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Wheel recall affects local police cruisers

Forty-nine Columbia and Boone County Crown Victorias might have defective wheels.
Friday, August 22, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:35 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 3, 2008

After acknowledging fuel tank problems in Crown Victorias, Ford has admitted to yet another safety concern, this time involving the wheels.

A day after Ford announced it would offer fire-suppression technology on its 2005 Crown Victoria models, a recall was issued earlier this month calling for the replacement of defective wheels. Steel wheels on the 2003 Crown Victoria produced between August 2001 and September 2002 may develop cracks, leading to tire air loss and difficulty steering.

Up to 30,000 police cars across the nation are affected by the recall, according to an investigation recently done by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

There are 42 Crown Victorias in use by the Boone County Sheriff Department; 16 may have the defective wheels, Capt. Dwayne Carey said. Also, of the 52 Crown Victorias at the Columbia Police Department, 33 may need to be serviced, according to vehicle manager Rob Millard.

The Crown Victoria is the only patrol vehicle used by the Columbia Police Department.

“The recall is just preventative maintenance,” Millard said.

However, the defective wheels could pose a safety problem.

“But we don’t consider it dangerous,” said Glenn Ray of Ford Motor Co.

Joe Machens Ford of Columbia has already serviced several of the defective police cars.

“I haven’t seen any flats, I haven’t seen any cracks,” says Ralph Dumas, service manager at Joe Machens Ford. “But we put new wheels on anyway.”

Replacing the wheels takes about an hour, Dumas said.

Ray said they have received one report of a tire blowout. “It wasn’t a catastrophe,” he said.

The wheel recall is the latest in a series of mechanical problems with the Crown Victoria, which has not been redesigned since 1979.

Last May, Missouri Highway State Trooper Michael Newton was the 14th person to die in rear-end collision fires caused by Crown Victoria gas tank explosions. The lawsuit filed by Newton’s family after the accident is one of many Ford is facing. The cases assert that the position of the gas tank contributed to the wrongful deaths of officers and passengers. The gas tank is placed between the rear axle and the bumper, an uncommon design among recent-model cars.

“The location of the fuel tank is fundamentally wrong,” said J. Kent Emison, the Newton family’s lawyer. “This has been a problem since the early 1980s and it’s amazing that Ford hasn’t done anything about it.”

In response to these concerns, Ford released a technical service bulletin, in which it offered an upgrade installation of several fuel tank shields, which are designed to contain gasoline in a collision and prevent it from igniting. No recall was initiated.

However, Newton had these upgrades installed on his Crown Victoria prior to its explosion May 22 on Interstate 70 near Higginsville, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported in July.

All Crown Victorias used by Columbia police have also had the upgrade installed.

The fire-suppression technology offered as an option on 2005 Crown Victoria models will use computer sensors to emit fire retardant after a collision. Because of the intricacy of the computerized mechanisms, it is impossible to retrofit older Crown Victorias.


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