U.S. Safety Agency Closes Ford Explorer Exhaust Odor Investigation without Staging a Recall

2016 Ford Explorer
(Image: Ford)

You may have forgotten about this investigation…it’s only been six years.

On Monday, federal auto safety regulators formally closed an investigation into exhaust odors and carbon monoxide exposure with 1.47 million Ford Explorer models. The probe started back in July 2016 and address over 6,500 consumer complaints centered around 2011 – 2017 models, including the Police Interceptor SUV. After six long years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports no evidence of a safety issue warranting a recall.

According to the agency’s closing report, “the 2011-2017 Ford Explorer vehicles when accurately measured produce compartment (carbon monoxide) levels which fall below current accepted health standards.” Despite the complaints alleging nausea, headaches, lightheadedness and other psychological effects, it did not identify a problem in stock vehicles that represents “an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety.”

However, the NHTSA did take issue with modified Police Interceptor vehicles. In cases where the Explorer was “upfitted” with added equipment, sealing issues could lead to higher carbon monoxide levels in the cars that were tested. Among consumer cars, it traced similar sealing issues only to vehicles with rear collision damage. The report says, “the upfitting was often a cause for the leaks found in the above areas since many of the sealed areas needed to be disturbed or disassembled during the upfitting process.”

Ford agreed to cover the costs to fix the issue in a “Field Service Action” (FSA) 17B25 in 2017, by repairing seal issues with upfitting installations and adding exhaust downturns to Police Interceptors. The automaker also included a heating and cooling reprogramming operation that substantially reduced carbon monoxide levels.

Even without Ford’s repairs, though, the NHTSA maintains that CO exposure levels never exceeded legal limits.