Ford Explorer owners getting carbon monoxide poisoning in their cars, report alleges

Owners of fifth-generation Explorer SUVS are apparently complaining that exhaust leaks are causing carbon monoxide poisoning.

Kyle Hyatt Former news and features editor
Kyle Hyatt (he/him/his) hails originally from the Pacific Northwest, but has long called Los Angeles home. He's had a lifelong obsession with cars and motorcycles (both old and new).
Kyle Hyatt
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The fifth-generation Ford Explorer is allegedly defective, allowing carbon monoxide from exhaust gases into the passenger cabin.


The Ford Explorer is one of the world's most popular midsize SUV's, but a Bloomberg report published on Wednesday alleges that it may be making its owners sick.

The issue, according to the report, involves the alleged intrusion of exhaust gases into the vehicle's cabin which can, in some extreme instances, lead to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Some of the symptoms of CO poisoning include headache, dizziness, nausea, loss of consciousness and death.

Ford has investigated owners' claims that they were experiencing some of these symptoms and in some situations, the Blue Oval found that the vehicle's exhaust system had been welded improperly, leaving gaps through which exhaust gases can escape. It offered replacement exhaust systems in these cases.

According to the report, Ford has been offering its dealer repair instructions since 2012, and it has subsequently issued updates and additional instructions since then. A fix made available in 2017 has lowered complaints "dramatically," says Bloomberg, and Ford reportedly says the solution "effectively resolves the matter." Even so, some claims persist.

The first claims of exhaust smell in the car started shortly after the fifth-generation Explorer entered production in 2011. The first documented example of this comes from a Ford employee, but allegedly the company found the circumstances needed to recreate the problem to be outside of "typical customer use."

2011 Ford Explorer
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2011 Ford Explorer

The issues with exhaust intrusion into the passenger cabin began shortly after the introduction of the fifth-generation Explorer in 2011.


"All of our testing to date has shown these vehicles are safe," said Mike Levine, North American product communications manager, in a statement to Bloomberg. "Ford's investigation has not found carbon monoxide levels that exceed what people are exposed to every day."

When reached for additional comment, Ford officials furnished Roadshow with the same statement given to Bloomberg and declined to elaborate on the company's position further.

So far, at least 50 Explorer owners have taken legal action against Ford over these exhaust leaks, and many more have had their vehicles privately bought back by Ford because of their defects. You're probably asking yourself why -- if this is really happening -- hasn't NHTSA or Ford issued a recall?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has actually been investigating the Explorer issues since 2016. Soon after it began its investigation, it expanded the probe saying that it had preliminary evidence of elevated levels of CO in some situations. The investigation is presently ongoing though we found numerous complaints on its website related to the exhaust issue.

What does this mean for Ford, if NHTSA does find that a recall is in order? Well, because the fifth-generation Explorer was in production for around eight years and sold in large numbers, it would likely mean recall numbers in the seven figures and a cost to Ford of hundreds of millions of dollars.

The good news, if there is any in all this, is that Ford is introducing an all-new Explorer for the 2020 model year, and the powertrain and exhaust setup are not being carried over wholesale.

NHTSA did not respond immediately respond to Roadshow's requests for comment.

The 2019 Ford Explorer is getting old

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Updated 5:12 p.m.: Updated to reflect Ford furnishing Roadshow with the same statement as Bloomberg. The automaker declined to elaborate further.

Updated Friday, March 22 11:50 a.m.: Story updated to reflect further fixes Ford has offered Explorer owners since 2012. New text has also been added to clarify the manner in which the automaker declined further comment to Roadshow.