US safety agency watching Ford, Mercury minivans not covered by rust recall

DETROIT – U.S. auto safety regulators are monitoring about 100,000 Ford and Mercury minivans that were not covered by a recall issued earlier this year for rust problems.

Ford recalled about 230,000 Ford Freestar and Mercury Monterey minivans in March to fix rust in the wheel wells that can cause the third-row seats to come loose.

The vans from the 2004 through 2007 model years were sold or registered in 20 cold-weather states and Canada where salt is used on roads in the winter.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in documents posted on its website Tuesday that it is watching vans that are outside the salt-belt areas and were not covered by the recall. But the agency says the problem seldom occurs if the vans aren’t exposed to salt. NHTSA is aware of only one rust complaint from an owner outside the recall areas.

NHTSA said in the documents that although it will monitor vans outside the recall areas, it has closed its investigation into the problem.

Any owner not covered by the recall can contact Ford and ask for repairs if their van shows signs of rust in the wheel wells, the agency said.

Ford has said that rust can weaken the mounting brackets that hold the removable seats to the van floor. The company says no crashes or injuries have been reported from the problem.

Dealers will install new brackets, placing them outside of the area that can rust. They’ll also install panels above the rear wheels to prevent water from entering.

The recall covered 196,500 minivans in the U.S. and another 33,500 outside the U.S., mainly in Canada. Vans in Connecticut, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin, Delaware, Maine, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont, Indiana, Michigan, New York, West Virginia and Washington, D.C., were recalled.