(CBS SF) — Ford Motor Company is facing questions about potential catastrophic failures in 2010 Fusion Hybrids after an East Bay family’s Fusion stalled not once, but twice, leading to a freeway crash.
Ford is now acknowledging an issue with the vehicle after first refusing to replace the car or acknowledge it was unsafe.
In January, Alix Watson was on Interstate 80 with her 16-year-old son Grant behind the wheel when their car suddenly stalled. “We had cars whizzing by us at 70 miles an hour,” said Watson.
They brought the car to the dealer, which performed a recommended fix. “They reflashed the computer and I said, ‘Are you comfortable with this because I don’t want this to happen again.’”
Nevertheless, three days later on the same stretch of highway, it stalled again. But this time, the instruments went dark, the brakes failed and the steering wheel locked up.
Without the ability to turn the car as the road curved, Watson and her son were forced to crash into the median and skid to a stop. The incident prompted a full freeway closure where police tested and varified that “the break pedal went all the way to the floor” and “the stering wheel was locked.”
After months at the dealership, Ford said it couldn’t replicate the problem, so it couldn’t guarantee a fix. Moreover, Ford refused to replace the Watson’s Fusion or admit that it was unsafe.
Currently, there is no state or federal regulation that would require an automaker to take an individual car off the street if it cant diagnose or fix a potentially dangerous defect. The Watson’s repeatedly petitioned Ford to buy back the car t under the state’s Lemon Law. But even though Ford admitted it could not fix the car, it denied the claim stating that the Lemon Law didn’t apply. The law generally only applies to new cars.
“It was really disappointing,” said Watson. “I thought they would care about people’s safety… and make sure that it didn’t happen to other people.”
A National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration database reveals at least 95 other complaint of sudden loss of power, steering or brakes in 2010 or later model Fusion Hybrids.
Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety President Rosemary Shahan claims Ford has a history of denying safety defects and points to a Ford ignition switch defect that the company denied was a saftey concern. “They probably really should do a safety recall [on the Watson’s car],” said Shahan, adding that in cases where it can’t diagnose a problem, the automaker should take the car off the streets.
She points out that when a car maker refuses to buy back a car it can’t fix, the owner often ends up selling the car – making the unsuspecting buyer the new owner of an unsafe car. But, the onus isn’t on Ford alone. “I think [NHTSA] has some responsibility here, too.”
When asked, NHTSA initially told KPIX 5 it had investigated the “issues surrounding the 2010 Ford Fusion and concluded [Ford] was addressing the concern [with] an extended warranty.”
However, the NHTSA investigation into nearly 12,000 other stall complaints in various for models didn’t include the Fusion Hybrid. And, unlike the Watsons car, in the other cases NHTSA noted “full function of… power steering…[and] breaking … were “maintained.”
The NHTSA now admits it was mistaken and hasn’t investigated the new complaints, stating it is “monitoring the issue closely.”
The NHTSA says it does not intervene in individual cases and will only act if it sees a trend. It has not opened an investigation in this case and the agency had no further comment on Ford’s decision to put the Watson’s car back on the streets.
“If we had taken the car back, it would have been like Russian roulette,” said Watson.
After months of repeatedly refusing to buy back the Fusion, KPIX 5 contacted Ford and asked if it consider this vehicle a danger to its driver or others.
One week later, Ford had a change of heart on the buy back. In a statement, Ford said, “We reviewed the information you provided … We are buying this vehicle back and will investigate further.”
The Watsons said they hope that means no one will ever drive their car again, but they are still concerned about all the other Fusion Hybrids still on the road.
When asked what a consumer should do if their automaker admits it can’t replicate or repair a dangerous stall or driveability issue, NHTSA, The California Attorney Generals Office and the state Department of Consumer Affairs all suggested the consumer file a complaint with their respective agencies.