Government investigates whether gas and brake pedals too close on Taurus and Sable

Tuesday, April 23rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Federal safety officials are investigating whether the brake and gas pedals on the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable are too close, causing some drivers to hit the accelerator accidentally when trying to slow down.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's investigation involves 402,651 cars from the 2000 and 2001 model years.

Twenty-two people have complained to the agency about the problem. Three reported crashes, including one who says her 2001 Sable crashed three times, each with a different driver. No injuries were reported.

Fourteen of the complaints involve the 2000 Sable. The Sable comes with adjustable pedals as standard equipment, while they are optional on the Taurus. Adjustable pedals allow drivers to sit farther from the steering wheel and still reach the gas and brake.

NHTSA opened the probe in March and included it in a monthly report of investigations released Monday.

Ford Motor Co. spokesman Todd Nissen said the automaker is cooperating with NHTSA's investigation, but it's too early to speculate on the outcome.

NHTSA opens any investigation with a preliminary inquiry, in which the agency and the manufacturer exchange paperwork about an alleged problem. The investigation then may be upgraded to an engineering analysis, where government engineers examine the parts to see if they are defective. An investigation can lead to a recall

The agency also disclosed Monday that it has closed its investigation of 1997 through 1999 models of the Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Voyager and Town & Country after DaimlerChrysler agreed to recall 543,311 of the minivans. NHTSA was looking into complaints that the seat belts jammed. DaimlerChrysler says it will replace the belts for free.

NHTSA also opened investigations into these vehicles:

_The 1998-2000 Kia Sephia. Six people reported fires caused by the battery cable shorting out against the transmission dipstick tube. About 134,000 of the cars are on the road.

_The 1997 Nissan Maxima. Five people complained of engine fires starting at the alternator. About 123,200 of the cars are on the road.

_The 2002 Chevy TrailBlazer, GMC Envoy and Oldsmobile Bravada. Some of the vehicles have a wiring problem in the steering column that can cause the lights, wipers and cruise control to malfunction. General Motors has taught its dealers how to fix the problem. About 200,000 of the sport utility vehicles are affected.

_The 2002 Nissan Xterra. NHTSA received a complaint about the driver's side air bag not working properly. Nissan sent a bulletin to its dealers telling them how to fix the problem on the SUV, about 20,000 of which have been sold.