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Ford to Install Gas Tank Shields

September 28, 2002

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) _ Some 350,000 police cars across the country will be retrofitted to make their gas tanks less likely to explode, although critics said the fixes haven’t been independently tested and civilian owners of the same model cars won’t get the free changes.

Ford Motor Co. agreed Friday to pay for the installation of shields around the gas tanks on police-issued Crown Victorias to reduce the chances that the vehicles burst into flames in high-speed, rear-end crashes.

While pleased that Ford agreed to make the modifications, the families of some victims said independent testing on the fix should be done. At least a dozen officers have been killed in rear-end crashes.

``We welcome Ford’s efforts, but the consequences of an ineffective solution to this problem can be fatal. We cannot risk that,″ said Ann Marie Nielsen. Her husband Robert Nielsen, a police officer in Chandler, Ariz., was killed on June 12 after his patrol car collided with another car and burst into flames.

Joan Claybrook, president of the consumer group Public Citizen, said she would like to see more testing of the shields, particularly by an agency or group not funded by Ford.

``There needs to be an independent crash test,″ said Claybrook, a former administrator at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. ``This is a complicated fix, and I just want to be sure this works.″

She also expressed concern that Ford was not adding shields to consumer versions of the car.

Ford officials insisted Friday the Crown Victoria is a safe car, and modifications to the consumer version are unnecessary because most drivers don’t summit their cars to the pressures that police officers do.

Sue Cischke, vice president of safety engineering for Ford, said the automaker was responding to concerns raised by police nationwide, but the car still has a strong safety record.

``We’re trying to make a safe car safer,″ Cischke said.

Shields made of plastic, rubber and aluminum will be installed on the rear axle, the differential and underneath the gas tanks of patrol cars to reduce the chances of the gas tank being punctured.

Cischke would not say how much the modifications will cost. But a state government official speaking on condition of anonymity said it would cost about $50 million to retrofit the 350,000 Crown Victorias used by police departments nationwide _ approximately 80 percent of police cars on the road in the United States.

``This is a significant step forward in the safety of the Crown Victoria,″ said Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano, who has been pressing Ford to make the cars safer.

Cischke said the retrofit kits should start arriving at Ford dealerships by the end of next month, and all shields should be installed by January. The same modifications will not be made to the consumer version of the Crown Victoria, though drivers will be able to buy retrofit kits if they want them.

Ford said it also plans to sell law-enforcement agencies special boxes to store heavy or sharp items in the trunk. Cischke said that in a number of accidents such objects punctured the gas tank after they were pushed through the sides of the trunk.

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On the Net:

Ford’s Crown Victoria: http://www.cvpi.com

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