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Software fault forces Ford recall

110,000 Explorers need reprogramming

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Car giant Ford has instigated a recall of 110,000 Explorer and Mountaineer sport utility vehicles because of a programming glitch in the car's cruise control equipment.

A month ago, Ford denied claims in a UK TV show that cruise control problems had caused a number of Explorers to accelerate suddenly without warning. At the time, the company blamed the problem on floor mats becoming entangled with the throttle pedal.

The Channel 4 programme, broadcast on 15 November, alleged that in 1998, British motorist Chris Merrick had died when his Explorer ran out of control and that a number of US motorists had also fallen victim to runaway Fords.

At the time, Ford said it there was no evidence of engine controls being to blame for 'unintended sudden acceleration' or faults with cruise control systems. It admitted that complaints about the vehicles not slowing as expected had prompted a recall in 1998, when incorrectly fitted floor mats beneath the pedals were replaced.

Today, Mike Vaughn, a spokesman for Ford in Detroit, told The Register that the programming of a chip in the powertrain control module was suspect. "In this case, it is the way it was programmed, not the way it was designed or manufactured," he said. "The fix is simply to reflash or reprogram it at the dealer."

The Explorer was also involved in a number of fatal accidents caused by the failure of Firestone tyres, which are also subject to a recall. The cruise control was intended to limit the vehicle's top speed to 100mph, the Firestone tyres being rated safe up to 106mph. The software fault could have allowed this maximum speed to be exceeded.

Vaughn added that Ford was not aware of any crashes, tyre-related or otherwise, that had been caused by the defective software. ®

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