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For the past two years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been investigating a potential issue with police and civilian Ford Explorers, model years 2011 through 2017. They’ve been following up on reports of exhaust fumes inside the vehicles, but so far have not come to a conclusion.

Now, the Center for Auto Safety is asking Ford to recall about 1.35 million Explorer SUVs because of a potential exhaust and carbon monoxide problem. So far, Ford has responded only by offering consumers free repairs. They have taken no additional action on the issue.

Police Officer Passes Out While Behind the Wheel; Blames Fumes

The NHTSA first started investigating this issue back in July 2016, after they found 154 customer complaints about exhaust in model year 2011 through 2015 Ford Explorers. In February 2017, CBS News reported a total of 450 complaints, including some on 2016-2017 Explorers.

The fumes can be toxic. Newport Beach police officer Brian McDowell was driving a 2014 Ford Explorer when he passed out behind the wheel and crashed into a tree. He suffered numerous injuries, including a dislocated shoulder, fractured eye socket and traumatic brain injury. Medical tests showed no reason for the blackout. Then McDowell learned that other drivers had reported leaking exhaust in their Explorers, and he filed a lawsuit against Ford.

Car exhaust contains carbon monoxide and thus can be very dangerous for vehicle occupants. Based on consumer complaints, the problem is most likely to occur when the air conditioning is on and the vehicle is accelerating. McDowell now believes that the fumes, which are believed to be leaking through unsealed seams in the back of the vehicle, led to him passing out.

Ford Agrees to Free Repairs, but Says Explorers are Safe

In August 2017, CBS News reported that the number of complaints related to this issue had grown to more than 2,700. At that point, NTHSA expanded their investigation to include model years 2016-2017. Several city police departments, including those in Auburn, Massachusetts, and Austin, Texas, pulled their Explorers out of service because of the problem. In Austin, carbon monoxide was found in blood samples from 18 of the officers.

In October 2017, Ford announced that it was offering a “complimentary service” to reduce the “potential for exhaust to enter the vehicle” for customers who wanted it. Ford denied any problem, though, stating that their vehicles were safe, and that their own investigation had not “found carbon monoxide levels that exceed what people are exposed to every day.” They also noted that carbon monoxide concerns in police vehicles were related to “unsealed holes from the installation of police equipment by third parties after the vehicle was purchased.”

The Center for Auto Safety, however, wants Ford to do more.

Center for Auto Safety Says Ford is Failing to Protect Consumers

In a news release, the Center for Auto Safety called on Ford CEO Jim Hackett to recall 1.3 million Ford Explorers for carbon monoxide leaks. They stated that since the NHTSA opened their investigation in July 2016, complaints had increased 900 percent. As of January 2018, the NHTSA had received nearly 1,400 complaints from Ford drivers and passengers noticing fumes in their Explorers. “These complaints do not include the over 2,000 complaints Ford previously disclosed,” they added.

In the owner’s manual for these vehicles, Ford warns consumers not to drive their vehicles if they smell exhaust fumes, noting that carbon monoxide is present in these fumes. “Take precautions to avoid its dangerous effects,” the manual states. Yet according to the Center for Auto Safety, Ford “refuses to properly protect its consumers.”

Included in consumer complaints of the exhaust fumes are side effects like headaches, flu-like symptoms, passing out, nausea, and sleepiness. In some cases, children allegedly suffered from these effects.

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