Ford offers explanation, fix for Fusion, Escape fires

11:53 AM, Dec 10, 2012   |    comments
A brand new Ford Escape is displayed on the sales lot at Serramonte Ford on December 3, 2012 in Colma, California. Ford is recalling nearly 89,000 2013 Ford Escape SUVs and 2013 Ford Fusion cars equipped with 1.6-liter four-cylinder engines due to a fire risk when the engine overheats and fluids come in contact with the hot engine surfaces. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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A week after it announced a big recall, Ford Motor believes a simple software update will quickly fix 2013 Fusion sedans and Escape crossovers with a 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine that is susceptible to catching fire.

Starting next week, owners of the 89,153 vehicles in question will be urged to come to their Ford dealers for the software "flash" aimed at ensuring the cooling system can't dangerously overheat in the turbocharged engine.

Ford hopes it will cap an embarrassing period in which it was forced to order the recall, but could not immediately pinpoint a cause or say how it was going to solve it. Owners have been urged to contact Ford dealers to arrange for rental cars until the problem was solved.

The problem, it turns out, was a combination of two issues, says Raj Nair, Ford's vice president of global product development. "We had a sequence of events that caused the cooling system software to restrict coolant flow," he says. Normally, he says that occurrance wouldn't be that big a deal. But if a car has another coolant issue that could result in low pressure, like a loose filler cap or a pinhole-sized puncture in a hose, the coolant could boil.

If the coolant boils over, it starts streaming into the engine where it can catch on fire if it comes in contact with the hot exhaust system. Engine fires could result, and Ford said it had seen 12 of them in Escape and one in Fusion.

The problem stems from how coolant is needed in different parts of an engine depending on conditions, such as cold weather or during warm up. Ford engineers found that in certain conditions, water was being directed to the radiator, but a closed valve prevented from momentarily returning back into the engine for a short period, like 15 seconds.

Again, normally not a problem because the engine can easily handle the very short term without coolant. But when pressure is also as well, the coolant never makes it back. The software flash will ensure that water is not sent to the radiator unless the electronically controlled return value is ready to take it back.

Nair says the repair will take about a half day. Mechanics will check customers' cooling systems to make sure they have not overheated already. He says he has full faith in the 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine. More than 80,000 have been made in Europe, where it uses a different cooling system.

He says the recall won't have any effect on Ford's earnings, with the cost covered by a warranty reserve.

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