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Nearly half of all police patrol cars used in Bartholomew County are part of an upcoming recall by Ford Motor Co. because of a potential steering problem with three of its car models, local law enforcement officials said.
The automaker is expected to recall 355,000 Ford Crown Victorias — including the Police Interceptor version — and Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Cars that were manufactured from 2005 through 2011 model years.
The company is unaware of any reported accidents or injuries, a Ford spokesman said, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said there is a risk drivers could lose their ability to steer, causing a crash.
The Columbus Police Department has 27 Crown Victorias that will likely be impacted by the recall, Columbus Police Chief Jason Maddix said.
“We have contacted Renner Ford (of Columbus) and were told the recall process has not officially started yet,” Maddix said. “We have not experienced any (steering) problems.”
Sgt. Curt Beverage, who is in charge of the department’s fleet, said the 27 Crown Victorias represent about half the department’s uniform division patrol cars.
The city began phasing in Dodge Chargers to replace Crown Victorias at a rate of 11 or 12 cars a year since Ford stopped manufacturing the Crown Victoria model a few years ago, Beverage said.
The department chose Chargers because they perform well and can be obtained at lower prices through state bidding, Columbus Police Department spokesman Lt. Matt Myers said.
The Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department, which has 23 Crown Victorias, also is switching its fleet over to Chargers, which can be purchased through the state at more than $10,000 below sticker price, Chief Deputy Todd Noblitt said. The new cars also get more than seven miles per gallon better gas mileage than the Crown Victorias, Noblitt said.
The recall also affects 55 Indiana State Police patrol cars maintained by the Versailles District, which serves Bartholomew, Jackson and Jennings counties, and one vehicle used by the Hope Police Department, police officials said.
However, spokesmen for both the sheriff’s department and state police say their in-house mechanics likely would have taken care of steering problems before they got out of hand.
“We have very regular maintenance from our county mechanic, who also conducts visual inspections,” Noblitt said. “While he has not seen an issue, he’s making sure any of our affected vehicles are taken care of.”
Likewise, the Indiana State Police also have been fixing problems themselves.
“Our mechanics have made the repairs covered by the recall on numerous vehicles over the last several years before the recall was even announced,” Sgt. Noel Houze of the ISP district post in Versailles said.
Most affected patrol cars have been taken to a local dealer to have the problem checked before seeing any loss of steering function, a Ford spokesman said.
Local dealerships are expected to soon receive equipment and instructions to fix potential problems, Beverage said.
The concern is that severe corrosion can seize a lower shaft in the steering system, causing a separation of connected parts that could lead to a loss of maneuverability, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.
If a problem arises, drivers are likely to first experience a change in feel, with the steering becoming stiff and binding, the federal agency said.
The recall would affect cars registered or originally sold in 22 states in the eastern half of the United States, including Indiana.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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