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Ford, NHTSA in skirmish over F-150 airbag recall

by Mark Kleis

Although likely not yet settled, Ford has announced that it will recall 144,000 F-150s, model years 2005 and 2006, due to unexpected deployment issues with an airbag.

A battle may be brewing between Ford Motor Company and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regarding a difference of opinion on whether or not the F-150 needs to be recalled due to an issue in which the driver's airbag may deploy without an accident.

For now, Ford has made a compromise of sorts and offered to recall some 144,000 examples of the 2005-06 F-150s trucks which were built at the Norfolk Assembly Plant, but the automaker stopped well short of recalling the 1.3 million trucks requested by the safety agency, according to The Detroit News.

NHTSA first began investigating the safety issue in September of 2009, eventually upgrading its investigation to an engineering analysis in January 2010. Eventually, NHTSA sent Ford a formal letter requesting the recall of 1.3 million trucks after the automaker denied a verbal request to do so.

The safety agency says it is reviewing Ford's plans to recall roughly 10 percent of the trucks initially requested, which could potentially lead to a public meeting in which Ford would need to present its case for why it shouldn't need to expand the recall to David Strickland, NHTSA administrator.

What exactly is the problem?
It has been determined that a wire that is connected to the airbag can rub against a metal bracket on the horn plate, potentially exposing copper that can then become grounded and initiate an airbag deployment. Ford says that if a wire is exposed, an air bag warning light will display, prompting customers to have the issue inspected before any deployment takes place.

The automaker believes that the warning light provides enough warning that customers should be able to handle the issue on their own, rather than issuing a costly recall. To date, 238 complaints have been filed concerning inadvertent airbag deployment, resulting in 77 injuries ranging from chipped or broken teeth, to airbag-related burns or lacerations, and in two cases, unconsciousness from the impact of the airbag.

Ford says that it has had 703 known cases of the air bag warning light being illuminated, and in 106 cases a chafed wire was located and determined to be the cause.

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