Some models of Ford Motor Co. sedans are being scrutinized by U.S. regulators for the second time since 2008 after continuing reports that headlights suddenly turn off, leading motorists to veer off roadways and sometimes crash.
The defect investigation focuses on more than 500,000 model year 2003-2005 Ford Crown Victoria and Mercury Grand Marquis vehicles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a notice posted to its website Friday. The agency acted after receiving a petition from the North Carolina Consumers Council last year.
The agency said it had received 605 consumer complaints indicating failures of both low-beam headlights while driving. Drivers reported hitting objects they couldn’t see including, in one case, a deer. There have been at least 15 crashes and one injury.
Some consumers reported activating their high beam lights by holding the “flash to pass” levers mounted on the steering column, the agency said. Those lights would go out if the lever was released.
“We will cooperate with NHTSA on this investigation, as we always do,” Ford spokeswoman Kelli Felker said in an e-mailed statement.
NHTSA previously investigated the safety flaw in 2008 and 2009, closing the probe without finding enough evidence of a defect. Ford had only received about 300 complaints at the time of that investigation but the company has since received more than 3,000 similar reports from car owners.
The consumers council pressed the agency in its petition to reopen the probe, citing continued complaints.
Ford officials did not respond immediately to a request for comment. As part of the earlier investigation, Ford’s chief safety officer said in a January 2009 letter that the failure rates were “significantly lower” than in past agency investigations that were closed without a recall. However, the letter said there was evidence of fatigue cracking in solder joints on headlight relays, and those parts should be serviced.
Neither Ford dealerships nor the company’s call center have been able to assist concerned vehicle owners and haven’t been able to advise when replacement parts will be available, the Raleigh, N.C.-based consumers’ group said on its website.