WASHINGTON (Oct. 7, 2002) — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has upgraded an existing investigation involving alleged tire valve stem failures on pickup trucks and vans manufactured by Ford Motor Co.
So far NHTSA knows of 1,133 complaints involving the rubber valve stems, 1,085 of which were reported directly to Ford, the agency said Aug. 19 in announcing the upgrading of the investigation from a preliminary evaluation to an engineering analysis. More than 450 of the complaints alleged the stems popped completely out of the rims, and four such incidents led to accidents in which a total of three persons were injured.
Involved in the probe is a vehicle population including 629,636 F-series pickup trucks and 249,467 E-series vans, including incomplete chassis conversions, all from the 1999-2001 model years. In March 2001 Ford announced a recall of 112,095 F-450 and F-550 Super Heavy Duty trucks from those model years for tire valve stem problems.
When the valve stem pops out, the tire deflates completely in less than 10 seconds, giving a motorist driving at 60 mph less than 880 feet to react to the problem, NHTSA said.
Besides complete loss, the valve stems also have been reported to pop out of the rims partially or to suffer cracks in the rubber part, both leading to slow leaks, the agency said.
Such failures are increasing on the subject Ford vehicles, and skyrocketed this summer, according to the rÃ&Copy;sumÃ&Copy; on the investigation prepared by NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation (ODI). "Fleets and owners who have replaced the original equipment rubber valve stems with all-metal valve stems have seen a dramatic reduction in the failure of the valves," ODI said.
Ford declined comment on the investigation, except to say it was cooperating with NHTSA.