Product Liability

Customers, safety experts say Ford downplayed Windstar van recall

The family of a young man killed October 15, 2010, when the rear axle of his 2001 Ford Windstar minivan broke in half, causing the vehicle to crash into a wall, is accusing the auto maker of downplaying the urgency of a recall on the van. The family says they did not receive any notice of the recall, which says the rear axle should be checked due to danger of corrosion and breakage, until one week after the accident, too late for Sean Bowman, the victim.

Ford announced a recall of 1998-2003 model year Ford Windstar minivans in August, saying the rear axle can corrode and break. The initial recall included 575,000 vans. Dec. 6, Ford expanded the recall to include an additional 37,000 vans. The recall covers vehicles sold in 21 U.S. States and Canada where heavy road salt can cause the axles to rust. The expansion added Utah to the list, where road salt is used in some areas.

Months before the first recall was issued, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced it was investigating reports of axle failures in the Windstar vehicle that could sent the vehicles out of control at highway speed. At that time, two crashes had been reported, but no deaths. The NHTSA began the investigation after receiving 234 complaints of rear-axle failure. In 55 percent of those reports the rear, beam-style axle fractured completely. As of September, NHTSA had received 950 complaints about the axles.

In May 2010, a group of Ford Windstar owners filed a class action lawsuit against Ford Motor Company in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The lawsuit alleges the rear axles of the vehicle has a design defect that can trap water and other corrosive agents inside the rear axle, rusting it from the inside out.

It is unclear why it might have taken so long for the Bowman family to receive a recall notice, more than six weeks after the automaker initiated it in August. They say the company should have made it a priority to notify Windstar owners as quickly as possible, given the severity of the problem with the vehicle.

“This is not your average, everyday recall,” Justine Bowman, who was married to Sean, told the Associated Press. “This is your rear axle can break, you can lose control of your vehicle, your wheels can fall off.”

Bowman was 28, and also left behind two daughters, ages 4 and 7.

Source: Associated Press