NHTSA - investigation

The NHTSA does have an open investigation on the Ford Explorer exhaust odor issue. This is the first step toward a possible recall. I have talked with the NHTSA to ensure they have our case registered. The link below goes straight to the all wheel drive version of the 2015 Ford Explorer (since that is what we own), but you can easily change this by typing in your year, make, and model up top, e.g. 2011 Ford Explorer. The investigation to focus on is action number EA17002, which covers Ford Explorers from 2011-2017. There is a 2nd open action number (PE16008) regarding the exhaust odor, but I was unable to determine the difference between them while speaking with NHTSA and it appears to be limited on what it covers.

If you need to contact the NHTSA, do so at the following number. That is the hotline number where you can file complaints and speak with a customer service representative.
NHTSA Hotline:  1-888-327-4236


 NHTSA Ford Explorer exhaust odor

NHTSA Action Number: EA17002


Opened From: July 27, 2017–Present


ODI opened Preliminary Evaluation (PE) 16-008 in July of 2016 after receiving 154 Vehicle Owner Questionnaire (VOQ) reports reporting exhaust odors in the vehicle occupant compartment of model year (MY) 2011 to 2015 Ford Explorers, which included one low speed crash event without injury. During the course of the PE, ODI identified additional VOQ reports concerning the exhaust odor issue, totaling 791 as of this writing. The complaints cover MY 2011 to 2017 Explorers. Eleven of the reports involve Police Interceptor vehicles, as do two other non-VOQ incidents ODI identified during PE16-008. Overall, ODI has identified three crash events and 25 injury incidents citing a total of 41 injuries. The alleged injuries, as affirmatively indicated on the VOQ reports, range from unspecified to loss of consciousness, with the majority indicating nausea, headaches, or light headedness. One police incident alleged a crash with related injuries, and a second police incident reported a physiological injury allegedly from carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. Another reported police incident resulted in a rollover crash event with injuries.

The Ford reports cited above were provided in the company’s August 24, 2016 response to an ODI Information Request letter sent during PE16-008. Therein, ODI identified 2400 reports (485 owner complaints, 1254 warranty claims, 606 dealer field reports, 55 legal claims), involving 2,051 unique vehicles, that appear to relate to the exhaust odor issue, and include 123 reports that are duplicative of the VOQ reports. A number of the Ford reports also discussed health effects similar to the VOQs, specifically nausea and headaches.

During the PE, working in conjunction with NHTSA's Vehicle Test and Research Center (VRTC) in East Liberty, Ohio, ODI has tested multiple vehicles, including complaint vehicles. Additionally, ODI has conducted field inspections of complaint vehicles and crashes involving police units that occurred while the officers were on-duty. When possible, data has been collected to quantify carbon monoxide (CO) levels in the examined vehicles. During this Engineering Analysis (EA), the VRTC testing efforts and field inspections will continue.

To date, no substantive data or actual evidence (such as a carboxyhemoglobin measurement) has been obtained supporting a claim that any of the alleged injury or crash allegations were the result of carbon monoxide poisoning, the alleged hazard. ODI has obtained preliminary testing that suggests, however, that CO levels may be elevated in certain driving scenarios, although the significance and effect of those levels remains under evaluation as part of the EA.

Ford has issued multiple TSBs related to the exhaust odor issue, and in some cases revised those documents multiple times to provide dealership technicians with procedures to address complaints raised by consumers and police fleets. Concerns over the effectiveness of the procedures have been raised by vehicle owners in some cases. During the EA, ODI will continue to evaluate the effectiveness of the TSBs.

Through cooperation with police agencies, ODI recently learned that the Police Interceptor version of the Ford Explorer is experiencing exhaust manifold cracks, which appear to present a low level of detectability, and may explain the exhaust odor. During the EA, the root cause, frequency, and safety consequence of these manifold cracks will be evaluated, as will the extent to which non-police Ford Explorers are experiencing cracked exhaust manifolds.