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Ford Motor Company is recalling 484,600 Ford Escape SUVs from the 2002-2004 model years. Approximately 423,634 of the affected Ford Escape SUVs are in the United States. There are also an estimated 35,000 defective Ford Escape SUVs in Canada, 19,000 in Mexico, 4,500 in Europe, and 4,300 in other areas around the globe. The 2001-2004 Ford Escape SUVs sent to Europe were marketed under a different name, the “Maverick.” In addition, Mazda Motor Corporation is recalling 121,000 Mazda Tribute SUVs in the United States from model years 2002-2004. The 2002-2004 Ford Escape SUVs and Mazda Tribute SUVs subject to the recall are virtually identical. They all come equipped with a 3 liter, 6 cylinder engine, and were built with the same platform in Ford’s Kansas City assembly plant. The Ford Escape SUVs were assembled between May 30, 2001 and January 23, 2004. The Mazda Tribute SUVs were assembled between May 30, 2001 and December 19, 2003. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) is researching a potential throttle failure that may be causing the vehicles to accelerate out of control. Ford Motor Company and Mazda Motor Corporation are notifying owners and repairing the vehicles free of charge.

The potential safety hazard occurs when the driver fully presses the accelerator. The throttle may fail to return to idle as the consumer releases the acceleration pedal. This may occur regardless of whether or not the driver is using cruise control at the time. NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation has cited a total of 99 reports of “stuck throttle.” Of the 99 suspected “stuck throttle” incidents, 68 reports came from owners of Ford Escape SUVs and 31 reports came from owners of Mazda Tribute SUVs. There were 13 accidents, 9 injuries, and one fatality. Several reports claim the emergency was caused by insufficient clearance between the engine cover at the throttle body cam and the speed control (cruise control) cable connector. Other consumer complaints claim the problem could be related to repairs conducted as part of a 2004 safety recall.

The reported fatality occurred in January 2012, after a Ford Escape SV being driven by Saige Bloom, a 17-year-old from Payson, Arizona, sped out of control.  Saige was driving in front of her mother during afternoon traffic at the time. Saige called her mother as she attempted to slow the vehicle, and her mother watched helplessly as the Ford Escape SUV accelerated until it clipped another vehicle. Saige’s SUV flipped several times before it finally screeched to a stop.

After the investigation, the Payson, Arizona Police Chief stated: “There were scuff marks from a shoe there on the plastic very near the accelerator, which would be uncommon unless someone was in a panic situation and trying everything they could to get that to release.”Ford Motor Company inspected Bloom’s Ford Escape SUV on January 20, 2012. A subsequent engineering review resulted in the Ford Escape SUV recall and an investigation by the NHTSA that began on July 17, 2012.

The Center for Auto Safety (CAS), a non-profit group, is requesting that the NHTSA continue its investigation. They claim that Ford Motor Company is attempting to cover up a potentially flawed cruise control cable by adjusting the inadequate cover clearance. Attorney Michael Brooks of the CAS wrote to the NHTSA: “Replacing the defective cruise control cable eliminates the defect and the need for more clearance. Ford’s defect description and remedy have one purpose, and one purpose only, to avoid a civil penalty being imposed by NHTSA for failing to do a timely recall in 2005 when Ford discovered the cruise control cable guide would break and the cable connector would jam against the engine cover resulting in a stuck throttle.”

Both Ford Motor Company and Mazda Motor Corporation are requesting that consumers park their Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute SUVs immediately. Consumers should not drive the vehicles to any dealership. Ford and Mazda dealers will be able to raise the engine cover near the speed control cable free of charge when the remedy parts are available. Prior to repair, Ford and Mazda dealers are offering to disconnect the cruise control cable as a temporary fix that will allow consumers to safely drive their Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute SUVs. This service is also free of charge. Ford Escape SUV owners may contact Ford Motor Company toll-free at 1-866-436-7332. Mazda Tribute SUV owners may contact Mazda Customer Assistance Center toll-free at 1-800-222-5500 and select option 6. All concerned consumers may contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Vehicle Safety Hotline toll-free at 1-888-327-4236 or visit safercar.gov for more information.