After 234 complaints and two crashes -- neither fatal nor involving any injuries -- due to alleged rear axle breaks on 1999 through 2003 model year Ford Windstar minivans, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has begun a preliminary investigation. This is the first of three steps toward issuing a mandatory recall.
Given that both of the crashes and many of the complaints occurred in the so-called Salt Belt states, an early theory is that the Windstar's rear axle structure, an inverted U-shaped piece of metal, collects road salt and deteriorates over time.
From USA Today:
"The agency says that 128 of the axle-failure reports — 55% — say the rear, beam-style axle fractured completely; 56 complaints say the axles broke while traveling 40 mph or faster."
The Windstar was last sold in 2007. About 1.5 million Windstar minivans were produced during the time covered by the investigation.
Ford is cooperating with the investigation.