DETROIT — Under pressure from government safety regulators, Ford Motor Co. is expanding a recall of the popular F-150 pickup truck to include nearly 1.2 million vehicles that may have defective air bags.
The wider recall, announced Thursday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, covers all F-150s built for the 2004 and 2005 model years, as well as part of the 2006 model year. Also included are 16,000 2006 Lincoln LT pickups.
An electrical short can cause the air bags to deploy unexpectedly, in some cases injuring drivers.
In February, Ford agreed to fix 150,000 F-150s, but resisted the government's wishes to recall nearly 1.2 million trucks that may have the problem.
Ford's F-Series pickup truck is the top-selling vehicle in America, and the F-150 makes up about 65 percent of F-Series sales. Through March, the company sold nearly 127,000 of the pickups, and it sold more than 528,000 last year. The F-Series also includes heavier duty trucks such as the F-250 and F-350. Those were not included in the recall.
Ford said it will notify all owners next month that they should take their trucks to a dealer who will replace an air bag wire in the steering wheel. The repair takes less than a half day, the company said. The wire can become chafed, causing a short circuit that can lead to the air bag inflating unexpectedly.
The wiring problem was fixed at Ford's factories in January of 2006, so trucks made after that date are not covered by the recall, company spokesman Wes Sherwood said.
NHTSA said in a January 2011 letter to the company that the agency knew of 269 cases in which the air bags deployed inadvertently, resulting in 98 injuries, some serious.
Ford told NHTSA that some drivers reported injuries such as burns from contact with the air bag, bruises, neck and back pain and minor cuts. Two customers reported broken or chipped teeth and two reported elbow or arm fractures. Ford knows of no crashes caused by the air bag problem.
In February, NHTSA wanted Ford to recall all 1.2 million trucks, but Ford told the agency that the full recall was not justified. The company said owners got an adequate warning from an air bag light on the dashboard. But NHTSA disagreed and said it could hold a rare public hearing on the matter. "The potential for loss of vehicular control poses an unreasonable risk to safety," NHTSA told the company.
Earlier this week, Ford agreed to a full recall after discussions with NHTSA.
Ford said it was recalling the trucks "to reassure customers of Ford's commitment to safety, and to eliminate any possible customer confusion."
The F-150 is a highly profitable and important vehicle for Ford. The company sold more than 900,000 F-series trucks in 2005, a year in which the F-150 made up 22 percent of Ford's total sales, according to Edmunds.com.
But pickup sales have fallen as home construction faltered and gas prices rose. In the first three months of this year, the F-150 made up 18 percent of Ford's sales.
Ford shares fell 34 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $14.64 in afternoon trading.