The suit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, seeks to force Ford to redesign or replace the police Interceptors. The Cleveland police department owns 481 of the cars, but no officers have been injured in a gas tank fire involving the heavy-duty, rear-wheel drive Crown Victoria.
A city attorney said the suit was to protect the safety of officers. Mayor Jane Campbell also drives a city-owned Crown Victoria. There are about 500,000 Crown Victoria Interceptors on the road nationwide and they are used by about 85 percent of law enforcement agencies in the United States.
The non-profit Center for Auto Safety in Washington said there have been 75 fatal crashes involving the Crown Victoria and the Mercury Grand Marquis, which has the same engine drive train and body, since 1992 in crashes involving fiery explosions.
Critics say placement of the gas tank behind the rear axle and ahead of the rear bumper makes it likely to rupture or leak fuel in a high-impact rear-end collision. Ford has been testing gasoline tank bladders similar to safety equipment used in racecars to protect professional drivers.
"The vehicle is extremely safe, but because of what police do, we're looking into ways to make it safer," a Ford spokeswoman told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Law enforcement agencies in Arizona, New Jersey and Florida have filed similar lawsuits and Arizona police departments are experimenting with a $1,500 gas tank bladder, which reduces the amount of fuel carried by the vehicle about 8 percent.
Ford has advised police departments not to alter the vehicle's fuel tank.