Some Ford models pose fire hazard

March 26, 2008 7:25:56 PM PDT
Federal investigators warn that four and a half million ford vehicles on the road could catch fire at any time.

Those trucks and cars have a small part that the experts say needs to be disconnected immediately.

Since 1999, Ford has recalled some 10 million vehicles due to a faulty speed control deactivation switch. Here's what Ford says could happen if the problem is left un-repaired.

Photos from a local law firm show a 2001 Ford F-150 bursting into flames in Atlanta. The fire spread from the truck and into the truck owner's home.

A similar fire in Riverside destroyed this 2001 ford F-250. Video was recorded with significant damage to the home, leaving a family homeless.

"It was really a gut wrenching feeling," said Michael Mott from Riverside.

Since 1999, the owners of 10 million Ford trucks and cars have been affected by several recalls over eight years.

The automaker says the problem is a faulty speed control deactivation switch that can overheat and potentially spark a fire.

Hundreds of fires and at least four deaths have been reported. Ford acknowledges the risk of fire, but says it has no evidence directly linking any fires to the switch.

Clarence Ditlow is the executive director with the Center for Auto Safety in Washington D.C.

"The threat is very serious. First of all what you have to realize is fire in these vehicles can occur while the car is parked at night in your garage when you least expect it," said Ditlow.

Ditlow is critical of Ford for not moving quickly enough, but the automaker says it began the recall even before the risk of fire was known.

In a statement to 7 On Your Side, Ford said: "it's gone well beyond federal requirements to alert customers by mail to bring their vehicles in for repairs."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently issued a bulletin advising all car owners with the switch to take them to Ford and get them disconnected immediately.

But federal investigators estimate four and a half million vehicles remain on the road with the switch still connected.

"They're are inefficient replacement parts, and as a result, that has contributed some folks not wanting to have the switch disconnected when there's no replacement part because they want their cruise control to work," said attorney Fabrice Vincent.

Michael Mott has spent $600,000 dollars rebuilding his home after his Ford truck caught on fire. He says waiting is a bad idea.

"You have to do something about it. It's dangerous, it's extremely life threatening. It can change your life forever," said Mott.

Adding to the confusion, 250 million Ford vehicles already repaired had to be recalled a second time because the replacement part was also faulty.

Andrew Weinberg of Campbell counts himself as one of the confused ford owners.

He recently received a recall notice, only to be told by Ford later, his truck had already been repaired in 2003.

"So it leaves you kind of confused. You don't really have an idea where you really stand," said Andrew Weinberg

Ford has since clarified the situation, telling 7 On Your Side that Andrew's truck was actually fixed by the previous owner in August, not 2003. The bottom line is, even if you are waiting for a replacement part -- get that switch deactivated now.