The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has launched an investigation of five recent Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury models. According to a bulletin posted to the agency's website (PDF), more than 500 owners have complained that these vehicles have lost power steering, and a few allege that the loss resulted in a collision.
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The investigation focuses on the 2010-2012 Ford Fusion and Fusion Hybrid, the 2010-2012 Lincoln MKZ and MKZ Hybrid, and the 2011 Mercury Milan. At the center of the probe sits Ford's Electric Power Assisted Steering system, about which NHTSA has received a total of 508 complaints. (Ford hasn't revealed how many complaints or warranty claims it's received about the component, though it has confirmed some field data that appears to give credence to the complaints filed with NHTSA.)
Many owners told NHTSA that the loss of power steering in their vehicles was accompanied by a simultaneous warning message on the dashboard. Some owners were able to get rid of the warning light and reactivate the power steering system by turning off the vehicle and restarting it, although many others report that the condition persisted, even after restarting. Four complaints say that the loss of power steering resulted in a collision, though no injuries or fatalities have been reported.
If this investigation evolves into a full recall, it will affect roughly 938,000 vehicles registered in the U.S. For now, though, the probe is in NHTSA's Preliminary Evaluation phase, during which agency employees pore over data provided by consumers to draft a few hypotheses.
Should those hypotheses suggest that there's an underlying, persistent problem with the vehicles, the investigation will move on to phase two, the Engineering Analysis, when researchers will attempt to recreate the condition themselves. Depending on how those tests go, the probe could move to its final phase, a full recall.
We'll keep you posted as the investigation progresses.