WASHINGTON — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Wednesday it would investigate more than 3.7 million Ford Motor Co. pickups and sport utility vehicles for a defect in a cruise control switch that led to a January recall.
The agency said it would examine Ford F-150 pickups from the 1995-1999 and 2001-2002 model years, and Ford Expeditions and Lincoln Navigators from the 1997-1999 and 2001-2002 model years.
NHTSA officials said they have received 218 complaints of engine fires from the cruise control switch in those models. No injuries or fatalities have been reported.
The new investigation does not include the 2000 model years of the vehicles, which was covered by the January recall of nearly 800,000 vehicles. Ford said the cruise control switch could short circuit and cause an engine compartment fire when the vehicle was parked or being driven, even if the cruise control was not being used.
Ford, the nation's second-biggest automaker, said it was conducting its own internal investigation of the problem.
"We're working closely with NHTSA on the issue," said Ford spokeswoman Kristen Kinley. "We'll continue to cooperate with the agency until the matter is closed."
"Fires happen for a variety of reasons ranging from faulty repair, improper modification to the vehicle with aftermarket parts and wiring, prior accident damage, and even arson," Kinley said. "This is why each complaint or allegation must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis."
NHTSA often conducts investigations after getting complaints from consumers or spotting trends in warranty claims. Investigations can lead to vehicle recalls.
The recall in January affected about 792,000 Ford F-150 pickups, Ford Expeditions and Lincoln Navigators from the 2000 model year. The 2001 F-Series Supercrew trucks were also affected.
The company began notifying owners of the recall in February and dealers were instructed to deactivate the cruise control switch for free. Deactivating the switch disabled the cruise control in the vehicles.
Kinley said replacement parts for the defect are expected to become available in mid- to late-April.
NHTSA 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. The agency has received 193 complaints about the 2000 model year vehicles.
The F-Series pickups have long been one of Ford's best-selling vehicles. The company announced in late December that it set an industry record for full-size pickup sales in 2004, selling more than 912,000 F-Series pickups. It eclipsed Ford's own mark of 911,597 pickups sold in 2001.
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