We were at the drags last night when my friends wife called to say her 99
Windstar had smoke coming from under the hood. She called about five minutes
later to say she opened the hood and hosed down the engine compartment and
the whole thing caught on fire. She called 911 and the fire department put
it out. It's toast:) Fire got into the passenger compartment and burnt the
dash, seats and even the headliner. Under the hood is a mess of melted wires
and aluminum. We're guessing it's the cruise control switch failure. Anyway,
is Ford taking responsibility for these fires? The van was put away about
hours before the fire started.
You probably need a fire inspector to figure out the cause of the fire and
a report from her. You probably need to have specific things done, like what
it says under "What to do if your vehicle has caught fire."
Also, search the internet. If you use a lawyer, you might end up paying the
lawyer far more than the deductabl that you would lose if Ford doesn't pay
for it. Keywords would be windstar and fire.
The Windstar's crusie control deactivation switch is wired differently
from the infamous switch that Ford is recalling in the case of trucks.
The Windstar's cruise control deactivation switch is not under power
when the ignition is in the off posiiton (the feed is hot only when the
switch is in the run position), so it seems very very unlikely that
this switch is the source of the fire.
Since the first hint that a small number number of cruise control
deactivation switches might cause a fire, every Ford that has a problem
is suddenly bursting into flames becasue of this switch - even Fords
that don't use those type of switches. It is really interesting to
compare the number of fires attributed to crusie control decativation
switches before and after the original reports. Before the original
reports, there were very few fires in Ford trucks and all were in a
tightly defined groups (certain date range of switches). After the
intial reports all sorts of Fords suddenly started bursting into flame,
most supposedly due to the cruise control deactivation switch.
Have no idea how they are wired buy the fire started just to the left
(viewed from the front) and below the master cylinder.
Well that web site is just setup by lawyers trolling for clients. They are
wrong about the Windstar's wiring. For certain model year Expeditions and
F150's the switch is powered by a feed that is hot at all times (power to
the switch no matter what position the ignition switch is in). However, for
the Windstar (and all Ford Cars, Explorers, and Rangers), the cruise control
deactivation switch is powered only when the ignition which is in run. I
suppose it is possible that the fire got started when the vehicle was being
driven, and then smoldered for 3 hours before bursting into flames, but it
seems highly unlikely that this would occur. There are four complaints in
the NHTSA database against the cruise control deactivation switch for a 1999
Ford Windstar. All were filed after the Ford Truck CC Deactivation Switch
recall was announced. Two mention fire one is detailed, the other is just a
whine to Ford asking for money to do repairs. They both say the fire started
while the vehicle was being driven. This seems plausible. However, it is not
clear that the switch was actually the source of the fire. One of the
complaints mentions several items were damaged by the fire, any one of which
could be the actual source of the fire. It could not have been too serious
since the total cost of repairs was $250. Two of the complaints mention that
the switch was leaking, but did not mention fire. None of the complaints
mentions the classic symptom that should warn the owner that a fire was
imminent - the cruise control stops work.
OK, lets say it was not the CC deactivation switch. What would cause it to
start smoking about three hours after it was parked? When the hood was
opened to see what was smoking there was a very small fire just to right of
the driver's seat area. (Right if you were sitting in the car.) Right along
the area where a rear wheel drive car's transmission tunnel would start to
level out. Small drops of something burning were dripping from the same area
to the ground under the car. What is there that could start burning that
long after it was parked and why would it burst into flame when she sprayed
water on it?
A friend of ours had a Taurus catch fire while he was driving it but it was
power steering fluid and the catalytic converter. Even if the Windstar had
trannie fluid or power steering fluid everywhere, it was off to long for
anything to ignite it.
BTW: This Windstar is absolutely as produced. No add on stereo, alarm, or
anything else. The insurance investigator is there today trying to figure it
out. I'll post whatever they tell us.
Hopefully the insurance investigator will figure it out. I suppose the fire
could have started while the van was being driven, and then eventually
flared up later when it finally hit a good fuel source. I just know that the
Ford wiring diagram for the Windstar shows the CC Deactivation Switch
receiving power only when the ignition switch is in the Run position. And I
though the cruise control deactivation switch was to the left side of the
driver, in the area of the Master cylinder (you might consider this directly
in front of the driver). There are circuits that are powered at all times,
so maybe one of those is the cluprit. In the past Ford had big problems with
ignition switches, although I don't see how that could be the case this time
since you are indicating the fire started under the hood.
Any chance you had a fuel leak? The fuel lines run in that area you
It will be interesting to hear what the investigator decides.
Ford and the people at NHTSA finally came up with the answer after maybe
15 years. The construction of the TI-made switch is such that the rubber
membrane separating the electrical contacts for the CC cutoff is
slightly pulled on the return stroke of the brake that causes a very
small vacuum force. This vacuum force keeps pulling at the membrane for
years until it finally weakens & splits or otherwise separates, allowing
brake fluid to come in contact with the still live electrical contacts,
causing a corrosive effect that leads to a short, combustion, and then a
fire. It's been known for about a year what causes the fires. See:
but only in the past month or so was it determined what caused the
switch to fail. See:
This is all very interesting information, but how does it apply to the 1999
Windstar? The switch circuit is different in Windstars than in the Ford
trucks that are being recalled. I wouldn't claim that the switch couldn't
cause a fire in a Windstar, I just think it is very unlikely that the switch
casued a fire in a vehicle that had been turned off for three hours, since
in the case of the Windstar, the switch is not connected to a power source
when the ignition switch is turned off.
And your comment that "Ford and the people at NHTSA finally came up with the
answer after maybe 15 years" is way over the top. Until 2 years ago, there
were less than 10 complaints relating the cruise control deactivation
switches to fires. Initially all the complaints were in a tightly defined
grouping that could be related to switches built in a certain date range.
Suddenly, after the initial investigation was announced, Ford Trucks and
SUVs began caching on fire at an incredible rate. In some cases the vehicle
that were alledged to have fires related to the switch didn't even have the
type of wiring that was supposed to cause the fires. Now you may believe
that this is coincidence, but I find it hard to swallow that from 1994 to
2004, there were fewer than 10 out of 5 million trucks that had faulty
switches that caused fires, and suddenly after Jan of 2004, 10 a week were
catching fire due to this switch.
If you don't think people will fake damage in an attempt to get money from
insurance comanpies, you should have a look here -
http://tinyurl.com/emc6h ). The funniest insurance scam I have seen lately
is detailed at http://www.kfvs12.com/Global/story.asp?SS92282&nav=menu51_2
(or http://tinyurl.com/hraf2 ). Here is the text in case the link doesn't
Couples videotape themselves committing insurance fraud
By: CJ Cassidy
Union County, IL - Why would you tape yourself committing a crime? Police
and prosecutors in Union County don't really care, they're just glad they
got their hands on the evidence.
People video tape birthdays weddings and anniversaries.
A few, it seems, like to watch themselves committing a crime. Still, two
Union County couples never expected to end up out on a limb, the way they
The plan they put into action was to slam Robert and Teresa Hammond's van
into a tree and pick up the insurance check.
"The first time the van is crashed into the tree, Robert Hammond is driving
the vehicle. Then the next two times, it's driven by Paul Gaines; Margaret
Dillavou's boyfriend," States Attorney Allen James says.
He adds, the Hammonds owed Margaret Dillavou rent money.
She picked up the insurance check, but then, lost the tape.
"Her husband received a stack of video tapes as part of his divorce
settlement. Going through those tapes he realized on one was footage of
insurance fraud being committed," James says.
The angry ex-husband turned the tape in to police, and the States Attorney
had a case as clear cut as black and white.
So, why would you videotape yourself committing a crime?
"It appears they were having a party," James offers up as an explanation. He
adds "we'd like to educate people you can't do this, but we may end up
educating people you don't videotape yourself committing a crime!"
Joking aside, James says insurance fraud is a very serious crime.
Initially the couples faced felony charges that carried up up five years in
prison, but after paying the insurance company the $4,300 they defrauded,
they pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges instead.
The couples punishment involves 24 months of probation, seven hundred and
fifty dollars, plus court costs and forty hours of community service.
Those CC-related fires have been going on for many years; first one I
heard about directly was a '96 Ford CV (in '98) that was used in airport
shuttle service, i.e., HEAVY brake usage that weakened the separating
membrane. The fires have been reported all the way back to '91 models;
back then though, they were still wrapping up on the ignition switch
fires, so not much was heard about the CC deactivation switch fires.
Focus on the info I gave you. The ignition being on or the CC switch
being powered doesn't cause the fire directly. What it does is, when the
membrane fails, brake fluid leaks through, sets up a corrosive effect
that travels downward to something that's hot (electrically active) at
all times. This means that the fire can start many hours after the
ignition's turned off, Windstar circuitry, F-150 circuitry, even old '93
Mark VIII circuitry. It's all still basically the sane switch, circuit
hot or not.
I spent some time looking through the NHTSA database and I can't see a
single model year of the Crown Victoria since 1992 where more than 1
complaint was lodged against the cruise control that blamed a fire, or near
fire, on the cruise control deactivation switch. And in every case, the
complaints were not filed until after the truck recall. Seems strange that
the few that failed waited until 2004 to do so. You would think if the
switches were so bad, the switches in the 1992 CVs would have failed at an
increasing rate with complaints spread over a number of years. Outside of
the Crown Victoria (with a total of 5 complaints over 15 years), other Ford
cars have no complaints related to the cruise control deactivation switch.
Likewise Rangers and Explorers have only a few complaints and almost all
were filed after the F150 recall was announced (and only a couple of
Explorer complaints involved a fire). Funny how they didn't fail earlier.
And if you look at the F150 and Expedition failures (an there are lots in
the 1997 - 2001 model years), almost all the complaints were filed after the
investigation was announced. Now some of this is probably because people
were made aware that the switches might be the cause of the problem, so
they are actually checking them. But there appears to be a tendency to blame
any underhood fire on the cruise control deactivation switch (I loved one
complaint that blamed the switch while at the same time indicating that the
fire started on the passenger side of the engine compartment). Clearly there
is a significant problem with some Ford trucks. A leaking switch and
continuous power applied to the switch seems to be a recipe for trouble.
However, most Ford vehicles do not apply power to the switch when the
ignition is off. While I can see how a leaking switch might start a fire
when the engine is running for these vehicles, I find it hard to believe
that a fire could start hours after the vehicle was turned off. The brake
fluid might provide fuel for a fire, but you need a source of ignition as
well. Without power to the switch, I don't see where that source of ignition
is (at least not hours later).
Again from the above;
The ignition being on or the CC switch being powered doesn't cause the
fire directly. What it does is, when the membrane fails, brake fluid
leaks through, sets up a corrosive effect that travels downward to
something that's hot (electrically active) at all times, and completes a
connection. This means that the fire can start many hours after the
ignition's turned off; Windstar circuitry, F-150 circuitry, even old '93
Mark VIII circuitry. It's all still basically the same switch, circuit
hot or not.
What all that means is that the failed switch is the beginning of a path
TO something that's always electrically hot, like the ECU or ABS relay
constant power side. The current finds a path, heats something up, and
something high-temp flammable bursts into flame, like the master
cylinder reservoir. This phenomenon is similar to the Ford ignition
switch fires of the 84-91 model years where the culprit was carbon
tracking between ignition switch contacts that allowed current to
continue flowing even after the ignition switch was turned completely
off. After so long (years, in fact) the carbon trail built up
sufficiently to allow enough battery current to flow to generate enough
heat to make the switch catch fire - hours after operator electrical
shutdown -, then the steering column catches fire, then the dash
material, and finally the entire car interior is in flames.
This is just one we will have to disagree on. I understand what you are
saying, I just don't think it is very likely (in fact the scenario you are
describing is very unlikely). With the live feed system (as in the F150's
that are being recalled), you have fuel and an ignition source in close
proximity. And once you get the small fire going, you have a ready source of
additional fuel (the master cylinder reservoir). In your scenario, the brake
fluid has to leak onto another component, corrode that component in such a
way as to make a high resistance connection, without blowing a fuse, without
affecting some other function, AND you are counting on enough fluid to leak
from the switch to actually affect another component, but not so much fluid
that the brakes fail. Then, the newly corroded live feed (that hasn't caused
another problem) must find a separate source of fuel (connectors and pcb
boards are very difficult to ignite, as is wiring), smolder for a while
until you build a small fire that can then get hot enough to ignite the
larger masses. None of the cases NHTSA seem to support this failure mode.
There were numerous complaints (particularly for Rangers) of noticeable
amounts of brake fluid leaking from the switch, but no Ranger fires. I
looked under the hood of my Grand Marquis (essentially a Crown Victoria) and
there is not anything close to the switch that is likely to have brake fluid
drip on it that might lead to a fire. I think it is far more likely, that if
this switch caused a fire, the fire would actually start at the switch while
the car was being driven, and then spread after the car was parked. But I
don't think this sort of fire would take 3 hours to become noticeable.
And you seem to completely ignore the fact, that before the announcement of
an investigation into Ford Truck CC deactivation Switch related fires, there
were virtually no complaints about this switch. Why did all those switches
suddenly start causing fires in 2004 and beyond?
Not for Windstars. Different switch part number, different wiring, no
history of failures leading to fires, etc. Why would you expect Ford to take
responsibility for something that has not been a problem? Ford has already
bent over backward tby recalling hundreds of thousand of vehicles that
probably don't have a problem. Do you think they should recall even more? If
I was worried about the switch, I'd buy a new one myselft (it is a $14 part
from Rock Auto).
You seemingly WANT to believe it's something other than the CC switch,
but all the investigations and associated recalls for Ford vehicles all
the way back to 1992 point to that switch. Here's another tidbit about
the CC deactivation switch indicating that the insulator used INSIDE the
switch is a HIGHLY FLAMMABLE material (Kapton) under certain conditions:
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