• Jun 17, 2005

A new lawsuit has been filed that blames a woman's death on a defective Texas Instruments cruise-control switch inside her 1996 Ford F-150. Darletta Mohlis died in a house fire in May while her truck was parked inside her garage. Ford claims the fire started elsewhere and that the truck was not the cause. Where the lawsuit gets a bit absurd is that DuPont has also been named, as they supplied raw materials (Kapton and Teflon) for the switch.


I understand that it?s typical to name every party that may have some vested interest when filing such a lawsuit, but it?s highly unlikely that DuPont will be found liable. What is likely is that they?ll burn through hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process of defending themselves, which doesn?t seem like a good use of their resources.

TI?s liability (assuming the switch was at fault) is a more difficult question, as Tier 1 suppliers (who ship directly to the OEM) are usually deeply involved in the design and validation process. If Ford under-specified the switch and TI met the inadequate specifications, then the burden should fall on Ford?s shoulders. On the other hand, it?s possible the TI delivered a part that did not meet all of the requirements, in which case they will feel some pain. 

Some investigative reporting by WXYZ, the ABC affiliate in Detroit, includes an interview by a TI representative that pins the blame on Ford?s usage of the switch (of course). The fact that TI has paid out millions of dollars in out-of-court settlements, usually after being called into court by Ford as a third-party defendant, would seem to imply that TI is at fault. The failure mode - brake fluid enters the switch from the master cylinder, causing a short that ignites a fire - certainly seems to be a result of a switch design flaw. TI, however, claims that Ford powered the switch from a 15-amp circuit but specified it for only 1 amp, and additionally powered the switch from a Hot At All Time feed (instead of a switched ignition circuit) that left the vehicle vulnerable to the failure even once the ignition was switched off and the owner had walked away. The contention here is that while TI built a defective product, Ford applied it in such a manner that turned a benign failure into a catastrophic one.

The bottom line is that there?s been property damage and loss of life due to what was probably regarded at the time as a simple component in a well-developed subsystem. It goes to show the difficulty in producing a large number of complex and safe vehicles when cost is such a critical parameter. Sometime, sweating the details means more than making a rattle-free piece of interior trim.





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  • 18 Comments
      • 9 Years Ago
      You got them KT. It's clearly lawyer's fault for cutting corners and producing a dangerous part for a vehicle that kills people. When will those lawyers stop wrecking America? It's the owner's responsibility to make sure all parts of his vehicle are safe, not the automaker's. When will people assume personal responsibility?
      • 9 Years Ago
      This makes so much sense. About 4 months ago my parents returned from work and, as usual, saw our neighboor pull his F-150 into the driveway of a house he was leasing down the street. About 15-30 minutes later there was a loud noise and they noticed his truck on fire, not as usual, and watched it burn down. Unfortunately, it was close enough to the garage to burn the entire house down. Wierd.
      • 9 Years Ago
      This issue is being totally overblown by the media (imagine that). This SAME part has been used for ELEVEN (11) years in the most popular vehicles Ford sells - yet it's just now coming to light that there is a problem with it. What does that say about the odds of a failure and resulting fire actually happening in an individual vehicle? I'd love to see the actual odds... but I bet it's something on the order of a million to 1. About as likely as winning the lottery. Use some common sense (you're excused, Paul. We all know you'll bash any & every American product regardless of how good it is). I'm not saying there's not a problem... I'm just saying it's not as big a deal as the media and Ford's competition would have you believe. It a very easy to replace switch - and Ford is taking care of it. No cover-up attempt whatsoever.
      • 9 Years Ago
      Gm has no recent problems like this. Ford sucks and covers up there problems untill some one dies or loses something. Ford is an imature little company who sells broken down pieces of trash that needs to go to the junk yard. I feel for the peoples lost and now know that they probably found out there mistakes. Ford needs to shut down and close. And America needs to stop buying forein cars and broken down American cars. Buy General motors and Dodge unless you want yours to be in the shop or in another recall. Gm will rule the world and already does to many!
      • 9 Years Ago
      Chris I have a 1996 Ford Windstar; exactly where did you find the cruise control switch? I would like to disconnect mine. I typically park my van in the garage under my children's bedroom, but am not doing that any longer until I get this disconnected. Thanks
      • 9 Years Ago
      I have a 2000 Windstar and the Cruise Control is not working. In addition, the ABS light is on all the time. When I took it to the dealer, they said, the fact that the Cruise Control isn't working has to do with the ABS light coming on, but they told me I could wait to fix it? Now I read they've recalled almost every other model Ford with this switch, except the Windstar...I'm not parking mine in the garage any more either. Is there an easy way to disconnect the Cruise as it doesn't work anyway?
      • 9 Years Ago
      Im not too sure when the recall was issued md, but we had a blog about it a few weeks ago about the recall. But if you don't act on any type of recall, you are at fault (as we mentioned)
      • 9 Years Ago
      I was changing my air filter today in my 1996 Ford Windstar and saw the cruise control pressure switch was disconnected and charred to a crisp. From what I have been reading today, I have so far avoided the worst possible scenario. I have pictures and if this helps anyone in any situation , I will be happy to send them to you.
      • 9 Years Ago
      Paul, Do you live in a vacuum? There is not one automaker, import or domestic that has not had a problem with fires at one point or another. It might be accident related, it might be defective parts, but all have had the problem. No product is 100% safe, and a recall is a way of taking care of that problem. Toyota, Honda, Nissan have all had recalls, all have had fire incidents. Toyota has engine sludge problems. Sorry to say no company or car is perfect.
      • 9 Years Ago
      Ugh. Fortunately, this new discount offering by Ford only applies to new vehicles: http://www.detnews.com/2005/autosinsider/0506/17/C01-218739.htm
      • 9 Years Ago
      I have a Ford Windstar 1996 with 70k miles. Just got back a couple of hours ago when I started smelling something bad. I parked the car and went to check under the hood to discover a moderate blaze inside. Fortunately I had a fire extinguisher that helped me put off the fire before it spreads. Thank god nothing was affected except this cruise-control switch and its wires.
      • 9 Years Ago
      I have a Ford Windstar 1996 with 70k miles. Just got back a couple of hours ago when I started smelling something bad. I parked the car and went to check under the hood to discover a moderate blaze inside. Fortunately I had a fire extinguisher that helped me put off the fire before it spreads. Thank god nothing was affected except this cruise-control switch and its wires.
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