Have You Driven A Ford… Lately ?

Well, if you have, better check your tires.

Or your tires’ valve stems, to be more specific. Those are the rubber and brass stalks that you connect an air hose to, when inflating your tires. See this article about the problem (Detroit News, 10/22/08). Here’s an investigation by WCVB-TV in Boston, which claims there may be up to 30 million potentially defective valve stems in use. Who is responsible for all this ? Blame August Schrader, at least indirectly.

WCVB-TV)

A valve stem exhibiting cracking (photo: WCVB-TV)

FoMoCo, or The Ford Motor Company, the automobile manufacturer that gave America what this Wikipedia article calls “the barbecue that seats four”, the exploding Ford Pinto of the 1970’s, is back in the news because of another possible safety problem.

It seems that at least 1.05 million 2007 model year Ford vehicles, including a dozen different Ford models, may have been assembled with Chinese-made rubber valve stems that are falling apart after about a year of use. Apparently, Shanghai Baolong Automotive Corp. (a subsidiary of Topseal Auto Parts), the Chinese company that made them for Ford, might have had a quality problem which allows the rubber to dry out and crack after being exposed to the atmosphere for a few months. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been investigating the problem since at least early September, meeting with Ford officials on Sept. 10. The NHTSA has asked Ford for information about the valve stems, but is not requiring a response from Ford until early next year.

Ford has acknowledged complaints from vehicle owners, but would not say how many reports they have received involving possibly defective valve stems. They have also said that they don’t think it is a safety issue. Well, if you’re not a driver of, or a passenger in a Ford vehicle, we would probably agree with them.

Here’s a report sent to the NHTSA by a Massachusetts company that looked into the valve stem problem. From reading their report, which contains comments from affected vehicle owners, it would appear that the company, Safety Research & Strategies, Inc. of Rehoboth, Massachusetts, was retained by the NHTSA to look into the problem, but we are not certain that this is the case.

It’s never a good thing when your valve stems decide to let loose while you’re traveling down the highway at 65 MPH. Come to think of it, there’s probably never a good time for your tires to suddenly go flat. For the sake of anyone traveling in a Ford vehicle, hopefully any leaks will be minor, and will be noticed before causing a catastrophe.

The bean counters at Ford that decided they could save 2 cents (or whatever) on each valve stem if they bought them from China, must be mighty proud of themselves. Now, at a time when the American automobile industry is already hurting big time, Ford may end up having to spend tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to recall more than a million vehicles, to replace parts that cost a few pennies each. Then there’s the public’s loss of trust, which will probably cost them much more than that. Smart. Real Smart.

We don’t mean to single out Ford for what may be foolish cost cutting. We’re sure the entire American auto industry is guilty of similar bad decisions.

Despite the fact that you can see and touch the valve stems to inspect them, if large numbers of vehicles require valve stem replacement, it will be a logistical and financial nightmare for the companies involved. It will require removing all of the tires from the vehicle, including the spare, dismounting the tires from the wheels, removing and replacing the valve stems, remounting the tires on the wheels, balancing all of the wheels, and then reinstalling them on the vehicle. There’s no shortcuts to the process. And where do you get five million high quality valve stems in a hurry ? Tire shortages are another possibility, if valve failures or recall campaigns result in large numbers of tires being replaced as a result of the problem.

In addition, if defective, damaged or worn tires are present, we would think that remounting them on a vehicle could pose a liability issue for Ford or any other company doing the recall(s). Telling an owner that brings in their vehicle for a set of no-charge replacement valve stems that they will have to spend six, seven or eight hundred dollars for new tires is sure to create big problems, even if it’s absolutely true and necessary. And with the economy the way it is, you can bet there are plenty of Americans riding around on tires that have seen better days.

If Ford ends up recalling more than a million vehicles to replace the valve stems, it will be interesting to see where the replacement parts come from. Will Ford have learned a lesson, and use American made valve stems, or will they just buy a couple of million more Chinese valve stems? Nothing would surprise us.

It also wouldn’t surprise us if this potential problem is not limited to 2007 model year vehicles, or to vehicles manufactured only by Ford. It might even involve any vehicles that have had new tires installed in the last few years, since tire dealers will normally replace the valve stems when installing new tires.

That hissing sound you hear coming from your garage just might not be a snake, after all.

– Routing By Rumor

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Filed under Automobile Manufacturers, Business, Cars, China, Money, News, Routing by Rumor, The Economy, Your Health

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