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Feds open new safety inquiry on sedans, including Grand Marquis, Lincoln Town Car

By Jeff Plungis / Detroit News Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The federal government has opened a new investigation into the Ford Crown Victoria sedan, a vehicle that has been subject to numerous safety complaints from police departments over the past two years.

The latest investigation covers Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car sedans as well as the Crown Vic. A total of 287,819 vehicles are covered, including both civilian models and the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor.

The defect investigation, launched by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last week, focuses on the rear axle design. NHTSA received complaints from two police departments about the alleged defect.

The police reported four separate incidents in which Crown Vic axles had fractured or the rear wheel assembly had separated. The police complaints also noted unusual axle wear on large numbers of 2003 police cruisers.

Ford issued a technical service bulletin to dealers on March 17 warning of “premature wear” of the rear axle shaft and bearings.

The inquiry was described as preliminary. NHTSA said it wanted to gather more information about the alleged safety problem.

The Crown Victoria has been battered by complaints from police departments across the country. At least 14 police officers have died in fire-related crashes since 1983.

The new NHTSA investigation is unrelated to the Crown Victoria’s fuel tank design, the central concern of police departments that have asked Ford to recall and repair the sedan.

NHTSA closed an investigation into the gas tank design in October 2002, saying the vehicle met federal safety standards and the overall risk in fire-related crashes was similar between the Crown Vic and Chevrolet Caprice police vehicles.

Still, police departments in Texas, Arizona and Louisiana suspended Crown Victoria purchases over concerns about the gas tank.

There are about 350,000 Crown Victoria police cruisers in service, representing about 85 percent of all cruisers in the United States.

In September 2002, Ford Motor Co. agreed to install a set of plastic shields around the fuel tanks of all police cruisers.
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