NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
U-Haul International Inc. is prohibiting its stores from renting its trailers to customers driving Ford Explorers, saying it can no longer afford to defend product liability lawsuits related to the best-selling sport/utility vehicle, according to a published report.
The Detroit News reported the move Thursday, saying the ban went into effect Dec. 22, and that the company told it the move was not related to safety, just the litigation record.
"U-Haul has chosen not to rent behind this tow vehicle based on our history of excessive costs in defending lawsuits involving Ford Explorer towing combinations," the paper quoted a company spokeswoman as saying. "The decision is not based on one accident. It's based on several different lawsuits going on for several years."
The move comes as Ford (F: Research, Estimates), the No. 2 automaker, has moved to put problems related to fatal accidents involving the Explorer and Firestone tires behind it. Those problems, which Ford blamed on tire problems, prompted two massive tire recalls in 2000 and 2001.
A Ford spokesman told the Detroit News that U-Haul's decision was "surprising and disappointing.
"This is all about runaway litigation and trial lawyers forcing businesses to make unfortunate decisions for fear of lawsuits," said Ford spokesman Jon Harmon.
U-Haul is North America's largest trailer rental company with more than 17,000 outlets, according to the News. The company is a unit of Amerco (UHALQ: Research, Estimates), which filed for bankruptcy court protection in June. That bankruptcy was unrelated to litigation problems involving the Explorer, though.
Company officials would not disclose the number of lawsuits involving Explorer that named U-Haul.
The paper said that the ban does not include the Mercury Mountaineer, which is mechanically virtually identical to the Explorer.