According to the center, the cables were damaged during a recall of 470,000 Escapes from the 2002-2004 model years to prevent accelerator cables from getting caught on the accelerator pedal. Repairs made during the recall keep the pedal from returning and the throttle body from going back to idle position, which can cause unintended acceleration, the petition stated.
Ford said it is investigating the matter but has reached no conclusions yet.
The Center for Auto Safety, in Washington, claims Ford knew about potential damage because of an October 2005 bulletin sent to its dealers containing "updated illustrations" and a "warning regarding the correct procedures to follow when replacing the accelerator cable" that were different from an earlier bulletin.
The updated bulletin said the speed control cables could be damaged during the accelerator cable replacement.
Clarence Ditlow, the center's executive director and a longtime safety advocate, said in an interview that it's shocking that Ford, given its history with defective Firestone tires and the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation -- or TREAD -- Act, wouldn't immediately do another recall.
Letter to Mulally
Ditlow said the center is going to send a follow-up letter to Ford CEO Alan Mulally today asking the company "to get it over with now" and not to go through with the investigation.
"I would expect this to be resolved very quickly. It's so clear cut that they need another recall," Ditlow said. "To me, there are only two issues. One, are they going to have to recall more vehicles than the first batch, which is the V-6 made in the Ohio and Kansas City plants. Two, how big is the fine going to be that NHTSA hits them with."
The center said in the petition that Ford, which never filed a defect report with NHTSA initiating a second recall, didn't inform the 319,506 owners of possible damage to their cruise control cables following the "faulty" recall repairs.
"They should've done a second recall right then and there," Ditlow said. "That would've at least picked up the cables that had been damaged by the earlier repair."
The center says Ford's inaction had "lethal consequences" in the death of 17-year-old Saige Bloom, who died in a January wreck after her 2002 Escape experienced sudden unintended acceleration in Payson, Ariz.
The vehicle had been repaired in January 2005 after the initial recall but before Ford sent the new bulletin to dealers about updated repair procedures, according to the petition.
It was later found that the vehicle, which was inspected with a borescope "in the presence of Ford officials," had a "kinked" cruise control cable that was jammed against a ridge in the engine cover.
"It really is sad it took a 17-year-old's death to uncover this defect. It shouldn't have happened," Ditlow said.
An inspector for the Bloom family made a video documenting the failure of the accelerator system and sent it to Ford in 2007.
Ford provided a statement regarding Bloom's death.
"We offer our deepest sympathies to the Bloom family for their tragic loss. We are in the midst of our investigation, and we have not reached any conclusions," the company said. "We will work closely with NHTSA to determine the cause of the crash and will take appropriate action if warranted by the outcome of the investigation."
The New York Times reported the story earlier today.