Ford Freestyle vehicle in safety investigation

DETROIT Mon May 16, 2011 11:53am EDT

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DETROIT (Reuters) - U.S. safety regulators are investigating reports that the Ford Motor Co crossover SUV Freestyle lunges forward or backward unexpectedly, according to a posting on the regulator's website.

The "lunge" has resulted in 18 minor crashes and one minor injury when a Freestyle reportedly struck a pedestrian in a residential driveway, a report to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.

NHTSA said it has received 238 complaints from consumers about the issue. About 170,000 Freestyle crossovers are involved in the investigation, Ford said.

Ford no longer produces the Freestyle, which it made for the model years 2005 to 2007. All three of those model years are involved in the NHTSA investigation.

Complaints allege that a sudden increase in engine speed, often when the Freestyle vehicles are idling, causing a "lunge" forward if the vehicle is in drive or backward if it is in reverse.

The incidents reported, consumers told NHTSA, occurred when the drivers were not applying pressure to the accelerator.

Ford spokeswoman Susan Krusel said the automaker was "fully" cooperating with NHTSA's reviews of the matter.

A NHTSA investigation is short of a vehicle recall by the manufacturer, but may lead to a recall.

The "lunge" can be stopped if the brake pedal is firmly pressed, the report said. It appears that the engine revving may occur more often when the air conditioner is on or when the steering wheel is turned a "significant amount" such as when parking, according to the report.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall, editing by Maureen Bavdek)

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