Ford is recalling 876,413 Explorers and Mercury Mountaineers to replace faulty parts on the suspension system, Associated Press reports. Thousands of the sport utility vehicles already are under recall in connection with the Firestone tyre problem.

The recall affects 1995 to 1997 models of the Explorer and the 1997 Mountaineer, which have sway bar links that can break off, especially in cold climates. The sway bar connects the left and right front wheel control arms and helps control the pitch of the vehicle in turns.

Ford will notify owners by mail and its dealers will provide free replacement links that are wider. The recall ends an investigation by the government's auto safety agency.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened a preliminary investigation into the problem on September 20 after an agency employee having handling problems discovered a broken link on his vehicle. The employee's dealer told him that he had sold many replacement links to other drivers with similar problems.

NHTSA investigators went to their parking garage at the Transportation Department and examined 28 Explorers. Seven of the SUVs, all either 1995 or 1996 models, had repaired or broken links, so the agency opened an investigation to assess the scope of the problem.

At the time, a Ford spokesman said the company did not believe it was a safety problem, but further testing showed it could affect handling and safety, Ford spokesman Mike Vaughn said Thursday.

"We went back and we decided that, yes, there is a small risk at the extreme limits,'' Vaughn said. "We felt the right thing to do is administer it as a safety recall.''

NHTSA has collected 13 complaints from owners who said that stability was reduced during a lane change or turn, especially at speeds above 40 mph. Ford received 262 owner and field reports of the problem, including two reports of minor accidents that may be related, Vaughn said.

He said most of the reports came from New England and Canada.

NHTSA officials say the sway bar problem did not cause tread separations on Firestone tyres that were used on the Explorer. Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. has recalled 6.5 million of its ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tyres, which reportedly have been involved in accidents that have killed at least 119 people and injured more than 500. Most of the accidents involved the Explorer.

Some observers point out that the broken links had the potential to increase the severity of an accident during a tyre tread loss.

"Any situation where a driver is going to have to make an emergency manoeuvre after a tyre failure, a broken sway bar is only going to make handling more difficult,'' said Sean Kane, president of Strategic Safety, an Arlington, Virginia-based firm involved in litigation against Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone.