By Deepa Seetharaman
DETROIT (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co is recalling its newly launched 2013 Escape sport utility vehicle for a third time, citing an improperly installed part that could trigger a fire in the engine compartment.
This recall affects about 7,600 Escapes, mostly in the United States, equipped with a 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine, Ford said on Wednesday. The models were built between October 5, 2011, and August 31, 2012. Ford is the No. 2 U.S. automaker by sales.
In a small number of these models, the cup plug on the engine cylinder head may come loose. This would lead to loss of engine coolant, causing the engine to overheat. In some cases, the ethylene glycol in the coolant may combust.
Fewer than 0.4 percent of the Escape models recalled in the United States have this issue, Ford said in a document filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In July, Ford recalled 11,500 Escape SUVs for a fuel line defect that could cause an engine fire. The issue led Ford to take the rare step of telling owners to stop driving immediately.
The latest recall is less severe and is unrelated to the fuel line problem, Ford said. About 6,150 of the SUVs covered by the action are in the United States and 1,300 are in Canada.
"Because of the facts from our investigation, we really felt that the extraordinary actions required by the previous instance aren't required here," Ford spokeswoman Marcey Zwiebel said.
The 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine is made at Ford's Bridgend Engine Plant in England. In its investigation, Ford found that the cup plugs prone to problems were manually installed.
It had been common practice at the plant to install these components by hand if there was a problem with the automated systems. That is no longer the case, Zwiebel said.
"The plant is now only using automated machinery for this installation," she said. "There will be no more manual installation of that particular part."
ESCAPE SALES STILL STRONG
The problem came to light last month after an Escape caught fire on a dealer lot in Nashville, Tennessee, due to a dislodged plug. Ford later found that an Escape fire reported by a Ford employee on July 11 had also been caused by a missing plug.
Ford said that in some cases, the water in the coolant could vaporize once it leaked, increasing the concentration of ethylene glycol to the point where it could combust.
Ford said in the filing that it was unaware of any fires in Escapes sold to customers. Replacement parts are available at dealerships.
The Escape SUV, one of Ford's best selling models, was completely redesigned for the 2013 model year. It is one of two crucial launches for Ford this year. The other is the 2013 Fusion mid-size sedan, which is due to go on sale this fall.
Also in July, Ford recalled more than 8,000 Escape SUVs to fix a carpeting issue that interfered with drivers' ability to apply the brakes.
The Escape is Ford's fastest selling vehicle on dealer lots, Ford's marketing chief Ken Czubay said on Tuesday. Two weeks ago, Ford added a third shift at its Escape plant in Louisville, Kentucky, to keep up with demand.
Through August, Ford has sold about 177,000 Escape SUVs this year, up 5.5 percent from 2011. About 90 percent of the Escape SUVs sold have either a 1.6-liter or 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine.
(Reporting by Deepa Seetharaman; Editing by Leslie Adler)