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Ford Says Replacement Hoses May Account For Ambulance Fires

May 17, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Hoses improperly installed by ambulance operators may have caused coolant to leak and set fire to engines, Ford Motor Co. said after regulators were asked to order a recall.

A petition filed by a consumers group with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requested the recall of 16,000 1983-1987 Ford E-350 ambulances after reports of four engine fires in March and April.

″In each case, the vehicle emitted an antifreeze odor, had a recent service history involving coolant loss or was identified as having a coolant line rupture after the fire,″ said the petition by the Center for Auto Safety, a consumers group often critical of the auto industry and its regulators.

Ford spokesman Chuck Snearly said Monday the automaker was gathering information on the reports and will act accordingly.

In most of the cases Ford had investigated, the hoses had been replaced to reroute coolant to an auxiliary heater in the back of the ambulance, Snearly said.

″The hoses that were used possibily weren’t up to Ford specifications, and in some cases might have been improperly routed,″ Snearly said. ″Some of the hoses weren’t properly attached.″

NHTSA said it would respond to the petition within 120 days but would have no comment beforehand.

The Ford E-350 ambulances were recalled last year for repair of a fuel system problem that the center said caused 24 fires resulting in 15 injuries. The four recent fires were in ambulances that had been repaired under the 1987 recall.

Snearly said there was no connection between the reported coolant leaks and the earlier fuel-system problem.

Two of the coolant-hose fires occurred in Missouri and one each in Minnesota and Virginia, the center said. Missouri Attorney General William L. Webster last month warned the state’s ambulance services of the possibility of engine fires.

In other regulatory actions, NHTSA said Monday it had opened preliminary evaluations of alleged safety problems with 150,000 1988-model Chevrolet Berettas made by General Motors Corp. and 400,000 1983-1987 GM S10 and S15 compact trucks.

NHTSA said alleged failure of the left rear-wheel spindle in the Berettas could result in the loss of a rear wheel. The agency had unconfirmed reports of two accidents resulting in one injury.

The S10s and S15s allegedly were liable to fracturing of the rear axle, the agency said. NHTSA had unconfirmed reports of four accidents, three of which resulted in one injury each.

GM spokesman Bill Noack said the company was working on its response. ″As in the past, we will cooperate fully with NHTSA, but I would mention that just because there is a preliminary evaluation, it does not necessarily mean there is a defect,″ Noack said.

NHTSA also upgraded to an engineering analysis, the next higher category of investigation, its preliminary evaluations of alleged electrical fires in the 1987 Ford Aerostar vans and of stalling in Ford’s 1986-1987 Taurus and Sable cars.

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