Ford Motor Company — the second-largest U.S. automaker — has announced a voluntary recall of hundreds of thousands of its popular pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles due to a fire risk.
Ford is recalling the vehicles because their cruise-control switches could short circuit and start a fire under the hood while parked, the automaker said Thursday.
“This is a ticking time bomb ready to go off and something needs to be done,” Bob Garcia, owner of a Ford F-150, told NBC News. Garcia's pickup caught fire nine hours after he parked it at his home. The fire destroyed his truck and part of his home before firefighters arrived.
The recall involves approximately 792,000 vehicles, including F-150 pickup trucks, Ford Expeditions and Lincoln Navigator SUVs from the 2000 model year that are equipped with a speed-control switch. Also included in the recall are certain F-150 SuperCrew trucks that were built through August 7, 2001 and are equipped with speed control.
One Ford source tells NBC that the recall is “significant.”
According to Ford, vehicle owners have reported that the cruise control on their vehicles has malfunctioned before they shut down the engine. The mechanism that shuts off the speed control may overheat, eventually causing a fire, Ford said.
“We're getting flame literally falling on other plastic components,” said Florida mechanic Larry Perry.
Perry says even when the engine is turned off, power flows to the switch, causing it to overheat and start a fire. “All it takes is a little more heat, a little more flame, you've got a vehicle you can’t put out.”
Ford says it knows of 63 alleged vehicle fires and of one alleged injury associated with a fire. No deaths have been reported, but the instances of fires appear to be increasing, the car company said.
Ford will notify owners of the vehicle recall in February, and dealers will deactivate the cruise control switch for free. Once the company has an adequate supply of replacement switches, it will send another letter notifying owners that they can get their switches replaced.
Ford said cruise control will be disabled once the switch is deactivated.
“We recognize this may be an inconvenience, but we believe this preventive action is in the best interest of our customers’ safety,” the company said.
Bread and butter
The F-Series has been a huge seller for Ford, setting industry records. By some estimates, the F-150 makes up half of the company's pre-tax profits for auto sales. By all accounts, it's Ford's bread and butter.
The truck line retained the title of best-selling vehicle in the United States last year. The company sold 939,511 F-Series trucks, setting a new industry record for full-size pickup sales. Ford set the previous record with 911,597 in 2001.
“Ford is hoping to act quickly enough so as not to have a repeat of, say, the Ford Explorer rollover problem that is very fresh in everyone's mind,” said Frank Marcus, technical director of Motor Trend Magazine.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into the defect in November after receiving 36 reports of fires. All of the incidents occurred when the vehicle was parked and the ignition was turned off. No injuries were reported.
Ford said it worked closely with NHTSA throughout the investigation.
NBC News' Tom Costello and The Associated Press contributed to this report.