The recall applies to the 73,320 2013 Escape and 15,833 Fusion SE and SEL models with the 1.6-liter engine.
Ford is urging owners to contact their local dealers, who will provide them with loaner cars at no charge until the defect can be fixed. Ford is trying to figure out how to fix the problem.
Fires have occurred, but no injuries.
Ford says the trouble starts when engines overheat and a message flashes on the instrument cluster saying, "Engine Power Reduced to Lower Temps" or "Engine over temp, stop safely." Sometimes a chime or red light appears as a warning.
If it happens, Ford says drivers should pull over immediately, turn off the vehicle and get out.
For Ford, the problem hits at two of its most important models. Officials have talked repeatedly about how Fusion and Escape are expected to dominate sales, since both hit at the heart of market for American families.