Ford Motor Company faces a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of owners of Ford Explorer vehicles, indicating that design problems with the popular SUV may allow exhaust to leak into the passenger cabin, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
The complaint (PDF) was filed by Harvey Britton Ford and Kathy Regenia Ford in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina on July 14, seeking class action status to represent all owners of Ford Explorer vehicles built between 2011 and 2015.
“This model has a distinct and dangerous characteristic: It leaks exhaust emissions (which includes carbon monoxide) into its passenger cabin,” the class action lawsuit states. “The potential exposure to exhaust and carbon monoxide renders these vehicles unsafe to drive.”
The lawsuit comes shortly after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced it was launching an investigation into Ford Explorer carbon monoxide risks after receiving more than 150 reports of exhaust seeping into the seating area.
The issues may have caused at least one auto accident, which took place at low speed, with no injuries reported, according to the NHTSA announcement. However, the bigger concern for safety regulators and vehicle owners are the potential side effects of carbon monoxide poisoning, which could cause severe and long-lasting health consequences if individuals are exposed to the fumes for long periods of time.
Exposure to carbon monoxide can cause headaches, nausea, light headedness, confusion and loss of consciousness in severe cases.
Reports filed with the NHTSA indicate that the problem appears most common when operating the vehicle under full throttle applications, such as climbing a steep grade or merging onto freeway ramps. Some reports have also linked it to use of the air conditioning system in recirculation mode.
The class action lawsuit indicates that the named plaintiffs bought their Ford Explorer new in 2014 in North Carolina. They brought the vehicle in for maintenance on several occasions, complaining of an exhaust odor when the vehicle was in use. The smell inside the passenger compartment began just weeks after it was purchased, the complaint indicates.
“Neither Ford nor its authorized dealerships have been able to fix the vehicle,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiffs continue to experience the exhaust odor when accelerating the vehicle. On multiple occasions, plaintiffs have plugged in a carbon monoxide detector inside the vehicle. More than once, the monitor’s alarm has sounded while plaintiffs have been driving the car.”
Ford appears to have been aware of the problem for some time. The NHTSA and the class action lawsuit note that in December 2012 and July 2014, the company issued two “technical service bulletins” instructing dealers on ways to address the problem. However, some owners reported that the repairs did not alleviate the issue.
Carbon monoxide is one of the leading causes of poisoning deaths in the U.S., since the toxic gas has no color, odor or taste, lacking irritating factors that typically allow someone to detect it’s presence. While the vehicle fumes containing carbon monoxide should be more apparent, if individuals fail to leave the vehicle or promptly recognize symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, they may suffer severe injury.
Prolonged exposure to the gas could potentially lead to loss of consciousness, death or permanent brain damage from carbon monoxide poisoning.