NHTSA opens investigation on Ford Windstars
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened an investigation on Ford Windstars manufactured from 1999-2003. The agency has received 234 complaints about axle failure at speeds of 40 miles per hour or more. Consumers have reported the breaking of the rear axle, resulting in loss of control of the vehicle. Two accidents have been reported, but there have been no injuries thus far. Ford has sold an estimated 900,000 vehicles of this model or more.
The axle failure at higher speeds is a failure of the rear suspension axle, which the NHTSA believes could result in serious loss of vehicle control, as reported by consumers. Ford says that the axle issue is not a problem, explaining their lack of action after numerous consumer complaints. They believe that since the Windstar is a front wheel drive vehicle, the driver should remain in control of the vehicle at all times, despite the possibility of damage to the rear axle. The car manufacturer finds the reports inconsistent with the design of the vehicle model.
Ford has also said that most of the reported failures occurred after the vehicle had been driven over 100,000 miles, which is beyond the factory warranty.
NHTSA reports that the axle problem is worse in states that use a lot of road salt. The rear axle beam of Windstars have an inverted U-shaped design which over time collects salt slurry from the road which corrodes the beam and weakens until it eventually fractures.
The investigation by the federal agency is considered a Preliminary Investigation. If the agency concludes there is a serious safety problem, it will move onto an Engineer Analysis, which brings the model one step closer to being recalled. However, if NHTSA determines there is no safety issue, the investigation is closed.