I found this article in the Detroit News, here it is unabridged.
By Eric Mayne, The Detroit News
U-Haul International is forbidding its
stores to rent trailers to customers who plan to tow
with the Ford
Explorer, saying it no longer can afford to defend
lawsuits linked to the best-selling SUV.
U-Haul says the
decision was not
related to safety.
By Tim Boyle, Getty Images
The reasons for the unusual move by U-Haul aren't
entirely clear but
it comes after the Explorer appeared to have
image problems associated with the Firestone tire
U-Haul North America's largest trailer rental
company with more
than 17,000 outlets implemented the policy Dec.
22, saying the
ban was not related to safety.
"U-Haul has chosen not to rent behind this tow
vehicle based on our
history of excessive costs in defending lawsuits
Explorer towing combinations," the company told The
Joanne Fried, a U-Haul spokeswoman, declined to
much the Phoenix-based company has spent defending
"The decision is not based on one accident," she
said. "It's based on
several different lawsuits going on for several
Ford Motor (F) spokesman Jon Harmon called U-Haul's
"surprising and disappointing."
"This is all about runaway litigation and trial
businesses to make unfortunate decisions for fear of
U-Haul was embroiled in a lawsuit that
settled out of court in September. It involved three
who were injured in 1999 when their
overturned while pulling a U-Haul trailer.
U-Haul would not release details about the accidents
cited in its
A bulletin issued to U-Haul dealers last month,
which was obtained by The News, says the company's move was
"based on the
negative perceptions of Ford Explorers ... we are
separating ourselves from the negative public perception and its
U-Haul has no ban on rentals to Mercury Mountaineer
owners, although the vehicle is mechanically a carbon copy of the
"We've had no issues with the Mercury Mountaineer,"
The slight is the latest in a series of setbacks
that have dogged the Explorer, America's top-selling SUV and the
vehicle in 2003.
In August 2001, Firestone was forced to recall 14.4
million defective tires equipped mostly on Explorers. The
treads on the tires
often separated, causing drivers to lose control of
their Explorers and often roll over.
Federal regulators linked 271 deaths and more than
800 injuries to the defective tires.
Ford recalled an additional 13 million Firestone
tires in May 2001.
Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone have spent millions
of dollars to settle product liability cases over the tires and
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
said in February 2002 that there was not enough evidence to open
defect investigation of the Explorer.
In the wake of the widely publicized Firestone tire
recall, the Explorer has become a favorite target among product
said Sid Gilreath, a Knoxville, Tenn., lawyer
involved in product liability litigation for more than three
The number of lawsuits involving Explorers isn't
necessarily a reflection of its performance characteristics,
"The lawyers who do those (cases) know that we have
more documentation on the Explorer," Gilreath said.
Ford maintains the Explorer is safe. In 2002, NHTSA
traced Explorer tire failures and resulting rollovers to tire
Still, the controversy prompted federal regulators
to adopt ratings that rank SUVs based on their propensity to roll
The test used to set ratings recently was revised to
better reflect real-world driving conditions.
The 2003 Ford Explorer was among the first vehicles
subjected to the new test. The results are pending.
Acknowledging the same legal cost pressures U-Haul
cited in its rental ban, Harmon said Ford has settled Explorer
lawsuits out of
court, adding the company is 8-0 in cases that have
gone to juries.
Fried said the rental ban applies to all model
years, even though Explorer was redesigned in 2002 the same
year the SUV
improved its NHTSA rollover rating from two stars to
three, and was voted "tow vehicle of the year" by Trailer Boats
"It's a perfectly capable tow vehicle," said Stuart
Bourdon, automotive editor of the California-based publication.
"The bottom line is, if you don't overload the
vehicle and you've got the proper tires with the appropriate
ratings and they are
properly inflated and you drive with common sense,
you really shouldn't have any problems."
Motorists often exceed the towing limits of their
vehicles, said John Oraha, sales manager at Avis Ford in
Southfield. Engines and
suspensions must be a match for the job, he said, so
motorists should ask themselves questions such as: "Do you have a
you have a tow package?"
Jim Hall, former chairman of the National
Transportation Safety Board, which oversees NHTSA, said the large
number of Explorer
models on the road must be factored into accident
And in U-Haul's case, trailers can be "quite
difficult to handle," said Hall, who now runs Hall and
Associates, a safety and security
consulting agency in Washington.
Ford launched the Explorer 14 years ago and this
month will deliver its 5 millionth unit.