Regulators Probe Loose Ford Fusion Steering Wheels

By Mike Spector Features Dow Jones Newswires

U.S. regulators are probing complaints of loose steering wheels in Ford Motor Co. Fusion cars, the latest batch of the auto maker's vehicles to come under scrutiny for safety concerns.

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation after receiving three complaints of steering-wheel fastening bolts loosening in 2014-2016 Fusion midsize sedans, according to government documents disclosed Friday.

The agency's preliminary evaluation covers roughly 841,000 cars. Officials haven't received reports of any crashes or injuries, and Ford hasn't launched a recall.

"We are cooperating with the agency, as we always do," a Ford spokeswoman said. "Customers with concerns should contact their local dealer."

One vehicle owner reported that the steering wheel completely detached from the steering column while attempting to turn into a gas station, according to the agency's report opening the probe. Two other complaints reported that the bolt attaching the wheel to the steering column loosened during operation and had to be re-tightened at a repair shop.

Investigators said they planned to assess the scope, frequency and possible safety risks arising from the alleged defect.

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Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford, in the midst of delivering hefty profits amid booming truck sales, has nonetheless been dogged by safety and quality concerns. The auto maker earlier this month recalled 1.3 million 2015-2017 F-150 pickup trucks and 2017 Super Duty trucks in North America to address faulty door latches. The recall is expected to result in a $267 million hit to Ford's fourth-quarter profit.

Ford separately this month also recalled some newer F-150 trucks to address gearshift problems. The trucks are the best-selling vehicles in the U.S. and helped Ford earlier this week report a 63% surge in third-quarter profit to $1.6 billion.

Still, Ford booked a $295 million charge in the first quarter stemming from fire risks in some sport-utility vehicles and vans, and faulty door latches on some car models. In the second quarter, problems with the drive shaft in transit vans cost $142 million.

Ford is separately offering voluntary fixes to owners of 1.4 million late-model Explorer SUVs to address complaints of exhaust fumes leaking into vehicle cabins. The auto maker hasn't disclosed the cost of those repairs, which the company describes as a complimentary service as opposed to a recall.

Mike Colias contributed to this article.

Write to Mike Spector at mike.spector@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 27, 2017 12:28 ET (16:28 GMT)