For the fifth time in just over a year, Ford has told its US dealers to stop selling the new Escape SUV and check vehicles for safety-related problems, Associated Press (AP) reported.

Dealers were notified on November 18 about problems affecting 51,022 Escapes and about 24,000 Mazda Tributes which are similar to the Escape and built in the same plant in Claycomo, Missouri. Of those, 27,516 Escapes and about 12,500 Tributes have already been sold.

AP quoted Ford spokesman Mike Vaughn as saying that dealers had been told to look for damaged windshield wiper link ball sockets and to replace them if necessary. Faulty sockets meant the wipers could stop working and parts to fix the problem were " in the pipeline" to dealers.

Dealer have previously had warnings about the steering wheel coming off, leaky fuel lines, incorrect wheel hubs and a problem with the cruise control that could cause the throttle to stick on the Escape and Tribute, both of which went on sale only last August, AP said.

Ford#;s Vaughn was quoted saying that this was the first Escape notice that had involved a large number of vehicles already sold to consumers. He said the windshield wiper problem was found through warranty claims, and that Ford expects about 6% of Escapes to be affected.

"It is a brand new vehicle, and sometimes in the launch minor product problems erupt," he reportedly said. "Our goal is to correct them quickly."

One industry expert said Ford doesn't appear to have been penalized by customers for the recalls so far - but could be if more come soon, AP said.

Ford executives have previously said that recalls are acceptable to the company as a way of improving relations with customers, a prime directive of Ford CEO Jac Nasser.

Jim Hall, an analyst with AutoPacific, said the notices cut both ways with customers. While the recalls could hurt Ford's image with potential buyers, they could also improve relations with Escape owners in the first 90 days, when automakers survey customer satisfaction, AP reported.

"If you have a problem and its not addressed, you're rated poorly," Hall said. "If you have a problem and it is addressed, they remember it well."

But there are limits, he told AP. "If they have a couple of more over the next couple of months, that could be a problem."