UPDATE 1-U.S. opens safety probe into 1.8 million Ford Explorer SUVs

(Adds Ford comment, details, more from NHTSA)

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON, Jan 31 (Reuters) - U.S. auto safety regulators said Tuesday they have opened a safety probe into more than 1.8 million Ford Explorer sport utility vehicles over reports windshield trim panels can detach while driving at highway speeds.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it was opening the preliminary evaluation into 2011 through 2019 model year Explorer SUVs because the issue could cause the detached part to hit the windshield of another vehicle or motorcyclist and cause a loss of vehicle control and crash.

"Some of the complaints reported that the driver of the vehicle following behind the subject Ford vehicle allegedly was startled when the trim piece hit the windshield and momentarily lost control of the vehicle," NHTSA said.

Ford said it has "received notice from NHTSA and we plan to work with them as we always do."

NHTSA said it has received more than 160 complaints about the issue. Some owners told the agency they have had to replace the part more than once and said parts flew off vehicles in heavy highway traffic.

One August 2022 complaint from a driver in Placentia, California said "while driving on the freeway, the right front exterior pillar trim came off and flew back toward traffic behind me" and had it replaced at a cost of $500. (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Jonathan Oatis)