Federal auto safety officials are investigating problems with several recent models of the Ford Explorer SUVs, following more than 150 reports of exhaust seeping into the occupant compartment, which may cause carbon monoxide injuries.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced on Friday that it is launching a Ford Explorer investigation (PDF) for model years 2011 to 2015, which could impact nearly 640,000 vehicles.
The investigation comes in response to complaints involving the vehicles in which consumers reported smelling exhaust in the passenger compartment. The problem may have caused at least one auto accident, which took place at low speed, with no injuries reported. However, the bigger concern for the NHTSA 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.
“Vehicle has bad fume odor that will make you light headed and has given me headaches upon acceleration especially at higher speeds like going up big hills on the highway,” one consumer reported.
“Every time you step on the gas a little more than normal, i.e. going up a hill and getting up to speed, the interior of the car fills up with exhaust/burning oil smell and is quite disorienting,” another complaint indicated. “I don’t know if there is an area that does not have a filter or if it is so potent that the cabin air filter can’t filter it all out.”
Ford appears to have been aware of the problem for some time. The NHTSA notes 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.