The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is launching a preliminary investigation into reports that a seatbelt component in Ford F-150 pickup trucks has led to unusual fires in newer model vehicles. According to a Consumer Reports article, the investigation covers 1.4 million trucks from the 2015 through the 2018 model years. Consumers have reported that the fires have ignited in the pillar, which houses the seatbelt pretensioners during or immediately after a crash.
Probe Begins After Consumer Complaints
The seatbelt pretensioner acts to tighten the seatbelt and hold occupants in place. This enables the vehicle’s airbags to work as intended and reduce the likelihood of injuries. Like airbags, pretensioners use an explosive that is triggered during a crash. Pretensioners in F-150 pickup trucks are made by Takata or ZF TRW. NHTSA says in three cases, the fire became so intense that the truck was completely destroyed.
The agency launched the probe after five consumers complained about the problem. Typically the agency does not open an investigation with such a small number of consumer complaints, except when the defect seems particularly dangerous.
A consumer reported to NHTSA that on July 7, a deer had run into the driver’s side of his F-150. At the time, a passenger removing a purse from the truck’s rear seat noticed there was a fire at the bottom of one of the pillars between the front and rear door, where the seatbelt housing is located. The truck went up in flames within a matter of minutes, the complaint stated.
Recalling Defective Vehicles
Another person reported that their truck was engulfed in flames with a fire that started in the passenger seat. Ford has said it is cooperating with NHTSA and is investigating the matter. A preliminary evaluation is typically the first step in NHTSA’s investigation process. Automakers will recall vehicles at this stage if they agree on the issue with federal investigations. If NHTSA is dissatisfied with the automaker’s response and is convinced there is a safety issue, it could upgrade the probe to an Engineering Analysis. The next step would be a recall.
Consumer Reports experts are urging F-150 owners to continue using their seatbelts. If you have been injured in a fire caused by one of these vehicles, you may be eligible to receive compensation for damages such as medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, pain and suffering and emotional distress. An experienced auto defect lawyer will be able to advise you regarding your legal rights and options.