Rare Buyout Offer Comes with Ford Windstar Recall

October 17, 2010

Letters are in mailboxes recalling Ford Windstars produced between 1997 and 2003. These minivans have a rear axle that collects road salt and other corrosive contaminants and can fracture as a result of rust. The vehicles affected are in 21 states, Washington D.C. and Canada where road salt is used to facilitate winter driving, as is Michigan--all in the list that is commonly known as the “salt belt.”

While this report is not extremely timely, since the original news of the recall broke at the end of August, it is worth note for a number of reasons.

This recall is concerned with high-mileage vehicles that have been on the road for a minimum of seven years. However, the problem has been reported for some time and has been evident to the automotive community, if not because of its frequency, but for the severity of its consequences. Broken axles do not commonly happen over the lifetime of a vehicle. When they do, it is a curiosity to the service facility that encounters one.

But the notable consequence of a fractured axle is what it does to the vehicle both in the near and long term. When the axle fractures (in this case at either end) the top of the wheel nearest to the break tilts in toward the vehicle, and as the Ford recall letter states, “vehicle handling may be affected which could increase the risk of a crash.” The tire may then come in contact with the inner fender for, well, a chance meeting that every driver can do without, especially at highway speeds.

At the time of the recall announcement the Wheels blog reported that the NHTSA had received 234 complaints, including two accidents with no injuries. Not so bad considering that 975,000 Windstars were included in the recall you might say? That may be true if the number of compromised vehicles was a known quantity. My guess is that the fractures that have already occurred are the leading edge of this problem, since these vehicles are seven years old and probably just reaching 100,000 miles.

The long-term effect of this design flaw is one that is made in a class-action lawsuit being pursued in Pennsylvania. The suit contends that Ford has breached an implied warranty of merchantability. These vehicles are not salable with an axle that is prone to fatigue or fracture.

To Ford’s credit, the company is anxious to get these issues resolved, and it is taking swift measures to get them off the road. The recall letter states that if a vehicle fails an axle inspection Ford will pay for a rental until “a remedy is available.” In addition the company plans to make repurchase offers to owners of Windstars “with cracked or perforated axles in lieu of replacing the axle.”

Regardless of how many of the recalled vehicles Ford identifies, it is certain that resolution will be expensive.

[Wheels & Ford Recall Letter 10S13]           

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