Ford Motor Co. says it will send notification of a new extended warranty on clutch repairs and cost reimbursement after Labor Day to more than a half million owners of the Fiesta and Focus, about three weeks after making a public announcement.
“All field-service actions start with notifications to dealers, so they are aware and prepared. We did that on Aug. 14,” Ford spokesman T.R. Reid told the USA TODAY Network’s Detroit Free Press. “Letters to customers follow, after we’ve downloaded VINs, cross-referenced and validated them with owner names and addresses, etc. Depending on the number of vehicles involved, that can take a couple of weeks.”
He added the letters sent “right after Labor Day” would go to “more than 600,000 customers in the U.S. and Canada who will be covered by the extended clutch warranty and/or still need the important software update for their transmission control module.”
Meanwhile, customers from around the country have contacted the Free Press to say they’re getting conflicting information from dealers who deny warranty coverage and reimbursement. Customers have mailed invoices to the Free Press reflecting recent charges for clutch repair and transmission control module repair despite the company’s highly publicized announcement Aug. 14.
The company said it was extending the transmission warranty on 2014-16 Focus and 2014-15 Fiesta vehicles assembled after July 4, 2013, to seven years or 100,000 miles, would reimburse previous repairs that would have been covered and reach out to the 16% of vehicle owners who hadn’t had the control module software update.
Some customers report long waits for parts — though some of the vehicles’ owners already have gotten free repairs.
Two owners of the 2014 Focus who have been talking with the Free Press since the start of August said the costly transmission service has been completed at no charge – saving them an estimated $1,200 to $1,400 each.
Dan Mlnarik of Grand Rapids is celebrating the extended warranty, telling the Free Press on Sunday that he saved about $1,200 with the free clutch replacement on his 2014 Focus. “It runs great now.”
Rick Yandric of Livonia documented his repeated discussions with Ford as the company moved from declining to pay for his clutch replacement on Aug. 8 to making good on his second transmission fix 16 days later.
“Since Ford extended the warranty, we were able to get our Focus repaired at no cost,” he said Saturday, saying he believes Free Press coverage spurred Ford to take action. “I am positive Ford would have done nothing … It’s a shame it takes publicity to get a company to fix an obvious defect.”
The entry-level Fiesta and Focus vehicles, built over the past decade, used dual-clutch automatic transmissions known as DPS6 designed for fuel efficiency. They have a history of costly repair for failing clutches and other problems, including shaking, slipping out of gear, delayed acceleration and lurching forward. Litigation involving the cars has been global. The financial risk is so serious that Ford notified investors of the situation in its federal regulatory filing in April.
A Free Press “Out of Gear” investigation published in July revealed for the first time internal company documents and emails showing that the Dearborn automaker knew the transmissions were defective from the start and continued building and selling them anyway.
Ford, backed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, maintains the vehicles pose no safety risk. The company says it has been aggressive in trying to resolve problems as they have come up. It acknowledges that fixes took longer than expected and that it discussed ditching the transmissions but decided to continue production.
Despite news of the extended warranty, Ford customers and a top consumer testing official remain skeptical that anything can be done — noting the problems are chronic.
‘Sell the car ‘
The transmissions were introduced in the 2011 model year Fiesta and 2012 Focus. They were used until the Focus was discontinued with the 2018 model year and until the 2019 Fiesta. A Ford internal review at the end of 2016 said that 350,000 of the cars “have already reached 3+ repairs in US.”
“When I look at our data, when you look at the Ford Focus prior to 2012 and major transmission problems, there were few. They had no reports at all in the 2011 model year,” said Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing with two decades of experience at Consumer Reports. “When they put the PowerShift transmission in, about 15% of people had major transmission problems and the newer vehicles still have many problems. In some years, like 2014, nearly a third of the owners report major transmission problems. It’s a bit unheard of to see this kind of problem with major mechanical systems these days.”
Fisher added, “Automakers usually work this stuff out. These problems just never went away. The newest cars have the same problems.”
With a database of more than half a million consumer vehicles, Consumer Reports tests and monitors more vehicles than any other entity.
“A 2011 Ford Focus now is holding up great. No one is having problems with the transmission,” Fisher said.
But newer models? Major transmission issues that require rebuilding and replacement.
“No amount of updates or software is going to make those troubles go away completely. That’s what our data shows year after year,” Fisher said. “We refresh our data every year. It consistently shows the problems are not going away. They’re trying to replace the transmissions, and the transmissions going in are still troublesome even after replacing the entire unit.”
Warranty or not, Fiesta and Focus owners will continue having problems, Fisher said. “We don’t recommend people buy these cars. … My advice is to sell the car and buy another car. There are a lot of reliable cars, even used cars. There is no other competitor on the market that will give you this kind of headache. Don’t throw good money after bad.”
Ford said Friday that “our technical analysis, warranty data and customer feedback show that the DPS6 transmission in Focus and Fiesta vehicles from 2016 (model year) through 2019 MY are improved from prior model years. They perform well and have competitive levels of customer satisfaction.”
‘Definitely would not’
Ford has also emailed customers satisfaction surveys this week.
Suzanne Kho of Austin, Texas, contacted the Free Press after receiving an email Aug. 22 from Margaret Kishore, global customer experience manager at Ford, asking how likely Kho would be to recommend Ford to others as a 2014 Focus owner:
- Definitely would not
- Probably would not
- Maybe would
- Maybe not
- Probably would
- Definitely would
Kho, who answered “Definitely would not,” said she couldn’t recall ever receiving such a survey and told the Free Press, “It doesn’t make me feel like they care about me as a customer, since they sent it so long after I purchased my car and after I have had so many clutch replacements.”
She said her clutch has been replaced three times with only 41,000 miles on her car.
‘It’s not the money’
Richard Levine of Foxboro, Massachusetts, purchased his 2014 Fiesta new and the transmission has been shaky from the start. He said he took the vehicle to his dealer on July 30, which determined that the clutch plate needed to be replaced. The dealership ordered the part, but a backlog left him scheduled for Aug. 19. At the end, Levine said, he paid with his extended warranty he bought when he purchased his vehicle back in 2014, plus a $100 deductible.
“I stopped by the dealer this morning and explained that the factory warranty was now extended so I feel I should not have to pay for the $100 deductible. They told me that since the ticket was opened prior to the release statement from Ford that I would still need to pay for the deductible. They also stated that I should contact Ford directly if I’m not satisfied,” he said in an email. “The agent I spoke with also said that I will NOT be reimbursed for the deductible and I would need to speak to the dealer again for any help on the matter.”
The dealership kept his car an extra day because the repair tech noted that the broken clutch was replaced with a clutch that also needed to be replaced.
“They said they ordered two, thank God,” Levine said. “The whole thing is comical. I mean, I only have 26,000 miles on the vehicle.”
He continued, “It’s not the money, it’s the principle. If Ford is extending the warranty, why am I paying off the extended factory warranty I purchased from Ford? It doesn’t make any sense.”
Out of luck
Alexandra Zellner of Washington, D.C., provided copies of her live chat discussions and paperwork after also exchanging emails and calls with Ford in an attempt to get help with a warning light in her car flashing “transmission trouble.” The 2011 Fiesta she bought in Michigan exceeds the extended warranty coverage by 1,200 miles.
“The first time I spoke with a Ford customer service representative she explained ‘out by time and mileage’ translates to seven years or 100,000 miles but shared that I may be eligible under a different extended warranty that would need to be approved by the dealership itself. Of course, when I approached the dealership, they informed me that, in fact, Ford customer service must approve all warranties,” Zellner told the Free Press.
“Now, a month later, after multiple conversations with the dealership and a handful of Ford customer service representatives, my car sits in my garage undrivable and I have gotten nowhere. I recently opened a claim with the Better Business Bureau.”
Who gets money
Brandon Molett of Sterling Heights just replaced the clutches on his 2013 Focus for the third time. And while he appreciated being told on Aug. 19 he would receive a $400 refund from Ford soon, he said thousands of dollars in other repairs are damaging his finances.
“It had the module replaced the last time that it broke down and would not move, but no one said anything about the clutches being bad or that there was a third revision of the clutches. Before this time, they had been replaced two times prior,” he said.
“The transmission has been taken out of the car two times, replacing the clutches and rear main seals. The transmission module has been changed and it has been reprogrammed three times, all of which has happened before the warranty expired. The rep at Royal Oak Ford said there were three different revisions for the clutches and we have had two of the three. I was told there was no one I would be able to talk to after speaking with the customer service manager. I asked about making a complaint and he told me no one would contact me in regards to it and that it would just be notated.”
Follow Detroit Free Press reporter Phoebe Wall Howard on Twitter @phoebesaid.