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Ford Explorer Power Steering Problems Investigated By National Highway Traffic Safety Association

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FILE - In this Dec. 1, 2010 picture, plant employees drive 2011 Ford Explorer vehicles off the assembly line at Ford's Chicago Assembly Plant in Chicago. The National High Traffic Association announced in June 2012 they would investigate several complaints investigating complaints that the power steering can fail on 2011 Ford Explorer SUVs. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File) | AP

DETROIT — Federal safety regulators are investigating complaints that the power steering can fail on 2011 Ford Explorer SUVs.

Fifteen drivers have complained that the popular Explorer can suddenly lose its power steering assist, making it harder to steer the SUVs.

The problem could affect 83,000 Explorers. No crashes or injuries have been reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which announced the probe on its website Friday.

In some cases, drivers reported that a warning message appeared on the instrument panel before the power steering quit. At times, restarting the SUVs corrected the problem, several drivers reported.

An investigation could lead to a recall. NHTSA said it is looking into how often the problem happens and what's causing it.

Ford is cooperating with NHTSA in the probe. Anyone who has a concern about their vehicle should contact their dealer, company spokeswoman Marcey Zwiebel said.

The Explorer, once a hulking family-hauler that helped launch the truck-based SUV boom in the early 1990s, was redesigned for the 2011 model year. The new version is based on car rather than truck underpinnings and is more efficient and maneuverable than the old one.

The new vehicle started arriving at dealers late in 2010. The company sold more than 135,000 Explorers in 2011.

Ford shares rose 1 cent to $10.28 in afternoon trading Friday. They are down 20 percent from $12.90 in mid-March.

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