Ford Windstar Minivans Under Microscope for Rear-Axel Corrosion Problems

The <"">Ford Windstar minivans’ rear-axel corrosion problems are getting more scrutiny from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). According to a notice on its website, the agency has opened an engineering analysis into the 1999-2003 minivans sold and driven in “salt-belt states.”

Those Ford Windstar minivans were recalled this past August due to a defect that can cause the rear axle to weaken and crack after exposure to salt corrosion. If undetected, the fractured rear axle could negatively affect the driver’s ability to control the vehicle increasing the risk of a crash. Recently, another 29,900 vehicles were added to the recall, bringing the total number of Ford Windstar Minivans impacted by the action to about half a million.

The NHTSA is urging owners of model year 1998 to 2003 Ford Windstar minivans to bring their vehicles to a Ford dealership immediately to be examined for signs of rear axle corrosion. According to the agency, if you own one of the affected Ford Windstar vehicles that has not yet had the inspection; you are advised to watch for potential warning signs of a cracked rear axle. Those include: top of the rear tires tilted inward (negative camber); excessive bouncing while driving; banging sound while driving over bumps; vehicle rear-end “fishtails.”

According to the NHTSA, the Windstar minivans involved in this recall are currently registered or originally sold in Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The NHTSA first opened an investigation into the subframe issue in July after receiving 87 complaints. The agency said it is now reviewing 346 complaints related to the front subframe — or engine cradle — which carries the engine, transaxle, steering rack and some front suspension components. It also has reports of three crashes. The complaints allege cracking or excessive corrosion of the subframe. Most (97 percent) are in salt-belt states, and most of the problems occurred at the right/passenger side.

According to a report from the Detroit News, The Windstar is coming under increased scrutiny following the October crash of a 2001 Windstar in Whitman, Mass., that killed Sean Bowman, a 28-year-old father of two. The family received a recall notice from Ford postmarked three days after the crash.

Owners of the affected vehicles should immediately visit this Ford web page and enter their Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to see if their particular Ford vehicle has been recalled for the problem and if the repair has been made. The vehicle’s VIN can be found on the driver’s side dashboard and/or on the certification label located on the door latch post next to the driver’s seating position, or in your owner’s manual.

According the Detroit News, Ford told its dealers in October it would agree to buy back some of the Windstars at its discretion over the axle recall. Ford currently expects to have replacement axles in the first part of 2011. Until then, it is providing rental cars to customers to those with cracked or perforated axles, noting it poses an increased risk of a crash. Customers will get to use the rental cars at no cost until the parts are available for the fix. Ford is repairing vehicles that don’t need a replacement axle.

This is the latest issue with Windstars from the late 1990s. Some of the Windstars under investigation have now been recalled at least eight separate times over the last decade, the Detroit News said.

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