Ford Motor Co. is recalling certain Escape compact sport-utility vehicles from the 2001 and 2002 model years to fix a brake-system flaw that could cause fire. According to documents filed earlier this week with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Ford is recalling about 450,000 minivans and crossovers in two actions.
The first recall, which Ford resisted for more than two years, covered about 206,000 Ford Freestars and Mercury Monterey minivans from the 2004-5 model years. The vehicles' torque converter may fail, resulting in a loss of power, Ford said. The other action involves about 244,000 Ford Escapes from 2001-2 because brake-fluid leaks could lead to corrosion and potentially a fire.
The agency began investigating the problem with the Freestar and Monterey in July 2009 after receiving complaints from owners who said the vehicles would suddenly lose power, sometimes when traveling at highway speeds.
Ford responded by telling the agency that even if the converter were to fail, it wouldn’t be a safety problem because the vehicle would remain controllable and could still coast, “during which it can be safely maneuvered and stopped because the engine continues to run.”
The agency, however, investigated. Late in 2009 it said there was enough reason for concern that it intensified its investigation, noting at least 227 owner complaints and one claim of an accident.
As recently as last November, Ford was still resisting a recall, telling the agency that there was a “lack of real world data to support any conclusion that this subject presented an unreasonable safety risk.”
In complaints filed to the safety agency, one owner said his Freestar lost power “suddenly and unexpectedly on a busy highway and rendered my van powerless with my wife and three young children aboard. Luckily she was able to get to the side of the road and avoid an accident.”
Documents show that the agency continued to pursue the issue, and late in December, Ford agreed to the recall, saying it was doing so only “to avoid a protracted dispute with the agency.”
Ford attributed the problem to a part that did not meet specified heat-treatment requirements, which could cause premature wear and the failure of the torque converter.
Daniel Pierce, a Ford spokesman, wrote in an e-mail that the recall came about from collaboration between the automaker and the agency. “Both N.H.T.S.A. and Ford have cooperated with each other over the past two years, sharing information, reports and data,” he wrote.
Ford will also reimburse owners who had the repair done before the recall, Mr. Pierce wrote in an e-mail, if they can provide an original receipt. Some owners who complained to the agency said the repair cost about $2,000.
The Escapes were recalled because the cap on the brake fluid reservoir might leak, Ford told the agency in a report filed earlier this week. That fluid could contact the antilock brake module and ignite, the automaker said.
In an e-mail, Mr. Pierce of Ford said the automaker had some reports of vehicle fires and “a few reports” of damage to property other than the vehicle.
The Mercury Mariner is a sibling of the Escape, but wasn’t introduced until the 2005 model year, and is consequently not affected by the recall. It was unclear whether the Mazda Tribute, another sibling of the Escape that was introduced as a 2001-model vehicle, would also be recalled.
Ford described each recall as voluntary, but once an automaker determines there is a safety problem, the law requires that it be reported to the safety agency within five working days.