Ford invention fights pesky and harmful invader: spiders – USA TODAY
Ford engineers have morphed into exterminators — and for good reason.
A common form of spider, it turns out, likes to nest under the hood in vehicles. That sounds harmless enough, but it can cause big problems, including possible fuel tank cracks that can ignite vehicle fires.
“We’re always working to improve and adapt to whatever the environment or the regulatory regime throws at us,” Ford fuel systems engineer David Gimby said.
Ford (F) has a solution: a new cylindrical “spider screen,” which is being installed on all Ford vehicles globally starting with the 2016 Focus RS.
The eight-legged offender in this case, often referred to as a yellow sac spider, is already believed to be responsible for more bites to humans than any other spider, according to Michigan State University researchers.
Apparently it takes pleasure in wreaking havoc on cars, too. Ford found that the yellow sac spider seeks out cavities to build cocoons for laying eggs or taking shelter. In vehicles, that often leads it directly to a fuel vapor line.
When the arachnid spins a web, it can cause blockages that disrupt fuel vapor and then generate engine damage. A strand of a yellow sac spider web is as strong as an equally thick strand of steel, according to Ford.
Darrell Ubick, a spider specialist at the California Academy of Sciences, said the yellow sac spider is “very common” in houses.
“Their presence in the car is surprising, but not unexpected as the car engine area attracts many organisms, such as mice,” he said in an email. “I’ve heard of spiders causing similar problems in farm equipment by making their retreats in tubular cavities.”
It’s a particularly virulent issue for some automakers. In March 2014, for example, Mazda recalled 42,000 Mazda6 vehicles from the 2010-12 model years after discovering that spiders could weave webs in a canister vent hose, causing an “excessive amount of negative pressure” in a fuel tank, according to a document filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In a worst-case scenario, that could cause the fuel tank to crack and ignite a fire, Mazda said at the time. Spiders had caused cracks in at least nine Mazda6 vehicles before the Japanese automaker sought a fix, according to another NHTSA document.
The company pledged to inspect customer vehicles and clean out or replace the vent lines and reprogram software to minimize the impact of negative pressure in the fuel tank.
In 2013, Toyota recalled 802,769 vehicles after discovering that spider webs could clog air conditioning parts and cause pooled water to damage airbag modules, potentially causing inadvertent deployment.
The yellow sac spider inhabits every state except Hawaii, Gimby said, making it a common threat to vehicles anywhere they’re parked.
Gimby’s team, which also included Ford engineers William Euliss and Aram Sahota, recently developed an improved spider screen based on technology the Dearborn, Mich-based automaker first introduced in 2004.
When he first realized spiders posed a vexing engineering challenge, Gimby dispatched a researcher to visit junk yards to inspect engine components to assess the extent of the infestation.
“Almost every one of the components he returned had spider webs of this particular species,” Gimby said. “So if you let your car sit around long enough, the spider is going to find it.”
Some vehicles were crawling with the invader.
“We even had one (with a) large female where the spider had laid at least 50 eggs inside there that had not hatched,” he said. When engineers opened the device for inspection, “they all came tumbling out.”
In the hunt for a solution, Ford engineers unleashed the yellow sac spider on test vehicles.
“We needed to collect some spiders and give them a chance to occupy our vent lines and see what they did,” he said.
Ford’s patented screen, a little wider and a little shorter than your pinky finger, prevents spiders from entering the fuel lines but maintains air and vapor flow.
The yellow sac spider must now find a new place to spin its webs.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.