Ford issued four recalls Thursday covering 1.3 million vehicles in North America, most of them to fix a power steering defect in SUVs that have resulted in 20 reported accidents.
The biggest recall was of 915,216 Ford Escapes and its corporate sibling, the since-discontinued Mercury Mariner, from the 2008 to 2011 model years, over the steering issue. All of the compact SUVs were made at Ford's Kansas City plant and 736,407 are believed to be in the U.S., with most of the rest in Canada and Mexico.
A separate recall covered the same potential problem in the 2011 to 2013 full-size Explorer SUV made at Ford's Chicago plant. Ford says some 195,527 vehicles are involved, of which 177,747 are believed to be in the U.S.
The number of vehicles in the U.S. involved in Thurday's four recalls is just shy of the total number of vehicles in all of those issued by Ford in 2013. Last year, there were 16 recalls. This year, so far there are 11, says spokeswoman Kelli Felker.
Ford says it is aware of five accident reports involving a total of six injuries related to the defect in Escape and Mariner. On Explorer, there are reports of 15 low-speed accidents and two minor injuries.
Ford reports on both the Escape/Mariner and Explorer, the defect involves a glitch that could result in loss of power steering. The issue has been under investigation on the Escape within Ford since 2009, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration filing. Canadian authorities opened an investigation in 2011. In January, Ford came up with a procedure and parts that allowed dealers to fix the problem without replacing the entire steering column.
The Escape and Mariner problem involves a torque sensor inside the steering column. On Explorer, the issue is an electrical connection in the steering gear that can cut in or out. The result is the same on all the vehicles: the system can default to manual steering mode. In other words, no power steering. Since it takes a lot of effort to turn the wheel, a crash can result, especially at lower speeds.
The other recalls included:
•2010 to 2014 Taurus. Ford is recalling the popular sedan because a light that illuminates the license plate can corrode. If it does, it can cause a short circuit that can cause a fire. Some 196,639 Taurus sedans are covered by the recall. There have been 18 reports of fire. In one instance, a driver was hurt when they tried to smother the fire with their bare hands.
•Floor mats. Ford sold 82,576 driver's side all-weather floor mats for 2006 to 2011 Fusion sedan, Lincoln MKZ and related vehicles that potentially could jam under gas pedals. Two accidents were reported with no injuries. That's the same issue that Toyota says was at the heart of its unintended-acceleration recalls a few years ago. It recalled 3.8 million vehicles over the issue in 2009.
Contributing: James R. Healey