Ford Motor Co. next week will begin recalling as many as 109,664 Crown Victoria police cars because cracks can develop in their steel wheels that could cause rapid air loss in tires during high-speed pursuits.
The recall affects certain 2003-2005 models, but the cracks have been reported in only a small percentage of the wheels. The wheels previously were covered by an extended warranty program, Daniel C. Smith, Ford's associate director for safety assurance, said in a letter dated last Thursday to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Ford spokesman Dan Jarvis said police departments have reported two crashes which they attributed to the wheel problem, but Ford is disputing those claims. The crashes did not cause any injuries, he said.
The cracks can form near the weld line that connects the rim to the wheel disk, NHTSA said.
The stress on wheels during high-speed pursuits is much greater because of techniques used by police, according to Ford.
Starting Monday, dealers will inspect and replace the wheels and spares based on the wheel part numbers. The company said owners will be notified and told to take the cars to a dealership.
"Although Ford has not identified an unreasonable risk to safety from this condition, we have decided to conduct this voluntary safety recall to avoid a protracted dispute with the agency," Smith's letter to NHTSA said.
The Crown Victoria Police Interceptors were build from Oct. 10, 2001 through Dec. 8, 2004 at an assembly plant in St. Thomas, Ontario, the letter said.
Police departments can call Ford at (800) 392-3673 or contact their local dealers to see if the recall applies to their cars.
Ford in August 2003 voluntarily recalled wheels on cars made before Sept. 23, 2002 and extended the wheel warranties on those made from that date until April 23, 2003.
NHTSA opened an investigation into the recall in December 2004, Smith's letter said.
The number of cruisers actually recalled will be much lower than 109,664, because many of the cars are no longer in use as police pursuit vehicles and because such a small percentage of the wheels have developed cracks, Jarvis said.
"This recall only affects current, active police pursuit vehicles," Jarvis said.
The Crown Victoria, a popular choice for many police departments, was at the center of a 2003 debate over whether its rear gas tank was vulnerable to rupture in accidents.
At the time, some police department and elected officials complained that the number of officers who died in post-crash fires in Crown Victorias pointed to a serious design flaw in the vehicle. The carmaker agreed to offer shields for gas tanks on police cruisers.
Dearborn-based Ford repeatedly has maintained that the Crown Victoria is safe.