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NHTSA Successfully Closes The Book On Ford Explorer Exhaust Leak Probe

After more than six years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has closed the books on a probe of 1.46 million Ford Explorers over exhaust fumes. Ford issued a Service Action Plan, which was applied to many vehicles. They found the issue was due to some upfitting.


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has closed the books on a probe of more than a million Ford Explorers over reports of exhaust odors leaking into the cabs of the SUVs that also exposed the occupants to carbon monoxide. The probe has been closed without a recall.

More Than 6,500 Consumer Complaints Viewed

The federal safety agency conducted an in-depth probe of more than 6,500 consumer complaints, said Automotive News, the industry’s leading trade paper, that covered 2011-2017 model year SUVs. The probe included police versions of the crossover, finding no safety issues.

Among the probe’s findings were that the “2011-2017 Ford Explorer vehicles, when accurately measured, produce occupant compartment (carbon monoxide) levels which fall below current accepted health standards.”

NHTSA did find that there were issues with “dealers, government fleets, and other modifying the Police Interceptor vehicles.” This is known as upfitting – adding items like sirens, lights, cages, and auxiliary power. It is performed by governmental fleet operations, independent repair sites, or local dealers.

Many Issues Related To Upfitting

In its comments on the probe, the agency found that “sealing issues caused by upfitting were responsible for the highest measured carbon monoxide levels in tested vehicles.” NHTSA added that the “highest levels [of exhaust odor] in consumer vehicles were usually traced to sealing issues caused by rear crash damage.”

In 2017, Ford noted that “if the holes [caused by the upfitting] are not properly sealed, it creates an opening where exhaust could enter the cabin.” Ford agreed to cover the “costs of specific repairs in every Police Interceptor Explorer that may be tied to aftermarket installation of police equipment.” The automaker said, “the modifications may have left holes in the underbody of the vehicles.”

Continuing, Ford noted six years ago that if “the holes are not properly sealed, it creates an opening where exhaust could enter the cabin."

Speaking of the probe, Ford said Monday that “it was pleased with the results and said its “’ previous investigation and extensive testing determined the same results, which we have always maintained.’”

Ford Issues Field Service Action Plan

As part of a 2017 Field Service Action, Ford issued a procedure that “includes a heating and cooling reprogramming operation as part of a field service action. Tests demonstrated a substantial reduction of carbon monoxide levels due solely to reprogramming,” according to the NHTSA.

NHTSA noted that Austin, Texas, temporarily removed all of the city’s Police Interceptor Explorers from use. However, after repairs, they were put back into service.

NHTSA noted that without the FSA repairs, “no vehicles unaffected by upfitter issues or prior cr
crash damage was identified with [carbon monoxide] levels that exceed accepted occupational exposure levels.”

Ford Motor Photo

Marc Stern has been an automotive writer since 1971 when an otherwise normal news editor said, "You're our new car editor," and dumped about 27 pounds of auto stuff on my desk. I was in heaven as I have been a gearhead from my early days. As a teen, I spent the usual number of misspent hours hanging out at gas stations (a big thing in my youth) and working on cars. From there on, it was a straight line to my first column for the paper "You Auto Know," an enterprise I handled faithfully for 32 years. Not many people know that I also handled computer documentation for a good part of my earnings while writing YAN. My best writing, though, was always in cars. My work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Mechanix Illustrated, AutoWeek, SuperStock, Trailer Life, Old Cars Weekly, Special Interest Autos, etc. You can follow me on: Twitter or Facebook.