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About 2 million Ford pickup trucks recalled after seat belt mechanism sparks fires

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Ford is recalling about 2 million F-150 pickup trucks after an investigation determined that a seat belt mechanism can spark and start a fire. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Ford is recalling about 2 million F-150 pickup trucks — the top selling vehicle in the U.S. — after an investigation determined that a seat belt mechanism can spark and start a fire.

Why is this happening?

The announcement comes about one month after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began investigating fires in the pickups, according to The Associated Press. The recall covers Regular Cab and SuperCrew Cab F-150 pickup trucks built between March 12, 2014, and Aug. 23, 2018.

In early August, the NHTSA began investigating after receiving five fire reports, including three reports of trucks that were destroyed. No injuries have been reported.

Ford said that the trucks' seat belt pretensioners can generate excessive sparks when they tighten before a crash. In turn, it can “ignite gases inside a support pillar between the front and rear seats, causing insulation and carpet to catch fire,” the report states.

A seat belt pretensioner is a mechanism that allows seat belts to gradually restrain passengers. The device was made by ZF-TRW and Takata, a now-defunct air bag and seat belt maker that was purchased by auto parts supplier Joyson, according to the report.

To fix the problem, dealers will remove insulation and install heat-resistant tape, the report states. They also will “remove remnants of wiring tape and modify interior panels in Regular Cab trucks.” Notifications will be sent to owners starting Sept. 24.

Are there any examples?

In one of the NHTSA complaints, a truck owner in Grand Rapids, Michigan, said that a deer ran into the driver’s side of a pickup and caused minor damage on July 7. The side air bags inflated and after several minutes a fire was discovered by a passenger on the bottom side of the post between the front and rear doors, where the seat belts are located, according to the report.

“The truck went up in complete flames in a matter of minutes and is a complete loss,” the owner wrote in the complaint.

The NHTSA database does not identify consumers who file complaints, The Associated Press noted.

Ford indicated in a filing with U.S. securities regulators that the recall will cost about $140 million. The amount will be reflected in third-quarter results.

According to Ford, the problem began surfacing in the spring of 2017. The company received four reports of post-crash interior fires in the trucks from April through October.

Ford received six more reports of fires in 2015, 2017 and 2018 pickups from April through June. The problem was traced to “the potential” for excessive sparks in the pretensioners. Exhaust gases from the seat belt mechanisms were also investigated.

After about three fires were reported, the NHTSA and Ford together inspected one of the trucks on June 28, The Associated Press reported. The NHTSA launched its investigation on Aug. 3.

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