 Explorers follows reports filed by SUV owners and a lawsuit that contends Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford “knew or should have known” that hundreds of thousands of its vehicles are dangerous.

NHTSA is aware of complaints that “owners are experiencing exhaust fumes or strange odors in the cabin,” spokeswoman Karen Aldana said today in an e-mailed statement. “The agency is reviewing all available data and will take appropriate action as warranted.”

The NHTSA website shows at least 15 complaints about exhaust smell in the cabin when hitting high gear in vehicles for those model years.

The agency stopped short of calling its effort a defect investigation, and no formal probe is listed on its website.

Carbon monoxide can enter the passenger compartment at potentially fatal levels in the affected vehicles, according to the lawsuit filed by a Florida woman, Angela Knutson, in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

The lawsuit alleges that Knutson and her 5-year-old daughter have suffered headaches from driving their Explorer, and several attempts to fix the SUV, including a repair outlined in a 2012 bulletin to dealers, haven’t worked.

Ford doesn’t comment on pending litigation, spokeswoman Kristina Adamski said in an e-mail. The company is confident in its ability to identify and address potential safety issues, she said. Its decisions are driven by data, and when a recall is warranted, Ford moves quickly, she said.

“We’re currently reviewing the case and in the event that any action is required, we will address it promptly,” Adamski said.