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Tucson, Marana police mothball dozens of Fords: Power steering failed as officer turned at high speed, crashed
[February 09, 2007]

Tucson, Marana police mothball dozens of Fords: Power steering failed as officer turned at high speed, crashed


(Arizona Daily Star, The (Tucson) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Feb. 9--Police cruisers all over Pima County have been parked and taken out of service because of a steering problem officials say causes drivers to lose control during high-speed turns.



Tucson pulled nearly 85 Ford Crown Victoria cruisers off the street after an officer crashed last month when his power steering failed during a high-speed turn, resulting in $3,000 in damage. The officer wasn't seriously hurt.

Nearly half of the Marana Police Department's patrol cars had to be taken out of service last week when officials learned of the steering pump's potential for failure. All 33 cars failed high-speed tests done at the Marana Regional Airport on Wednesday.


The problem hit at a crucial time for Marana, as police prepare to provide security and traffic control for the Accenture Match Play Championship, which begins Feb. 19 and is expected to draw at least 10,000 visitors, in addition to their normal law-enforcement duties.

Until repairs are made, Marana officers are trading vehicles between shifts.

Pima County has about 70 of the cruisers as well, mostly assigned to the Sheriff's Department. But county officials said they're not taking vehicles off the street because no problems have been reported. No testing is being done either, as the county is leaving it to drivers to report problems.

Ford Motor Co. issued a "Technical Service Bulletin" on Nov. 6 on the 2006-07 Crown Victoria Police vehicles built before Oct. 24, 2006, which states those vehicles "may exhibit a momentary increase in steering effort during a rapid turning maneuver" -- meaning abrupt sharp turns such as a U-turn or a more than 90-degree turn.

Although the cars are relatively new, they had to be taken off the street "due to the potential safety issues inherent with a lack of steering control," Police Chief Richard Miranda said in a memo.

Assistant Chief Sharon Allen said that after the officer crashed, a complaint was made that the steering failed. The department investigated and the city's Fleet Services Divsion found Ford's bulletin about the steering problems.

"That prompted our review," Allen said of the crash.

Ford spokesman Dan Jarvis said technical service bulletins are intended to help mechanics diagnose problems, and are actually additions to the car's service manual. The bulletin recommends replacing the power steering pump with a higher displacement pump, and says the fix is eligible for repair under the provisions of the car's new limited warranty coverage.

"Technical service bulletins are not an indicator of a defect trend," Jarvis said. "We monitor field data closely and if we see a trend, we will take appropriate action. In this case ... we have not seen a large trend. If we see a trend, we will initiate a safety investigation."

Late Thursday, he said he couldn't say how widespread the steering issue is because several managers with the information had already left for the day.

Allen said she is optimistic the 71 marked cars and 12 unmarked Crown Victorias can be returned to the fleet in three weeks. The department has about 400 marked cruisers and about 800 total vehicles.

Police service won't be affected, other than the special duty program, where marked cars are paid to patrol mall parking lots or direct traffic around construction sites, so the marked vehicles assigned to that program can be put back on patrol.

Allen said the department is either using unmarked cars or is providing the police officer without the car for the program.

In his memo Miranda said 13 vehicles also had to be pulled off the auction block and put back into service.

The pumps cost about $100 each, with the labor cost pushing the total to $250 per car, said Fleet Services Administrator Gary Lowe. That puts the cost of repairs for all 83 vehicles at nearly $21,000. Marana's fleet services supervisor, Vincent Lorefice, estimated it will cost the town about $10,000.

Tucson General Services Director Ron Lewis said the city felt it had free repairs worked out with Jim Click Ford, where it bought the cars. But a regional Ford representative said Click couldn't fix the cars for free, Lewis said.

Marana also thought it had free repairs with Holmes Tuttle Ford, where its vehicles were purchased. But before work could begin, the Ford representative stepped in and said the automaker wouldn't pay for the repairs unless there was a specific problem with the pumps, said Lorefice, Marana's fleet services supervisor.

Town officials decided they needed to show Ford the problem, so on Wednesday they took the 33 vehicles to Marana Regional Airport, where they closed down a runway and had a Holmes Tuttle technician test-drive the cars, simulating high-speed pursuits. Each car failed, Lorefice said.

Unless Ford agrees to the repairs today, Lorefice said he'll have them fixed at the town's expense. "One way or another, our cars have to be done by next Friday," Lorefice said.

Tucson and Marana officials are meeting with Ford representatives early today to talk more about the repairs, officials from both cities said.

Despite Tucson's and Marana's problems, Deputy Pima County Administrator John Bernal said the county is not taking any vehicles off the street because, so far, they haven't had any problems. They are not doing any testing either, he said.

"Our understanding is that there is a slight interruption of steering control," Bernal said. "It doesn't render the vehicle inoperable or even unsafe. We've told our users to let us know if they experience any problems like the others have, but so far we haven't."

Oro Valley police have identified nine squad cars that could have the pump failure, though a majority of the vehicles haven't hit the streets yet. Ford has agreed to replace the pumps next week because the vehicles are under warranty, said Liz Wright, a department spokeswoman.

Find more coverage of crime news at www.azstarnet.com/crime

--Reporter Erica Meltzer contributed to this story. --Contact reporter Rob O'Dell at 573-4240 or rodell@azstarnet.com. --Contact reporter Aaron Mackey at 618-1924 or at amackey@azstarnet.com.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson
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