WASHINGTON - Federal regulators have expanded their investigation of Ford Windstar minivans to a second component after complaints from “salt belt” states of a loss of vehicle control stemming from corrosion, Automotive News reported.

The new investigation covers 1999-2003 model year Windstars.

The expanded probe by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is focusing on front subframe corrosion on the right side that has led to 87 complaints and three crashes, the agency said Tuesday. The latest investigation was opened July 20.

The government's preliminary evaluation will encompass as many as 900,000 vehicles.

“My wife was driving at a slow speed in a parking lot, and all of a sudden there was a loud bang and she could not steer the vehicle,” one complainant wrote to NHTSA about his 2000 Windstar LX van. “One wheel in the front was straight, and the other front wheel was turned at a 45-degree angle.”

A Ford spokeswoman said the company is cooperating with the investigation, which is the first in a series of steps that can result in a recall. Repairs in a recall are paid for by the manufacturer.

In May, NHTSA said it had opened an investigation of the same pool of Ford Windstars after 234 complaints of rear axles fracturing.

Most of the axle complaints stemmed from “salt belt” states, probably because the rear axle beam collects road salt slurry and corrodes until it breaks, NHTSA said at the time.

The agency said it is conducting two investigations, one of the front subframe corrosion and the other of the rear axles.

Ford built 2.3 million Windstars from 1994 to 2003 before the model was discontinued.

The vehicles have been subject to 10 recalls involving 3.6 million vehicles, according to NHTSA records. Some Windstars were recalled more than once.

The biggest recall -- of 1.7 million 1995-2003 model Windstars -- was part of a larger 2009 recall of 4.5 million vehicles with faulty cruise control deactivation switches that posed potential fire hazards.

"These are older vehicles - between 16 and 8 years old - and they have faced a number of recalls," Ford spokesperson Jennifer Moore said. "When we identify an issue with a vehicle, we do the responsible thing, issue the recall and fix the concern."