5 On Your Side

Disgruntled Explorer owners share carbon monoxide stories with Raleigh man

Posted January 8, 2018 5:31 p.m. EST
Updated January 8, 2018 6:26 p.m. EST

— A Raleigh man who believes he is the first person with a confirmed case of carbon monoxide poisoning from a Ford Explorer has become a central resource for others who believe their SUVs are making them sick.

Steve Simmons wound up in a hospital emergency room within two weeks of buying a certified pre-owned Explorer last July. He said he felt dizzy and nauseated and had a headache and vision troubles, and a blood test diagnosed the problem as carbon monoxide poisoning.

5 On Your Side helped him reach an agreement with the dealership to trade the Explorer for a new pickup.

Even though his Explorer days are over, however, Simmons has launched a website, FordExplorerNightmare.com, to share his story and provide help to other owners with similar experiences. At least 15 people have reached out to him on the site.

"The standard themes are," he said of reaction from Explorer owners, "'Gee, I didn't know.'

"The one story that I told you earlier about the mother, about catching it on the news and saying, 'My goodness, this is happening to my kids.' That justifies all of the time and effort that I put into this site," he said.

Stephanie Altman reached out to Simmons about her 2014 Ford Explorer. After years of smelling exhaust and feeling sick while driving, a blood test confirmed elevated levels of carbon monoxide, so the South Carolina woman could be the second confirmed case.

Altman told 5 On Your Side that, even after repairs, she now keeps a carbon monoxide detector in her Explorer.

"A lot of these people have taken to driving their cars with the windows opened," Simmons said.

Soon after 5 On Your Side questioned Ford about exhaust leaks last fall, the company announced it would inspect and repair all 2011 to 2017 Explorers at no charge.

Ford sent owners a letter about its "Customer Satisfaction Program," insisting that the "vehicles are safe."

"Our investigation has not found carbon monoxide levels that exceed what people are exposed to every day," the letter states. "However, for our customers' peace of mind, Ford is offering a complimentary service that reduces the potential for exhaust to enter the vehicle."

Ford has sold more than 1.35 million Explorers since 2011, when the vehicle was redesigned and the exhaust problems began.

The customer service campaign is not a recall, although safety regulators could still push for one. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began investigating complaints of fumes and carbon monoxide leaking into the passenger cabins of police and consumer versions of Explorers in July 2016, and the probe now encompasses more than 2,700 complaints.

The Center for Auto Safety is keeping tabs on all of the complaints to Simmons' website. The consumer advocacy nonprofit also is urging owners to use carbon monoxide detectors in their Explorers, record the readings on a cellphone and email the information to the group.

Ford started repairing police versions earlier this summer after departments reported that carbon monoxide from exhaust fumes was making officers sick. The company said at the time there was no reason for owners of non-police Explorers to be concerned.

Simmons, however, points to a video out of Texas showing a police-issued Explorer with the driving officer passed out from carbon monoxide and said the same thing could've happened to him or any of the Explorer owners with whom he's spoken.

"What would have happened if there was a tractor-trailer coming in the other direction while the cop was asleep behind the wheel?" he asked. "It's not a matter of if it's going to happen, it's a when."