Ford Motor Co. is recalling some 4.5 million vehicles due to a faulty switch that can overheat and catch fire.

The recall comes after an 18-month investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. of the switches, which were produced by Texas Instruments Inc. and used to deactivate the cruise control once the accelerator is depressed.

A consumer advisory issued today by NHTSA warns the switches “can leak hydraulic fluid, overheat and then burn, potentially causing vehicle fires even with the ignition turned off and the vehicles parked and unattended.”

Such a situation occurred in 2007, when San Antonio resident Al Gavegan Jr. died in a fire investigators determined was started by a ’94 Mercury Grand Marquis parked in his garage. A lawsuit was brought against Ford by Gavegan’s family and settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

“These hazardous cruise-control switches pose a safety risk even while the cruise control is not in use and vehicles are turned off or unattended,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, says in a statement. “I urge consumers to pay attention to this warning and bring the affected models in to have them repaired as soon as possible.”

NHTSA tells consumers to look for certain warnings that may lead to a potential fire, including cruise-control systems that stop working or can’t be activated; brake lights that stop working; brake lights and ABS warning lights illuminating on the dashboard; or not being able to get the vehicle out of park.

Vehicles affected are:

  • ’95-’03 model year Ford Windstar
  • ’00-’03 Ford Excursion diesel
  • ’93-’97 and ’99-’03 Ford F-Series Super Duty diesel
  • ’92-’03 Ford Econoline
  • ’95-’02 Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer
  • ’95-’97 and ’01-’03 Ford Ranger
  • ’94 Ford F53 motorhome vehicles equipped with the Texas Instruments’ speed-control deactivation

The recall is the second multi-million vehicle recall issued this month. Last week, Toyota Motors Sales U.S.A. Inc. said it was recalling 3.8 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles to address problems with floor mats interfering with gas pedals and causing a crash risk.