• May 11th 2010 at 10:29AM
  • 106
Toyota's recent issues have turned the lights on automakers' and governments' responses to consumer complaints. Two of the questions to arise, which still haven't been answered, are what is the threshold for customer complaints to be considered a safety defect, and when should the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration open an investigation? An example? More than 200 owners of 1999 to 2003 Ford Windstar minivans have submitted complaints to the NHTSA about snapping rear axles, but there has been no investigation and Ford says there's no safety issue.

The breaking-axle incidents have happened after 80,000 miles, the majority coming after the six-figure mileage mark. Ford's take is that nearly all drivers have retained control of the vehicles, and the few that haven't have described behavior that doesn't fit with Ford's predicted vehicle behavior in such an incident. Therefore, it isn't a problem with safety.

As for the NHTSA, even though the complaints are spread over various categories (consumers choose their own categories under which to report), it says it has reviewed every single one of them and says it is monitoring the situation. We suppose everyone is relying on good judgment to decide when or if to declare this a safety matter and open an investigation, and we can agree with that – good judgment can make far more sense than trying to slap hard numbers on these kind of occurrences. The question is: Who's the one with the good judgment?

A new report by USA Today states that NHTSA has officially launched an investigation into this problem, which accounts for nearly 1.5 million Windstars that were produced between 1999 and 2003. NHTSA has received 234 different complaints about rear axle failure, 55 percent of which say that the rear axle fractured completely, while the remaining 45 percent say the axles broke while traveling at speeds of 40 miles per hour or faster.

Two accidents have been reported due to this problem. In one case, the driver says that the axle "snapped in half" after the vehicle ran over a pothole, causing the rear tires to blow out. The driver of this Windstar struck a guardrail while trying to stop. The other instance happened under similar circumstances, and the driver hit a curb at low speed while trying to stop the vehicle.

NHTSA states that the Windstar uses a beam-style rear axle, and that these problems could be caused by road salt collecting on the beams, causing corrosion. Both instances are reported to have occurred in "Salt Belt" states. Ford says it is fully cooperating with the investigation.

[Source: New York Times, USA Today]

I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.

    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      Time for those back seat passengers to join Jenny Craig ???
      • 5 Years Ago
      I am a Courier for a well known package handling company and I drive Ford Windstar Van on city streets with uneven pavement and potholes. Sometimes the van is loaded to the max and probably more once in a while. The van has 98000 miles on it and I have never snapped a rear axle. The secret to my sucess is that when I drive I pay attention to the terrain of the roadway so as to avoid potholes and such, If I can't avoid the the road hazards I slow down so as not to damage my van. I am amazed at the number of people that drive at breakneck speed on city streets with no mind to the oncoming hazards. The only repairs have been a complete set of brakes, a power steering pump and some electrical problem with the door locks, all of which were repaired by my local Ford Dealer in a timely fashion.
      • 5 Years Ago
      That's because Ford is UAW, so Obama says "NO recalls".
        • 5 Years Ago
        I nominate this for idiotic comment of the day.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I think Obama doesn't like big business in general.

        Be that as it may, you are hallucinating if you think Ford is getting a free pass because of the UAW.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Hundreds of reports isn't a whole lot. How about the NHTSA investigate the 1996-1999 Ford Taurus SHO, most of which self-grenaded their own engines without anyone at Ford giving a damn.
      • 5 Years Ago
      You know we are talking about vehicles that are in some cases 11 years old. I don't think any company can be expected to produce a vehicle that will not experience wear over such a long period. I know this article is a leap frog story for the other recalls but really how long does a company have to warranty a vehicle. The article was to intimate that there is some conspiracy here but really...when will I hear about that metal baseball bat I bought 20 years ago that broke the other day. Should I be outraged? Its nice to know that there could be a problem but this article is stupid and sort of insulting that it wants to motivate us to be outraged, or suspicious.
      • 5 Years Ago
      It's actually not really an axle. The rear end is just a steel Tube. On each end is a Spindle, Bearing and the Brakes. Ford is not the only one that had this issue. Many Chrysler Front wheel drive cars had the same problem. Vehicles are built with Poor quality parts since the late 80's. The reason is so the vehicle dies out faster and then you end up needing to buy a new one.
      • 5 Years Ago
      listen. I've driven minivans of various makes and models. the ford was one of the poorest put together minivan of our domestic varieties. (kia and older nissan minivans have been TERRIBLE). brand names such as ford and gm are simply trying to get in on dodge's huge success with the grand caravans. but no vehicle if perfect, they all break. if you have ever had a vehicle that doesn't need some major repair by the time it has rolled 100,000 miles then good for you, because i haven't. the 1997 grand caravan I'm currently driving has 195,000 miles on it, it got a new transmission at 90,000, but that's a well-known dodge problem the nhtsa or dodge didn't investigate or replace that. Where were these faulty ford axles breaking? the northern states that are incredibly hard on cars (i hail from new hampshire, so i know how tough winters and salt are first-hand). to sum it up... stop complaining that you car broke at 80 -100 thousand miles. its life, and part of owning a high mileage car.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Proves our liberal congress is racist as an inststution.

      Go after the Japanese company in spite of the fact that 90% of his cars sold in the US are actually made in the US. Put even more people out of work and dependent on government "genorosity." It only costs you your vote for the rest if your lives.
      • 5 Years Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      They don't make them like they used to. Anyway I own a 2007 Toyota Highlander Hybrid and have never had a bit of trouble with it. I still have 4 wheel drive and can fit 7 passengers, but have much better gas mileage than with my 2001 Dodge Durango that broke down twice a year. I used to get 10-11 mpg in the Durango, now I get 26-27 mpg in the Toyota. I love my Toyota.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Quoting DaveASE @ Flatratetech..."It is unusual, but some Windstars of this vintage suffered broken rear axles." Emphasis on "It is unusual" here, How many Windbags did Ford build? And how many complaints? (How are these vehicles driven and maintained, once again, personal responisbility has to figure in here somewhere.)
      Do the math folks..although this is nowhere near the statistical joke that is the speed control deactivation switch fire issue.
        • 5 Years Ago
        That's what I was thinking. Considering that you can buy these things for next to nothing, it seems like people just pick them up for cheap transportation (work vehicles, low income families) and don't give a crap about maintaining it. I see it constantly with the people I work with and friends of mine. They get a car for around $1-2k and just change the oil.

        Oh and don't bring up the cruise control issue. Tens of millions of vehicles affected (16M vehicles had the switch, right?) and of those millions something like .0001% had issues. Someone did that math on here once...
      • 5 Years Ago
      So far Honda is the best van out there. I've had too many American made cars to ever want one again. I can't afford to keep fixing them when they are still new. Toyota was good, but they've proven that they can't be trusted either.
    • Load More Comments
    Share This Photo X