LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- More than 11,000 Ford Escape crossover SUV's manufactured in Louisville this year could catch fire and are being recalled, the automaker announced on Thursday.
The Ford-initiated recall comes after two Escapes caught fire in recent weeks as workers drove them off the Louisville Assembly Plant production line to a shipping area, a spokeswoman disclosed to WHAS11 News. A driver in Canada also reports a similar engine fire, she said.
In a rare move, Ford advised customers to stop driving the affected Escapes, immediately.
"This is not a direction that we normally provide," acknowledged Marcey Zwiebel with Ford Motor Public Relations, "This is not advice that we normally offer, but we believe in this instance it is appropriate."
"We do hope that customers take the advice and contact their dealers immediately. We really hope that people don't ignore this recall."
The recall applies to 2013 Escapes with 1.6-liter engines, but not to Escapes with 2.0-liter and 2.5-liter engines.
About 4,800 defective Escapes have been sold. The rest are on dealer lots and will be repaired.
After a second engine fire at the Louisville facility on July 11, Ford realized it was not an isolated problem, ultimately determining that an engine compartment fuel line could split, leak fuel and cause an underhood fire.
"In all three cases, the vehicle was being driven at the time the fire occurred," Zwiebel said, "So this is not a situation where people should be afraid to park their vehicle or be afraid to park it in their garage. There has been no report of a fire when a vehicle was not in operation."
But it is potentially dangerous to drive one of the affected Escapes, Zwiebel said. As a result, Ford is requiring dealers to tow the recalled Escapes and not drive them to the dealerships for repair.
Virginia Payne, the service manager for Downtown Ford in Louisville, said the dealership halted delivery of two 2013 Escapes on its lot and is making arrangements for the one they have already sold to be brought back for repair.
"Anything sold, pick it up," Payne explained Ford's instructions. "Anything that is still here on our lot, we are not allowed to demonstrate it or even drive it. It's got to stay parked."
The repairs could take up to two weeks, depending upon parts availability, Zwiebel said. Escape owners will be supplied with a free loaner vehicle.
One of the affected Escapes is the model displayed in the plaza of the KFC Yum! Center downtown.
The Escape symbolizes Louisville's automotive future. Ford has added thousands of jobs and eventually plans three shifts of production on Fern Valley Road.
The recall has not affected production, according to the automaker.
"We did not suspend production but we also did not ship vehicles that we were unsure of whether or not could be affected by this issue," Zwiebel told WHAS11.
The Escape was the best selling small SUV in the United States in 2011. The 2013 model is a new crossover design that Ford projected would outpace previous sales numbers.
Yet, the launch of the new model has had a few bumps in the road. A hail storm damaged some of Louisville's first Escapes and earlier this month, Ford also recalled more than 8,000 Escapes to adjust a carpet pad that could affect the brake pedal.
Ford stresses it launched the fuel line recall on its own.
"We've chosen to initiate this recall after a small number of reports because we believe that it's the right thing to do," Zwiebel said.
"We are very committed to top quality and in particular to launching with top quality," the spokeswoman continued. "At the same time, we are equally committed to addressing potential issues and responding quickly for customers and this is an example of that."
Ford's pro-active move is a smart approach, said Kristen Lucas, A University of Louisville Business School Asst. Professor and crisis management expert, especially considering the damage done to Toyota's brand when the Japanese automaker was slow to recall vehicles with potential acceleration problems several years ago.
Ford News release and contact information
Ford Acts Quickly To Ensure Customer Safety By Recalling 2013 Ford Escapes with 1.6-liter Engines
Ford Motor Company is taking quick action on behalf of its customers by conducting a voluntary safety recall of 2013 model year Ford Escape vehicles equipped with the 1.6-liter engine, which were built through July 11, 2012; Escapes equipped with the 2.0-liter and the 2.5-liter engines are unaffected
The recall is being taken to replace an engine compartment fuel line, which could split and leak fuel, potentially resulting in an underhood fire; no injuries have been reported
Ford is advising affected owners not to drive their vehicles and to contact their dealers immediately for the needed repair. Dealers will deliver a loaner vehicle to customers and will then transport their 2013 Escape to the dealership until the repair has been completed
Ford dealers will stop delivering or conducting demonstration drives of the 2013 Escape vehicles equipped with 1.6-liter engines until the issue has been resolved
The repairs should take less than an hour for the dealership to complete, pending parts availability; If affected customers quickly take action and contact their dealers as advised, all vehicles potentially can be remedied in less than two weeks
DEARBORN, Mich., July 19, 2012 – Ford Motor Company today announced a voluntary safety recall of 2013 model year Ford Escape vehicles equipped with the 1.6-liter engine built through July 11, 2012. Ford estimates that there have been approximately 11,500 of these vehicles produced and distributed for sale in North America, with most in the U.S. market.
Ford is voluntarily recalling Escapes with 1.6-liter engines to replace an engine compartment fuel line, which could split and leak fuel, potentially resulting in an underhood fire. No injuries have been reported. The issue does not affect other 2013 Escape models. The condition also does not present itself in vehicles when the engine is not running.
As an additional safety precaution, customers who already own 2013 Escape vehicles with the 1.6-liter engine are being advised to stop driving their vehicles and to immediately contact their dealers. Dealers will deliver a loaner vehicle to these customers and will transport their 2013 Escape to the dealership for the necessary repairs. The company is working to make parts available as quickly as possible and customers will keep the loaner vehicle at no charge until the repairs on their vehicle are completed.
The company’s dealers will stop delivering or conducting demonstration drives of these vehicles so that proper steps can be taken to remedy the issue at the dealership first.
"We have identified an issue and are taking quick actions in the best interest of our customers,” said Ray Nevi, assistant director, Ford Automotive Safety Office. “Our intensive investigation and testing has identified the area of concern and we are moving as quickly as possible to repair vehicles for our customers. In the meantime, it is extremely important that affected customers not ignore this recall and immediately contact their dealer."
The repairs are straightforward and should take dealers less than an hour to complete, pending parts availability. If affected customers quickly take action and contact their dealers as advised, all vehicles can be remedied in less than two weeks.
Customers may get further information about these and other recalls at www.fordowner.com or they may contact Ford's Customer Relationship Center at 1-866-436-7332.