The U.S. and Canadian governments yesterday warned millions of Ford owners to shut off their engines and be sure their automatic transmission is in park before leaving their cars untended.
The special consumer warning was directed at the owners of an estimated 9 million Ford Motor Co. light cars and trucks built with automatic transmissions between 1970 and 1978. The vehicles in question have engines of 300-cubic inches or more C-6 or FMX transmissions.
The government said the transmissions can skip into reverse from park and begin to move out of control.
Meanwhile another federal agency, the General Services Administration, said it would be removing some 300 Ford Pinto's from its fleet of cars because of another federal investigation into gas tank hazards associated with that car. Ford has already announced it would soon be recalling the Pintos in question - an estimated 1.5 million.
The National Traffic Safety Administration, which made the transmission announcement yesterday, is moving towards a possible recall of the 9 million vehicles. Sources in the agency say yesterday's warning is designed to spark consumers to inform the agency of the problems they have had with transmissions to help bolster NHTSA's case in corurt, since Ford is likely to fight any such recall with legal action.
In yesterday's announcement, NHTSA released new accident data estimating 777 accidents, 23 fatalities, and 259 injuries allegedly caused by the transmission slippage problem.
In Detroit, Ford spokesman John Echhold said, "To date we have found no evidence that it (transmission slippage) in fact ovvurs when the transmission level hab been put properly in the park position."
Ford spokesmen have said that one problem has been the failure of motorists to put the gearshift all the way into park.