PHOENIX - Ford Motor Company is recalling nearly 500,000 SUVs on the heels of a series of reports by the ABC15 Investigators about the death of a 17 year-old Arizona girl in January after her 2002 Ford Escape accelerated out of control.
The major automaker is issuing a recall on 484,600 Ford Escapes and Mavericks with 3 liter, V6 engines to fix sticking gas pedals that can cause vehicle crashes.
Ford says the vehicles' speed control cables can stick on the engine cover when the accelerator pedal is almost fully or fully depressed. This causes the throttle to stick open and the vehicle to speed out of control.
The problem described by Ford is what the ABC15 Investigators uncovered under the hood of 17 year-old Saige Bloom's 2002 Ford Escape last month. Ford's recall announcement cites the accident in January of this year and the investigation of her car in June.
The Payson teenager was driving the Escape for the first time in January when the vehicle accelerated out of control . Saige avoided hitting any other cars until she clipped a grey sedan. Her vehicle flipped three times and she was thrown from the car. Saige died in a hospital hours later.
It was a day of mixed emotions for Saige's father Ryan Bloom when Ford announced a recall on the car his daughter drove to her death just months ago.
"I felt like some justice had been done," he said.
But it also brought back memories of the day his oldest daughter was brought to a hospital where she died.
"I don't think anybody should have to go through what we went through that day," he said. "I don't think any parent, mother, grandmother should have to ever sit in that waiting room and wait for the doctor to come out and say your daughter doesn't have a fighting chance."
INSPECTION OF THE BLOOM ESCAPE
The ABC15 Investigators were there when an inspector hired by the Bloom family's attorney went under the hood of that Escape for the first time. He found the vehicle's speed control cable broken, stuck under the engine cover, sticking the throttle wide open.
After our reporting, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation into 730,000 2001-2004 Ford Escapes and its sister SUV, the Mazda Tribute for possible stuck throttle issues.
NHTSA Administrator David Strickland told the ABC15 Investigators that the recall does not stop its investigation.
"Ford took the right step in calling for the recall," he said, "but, bottom line for us as an agency, is we want to make sure that we have this full remedy appreciated and executed."
NHTSA has not ruled out other actions involving Ford, like whether the recall came in a timely manner.
AUTO SAFETY EXPERTS PUSH FOR MORE
But some auto safety experts say Ford's recall does not do enough.
"They're not fixing the underlying defect, which is the cruise control cable," according to Clarence Ditlow with the Center for Auto Safety.
Ford's recall describes the defect as "inadequate clearance between the engine cover and the speed control connector [which] could result in a stuck throttle when the accelerator pedal is fully or almost-fully depressed."
But Ditlow and others say the speed control, or cruise control, cable itself is defective and needs to be replaced.
"They're trying to avoid a civil penalty being imposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for not recalling these vehicles in 2005," Ditlow said.
He is pushing NTHSA to fine Ford for not issuing that recall when he says the company must have realized it was a problem – when they sent out updated repair instructions to its dealers in October of 2005. The instructions warn dealers that they could be causing "damage to the speed control cable" if they replace another cable incorrectly.
"They had to know what was happening in order for them to send out that second notice," he said.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO
Now, Ford tells the ABC15 Investigators that drivers of the affected vehicles should not fully or almost fully depress their accelerator pedals until the vehicle is repaired.
Drivers who own one of these SUVs should contact their Ford dealership immediately, Ford says.
If drivers do experience a stuck throttle, Fords tells us that they should "firmly and steadily apply the brakes without pumping the brake pedal, shift to neutral, steer the vehicle to a safe location, shut the engine off and place the transmission in "park" after the vehicle is safely stopped."
NHTSA tells the ABC15 Investigators today that the agency is in contact with Ford regarding its recall. "Consumers impacted by the recall should have their vehicles serviced promptly," the agency tells us.
NHTSA also says that its investigation into this issue remains open "pending
the agency's review of the documents provided by Ford in its recall action."
NHTSA's investigation is also focusing on 2001-2004 Mazda Tributes, which was built with the same engine on the same assembly line as the Escape.
Mazda tells the ABC15 Investigators that they are having meetings about the Ford recall right now and that will have more information shortly.