Ford recalls 600K sedans after brake defect cited in 15 accidents

A stuck hydraulic valve can result in extended brake-pedal travel.

Ford has issued a large recall for the 2006-2010 Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKZ, encompassing more than 600,000 vehicles.

The company says a valve inside the hydraulic control unit may become stuck open, resulting in extended brake-pedal travel and potentially increasing the risk of a crash. The defect has been associated with 15 accidents and two injuries.

The issue was first brought to light in 2016 when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began investigating allegations that the brake pedal moved towards the floor in certain scenarios after the ABS had been activated. Stopping distance consequently "increased beyond what was expected by the driver."

The NHTSA noted in an April 2018 investigation update that valve corrosion was likely to blame, but difficult to diagnose because the valve sometimes become unstuck after causing trouble. Some owners reported having several brake system components replaced "only to have the condition return."

Notably, the NHTSA identified at least 544 complaints related to model years 2006-2012, including 26 blaming the extended pedal travel for causing an accident and three incidents with alleged injuries.

Ford acknowledged corrosion issues with certain zinc-plated valves and claimed newer-version hydraulic units were built with a different coating that did not appear to be prone to corrosion. Ford performed its own analysis and determined that a "gelatinous material" found inside the unit prevented the valves from fully closing after actuation. The company at the time also argued that it did not find an unreasonable risk to safety because, despite longer pedal travel, the brake circuit still develops pressure and would respond if the pedal is "pressed sufficiently."

Some complaints allege that the failure caused the pedal to hit the floor, requiring the driver to pump the pedal several times to regain firmness, meshing with the NHTSA's test findings and seemingly contradicting Ford's risk assessment.

One recent complaint highlights an owner's frustration after experiencing the defect in December 2018, prompting a dealer visit that found no problems and no technical service bulletins, then again in October 2019, at which point the owner looked online and discovered that the issue had apparently been known and blamed on the hydraulic control unit since 2014 or earlier.

"I would have replaced [the HCU] last December if I had known, as this is a dangerous problem." the complainant wrote. "Please, please issue the TSB now. The car should be recalled as it's unsafe, but at least a TSB gives the owner/dealer the information needed to get the car fixed."

Ford has not explained why it is only recalling vehicles up to the 2010 model year, despite numerous complaints for 2011-2012 vehicles that describe behavior consistent with the known defect in the 2006-2010 range. For vehicles that have been included in the campaign, the HCU will only be replaced if it exhibits "signs of stuck or slow-responding valves," which raises additional questions given the defect's intermittent nature. Other systems will be simply pressure-flushed with DOT 4 brake fluid.

The NHTSA's public-facing database has not yet posted Ford's official recall filings, nor an update to the investigation status, both of which may shed more light on the company's reasoning for recalling a smaller vehicle population. In some cases, such as a recent Ram 2500 recall, the agency will opt to elevate its inquiry to an engineering analysis to validate an automaker's technical or statistical justification for excluding certain model years or variants.

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