Austin police to install carbon monoxide detectors in Ford Explorers

Austin Police Department Ford Explorer (KXAN/File Photo)
Austin Police Department Ford Explorer with possible carbon monoxide. March 18, 2017 (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin police are planning to install carbon monoxide detectors in their Ford Explorers after an officer fell ill over the weekend and hit a curb before calling for assistance.

“We have enough worries out there, enough dangers without worrying about the car killing you that you’re driving in,” said Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday.

The Austin Police Department has 361 Ford Explorers in its fleet with nine more on order. Officers have known about the possibility of a carbon monoxide issue for several weeks, Casaday said.

In a news conference Monday afternoon, the Austin Police Department executives said they have 400 carbon monoxide detectors that will be placed in every Ford Explorer in its fleet by the end of the week. They are stickers that change color if CO is detected. Longer term, APD will spend about $50 per vehicle to install a hardwired CO detector in the Explorers–similar to the one you might install in your home.

“It’s the same detector we use in our K9 vehicles to make sure carbon monoxide is detected in the cab of those vehicles,” said Asst. Chief Ely Reyes.

On Feb. 27, days after the first incident of an officer feeling unwell, the department sent out a safety bulletin warning officers of the possible risk of CO fumes. At that time, the department said they had two reported incidents. One officer reported becoming lightheaded while driving a patrol SUV; the other was for an odor that a sergeant was worried about while operating his patrol SUV.

The fumes leaking into the cabin is an issue Ford Motor Company has been aware of for several years – even issuing a recommended fix in 2014 and another last summer. Also last summer, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched an investigation into more than 150 consumer complaints involving exhaust odors entering the vehicle. The vehicles in question are the Ford Explorer model year 2011 to 2015.

According to reports, the issue seems to occur while accelerating with the air conditioning active and in circulating mode.

KXAN looked through the NHTSA’s complaints for newer Explorer models from 2016 and 2017 and found similar complaints from owners:

  • from March of last year: “cabin fills with carbon monoxide during uphill grade”
  • and from just last month: “running the A/C at highway speeds it ‘smells like rotten eggs'”

“We take the safety of our customers very seriously,” wrote Ford Safety communication manager, Elizabeth Weigandt in an email. “In rare circumstances, there have been instances where customers detected an exhaust odor in Explorers. While we believe this poses no safety risk, Ford just learned of the Austin Police Department report and has not had the opportunity to inspect this particular vehicle. Ford will work with the police department to investigate the issue. If customers have a concern with their vehicle, they are encouraged to contact their local Ford dealer.”

In September 2015, a Newport Beach police officer was injured when he passed out and crashed into a tree while responding to a call in his 2014 Ford Explorer. His attorney Brian Chase of Bisnar-Chase LLP filed a suit (see video above) against Ford Motor Company in August. The lawsuit states Ford failed to notify the general public of the exhaust and carbon monoxide defect as well as failed to recall the vehicles along with the Police Interceptor Utility vehicles.

In a second class action lawsuit filed last year in North Carolina, a Ford representative under non-binding deposition testified the fume problem appeared to be related to a design defect. A third suit KXAN found out of Florida shows Ford settled with plaintiffs last year agreeing to pay repair costs for up to a million customers under warranty and some compensation for those outside that protection and driving 2011-2015 Explorers.

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