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Ford SUV Under Federal Probe

The government is investigating a possible defect in the Ford Expedition's suspension system, the same problem that led to a recall of the Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer last winter.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received 14 complaints of failure of the front stabilizer bar links in 1997 and 1998 Expeditions. The agency estimates about 437,000 of the vehicles are on the road.

The stabilizer bar connects the left and right front wheel control arms and helps control the pitch of the vehicle in turns.

Ford recalled 876,413 Explorers and Mercury Mountaineers in December to replace the stabilizer bar links.

Ford spokesman Mike Vaughn said the company is cooperating with NHTSA's investigation into the Expedition, but it is too early to speculate on the outcome.

NHTSA opens any investigation with a preliminary evaluation, in which the automaker and the agency exchange paperwork. That is the stage of the Expedition investigation, which was opened in July and was divulged in the monthly investigation report that NHTSA released Tuesday.

The agency can upgrade the investigation into an engineering analysis, where parts are examined for defects. Investigations can lead to a recall, but many are dropped.

NHTSA closed two other investigations into popular Ford vehicles after the automaker agreed to a recall, according to the monthly report.

Ford is recalling 275,167 Windstar minivans because a front coil spring can fracture due to corrosion. Ninety-three owners told Ford the fractured spring punctured a tire, but no accidents or injuries were reported.

The Windstar recall covers only 1997-1998 models registered in northern states and Canadian provinces that use a lot of salt on the road. Nearly 200,000 of the recalled vehicles are in the United States.

Ford is also offering an extended warranty for the problem on all 1995-1998 Windstars. The warranty is for 10 years and unlimited mileage.

Ford also recalled 1996-1998 models of the Contour and Mercury Mystique and 1999 models of the Cougar because of fire risks in the heaters.

Vaughn said 27 fires but no accidents or injuries have been reported to Ford.

The recall involves 342,962 vehicles, 284,989 of which were sold in the United States.

© MMI The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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