Federal safety officials are investigating complaints that the Ford Freestyle crossover vehicle can lunge unexpectedly when driving.The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened a preliminary investigation into consumer complaints that the Ford Freestyle crossover vehicles can unexpectedly accelerate, causing them to "lunge" forward.

The agency has so far received 245 complaints in which consumers claim the vehicles can lunge forward after the engine's idle speed unexpectedly increases, according to a report posted on the NHTSA site.

The latest investigation comes on the heels of a report earlier this month that the agency is looking into consumer complaints that the metal fuel tank straps of 2.73 million Ford F-150 pickup trucks can rust and break, possibly dropping the tanks.In the Freestyle preliminary probe, the NHTSA said it received 238 complaints of unexpected vehicle movement when the driver's foot wasn't on the accelerator. Under investigation are the 2005 through 2007 model years of the Freestyle crossover vehicles, so called because they are part sport utility vehicle and part station wagon. An estimated 170,000 vehicles are included in the investigation.

The report did point out that the condition may happen more often when the air conditioning is being used or when the steering wheel is turned a significant amount -- as when a driver is parking the vehicle.

Among the total complaints were 18 minor crashes that could be related to the lunging, including one where a pedestrian was struck in a driveway and suffered a minor bruised knee.

A Ford spokeswoman told Reuters the automaker is cooperating fully with the preliminary investigation.

Consumers can contact NHTSA at (800) 327-4236 weekdays between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. EST or can file a complaint online.

The Freestyle was introduced in 2005 as a replacement for the popular Ford Taurus and was only made through 2007. The latest Ford incarnation of an SUV crossover is the Flex.

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