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Calgary man finds toughest part of owning 2009 Ford F-150 truck is finding replacement part

Ford Canada tells owner of 2009 F-150 pickup truck that a part to repair his vehicle's heating system is now "obsolete."

Canadian automakers have no obligation to provide parts beyond warranty period

Ford Canada told Paul Rubner of Calgary that the part he needed to repair his 2009 pickup truck is now obsolete. (CBC )

Paul Rubner thinks what's happened to his Ford F-150 is criminal — and he should know, he's a detective with the Calgary Police Service.

The heating system on his 2009 truck suddenly failed, blowing only extremely hot air on the passenger side — so hot, no one could sit in the passenger seat.

But the biggest problem? It can't be fixed.

"It's crazy," says Rubner. "My truck is only seven years old."

I don't think it's unreasonable to expect a vehicle to last 10, 12, 15 years. Not seven.- Paul Rubner, unhappy Ford F-150 owner

A work order from Rubner's local Ford dealership said the broken part was what's called an HVAC module, and that the part is "...obsolete and not available."

"Vehicles, allegedly, are being made better and better these days," Rubner says.  

"I don't think it's unreasonable to expect a vehicle to last 10, 12, 15 years. Not seven."

The detective was determined to solve the problem.  

Ford says 'nothing further' it can do

Rubner checked with several other Ford dealerships, called companies that supply aftermarket parts, and then searched suppliers of used parts, but couldn't turn up any good leads.

So he wrote Ford Canada, only to get an email back confirming that the part he was looking for is  now "obsolete."

Country singer Toby Keith, left, helps introduce the 2009 Ford F-150 at the Detroit auto show. The company's slogan 'Made Ford Tough' was challenged by Paul Rubner. (Bryan Mitchell/Getty Images)

The Ford email provided several web links to companies that might be selling the part, adding, "If you are not able to locate the part through these companies then there is nothing further that Ford of Canada can do for you."  

"I'm not satisfied with that," says Rubner, but not just because he's used to cracking tough cases. "I don't think anybody else would be satisfied, either."

Expert searches for obsolete part

Go Public searched online for the F-150 HVAC module, checking dozens of sites offering aftermarket parts.  

When we couldn't find one we asked Toronto mechanic Eli Melnick to try to hunt the part down.  

Mechanic Eli Melnick questions why a part is not available for one of the best-selling vehicles in North America. (CBC )

Melnick has more than 40 years' experience and has repaired over 100,000 vehicles.  

He's sourced used car parts countless times, but when it came to our request?

"Very frustrating!" says Melnick. "With today's world of electronics and internet, we literally have access to worldwide suppliers. Ordering parts is usually quite easy."

Melnick searched for several hours calling large and small aftermarket suppliers, but no one had the part.

"I was really surprised," he says Melnick. "You're talking about an F-150. It's the number 1 selling vehicle in North America, so why are we having this grief?"

He shrugs his shoulders and sighs. "This does not look good on Ford."

Consumer group weighs in

The director of Canada's Automobile Protection Association says Ford should make things right for its customer.

"It's not acceptable ... for the largest-sold vehicle in the country to be an orphan or stranded, because a certain component can't be sourced anymore," says George Iny.

The Automobile Protection Association's George Iny says automakers should provide replacement parts for 15 years. (CBC News)

Automakers earn a lot of money selling parts, so they usually continue making them for years after a vehicle is discontinued or replaced with a newer model.

"To have run out after seven years, means all the spares they originally made were put into F-150s," says Iny.  

Iny says vehicle owners are sometimes left in the lurch when the manufacturer pulls out of the North American market, as happened with Saab, Daewoo and Suzuki.

But even then, companies didn't simply declare parts obsolete. Suzuki committed to supplying parts for 10 years, but that commitment was voluntary.

No legislation

Canada has little consumer protection when it comes to ensuring companies provide auto parts for any period beyond a vehicle's warranty.

A piece of consumer legislation in Quebec provides the best protection in the country.

"If a product requires parts and service in Quebec," says Iny, "you are, under the statute, required to make the part for a reasonable amount of time."

The Automobile Protection Association says a "reasonable" amount of time would be 15 years, because that's the average life of most vehicles on Canadian roads, including Ford pickup trucks.

Iny would like to see consumer protection in every province that would force automakers to provide parts for that long.

"The carmaker has to be committed to supplying parts that are necessary for that vehicle to perform," he says.

Vehicles outlast warranties

Go Public asked Canada's big automakers whether they have policies ensuring replacement parts for their vehicles will continue to be available once warranties run out.
New 2009 Ford F-150 trucks on the assembly line in Dearborn, Mich. Ford has now agreed to make a replacement part for Paul Rubner. (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Ford Canada, GM, Honda and Toyota did not directly respond to that inquiry.  

Fiat-Chrysler said it provides service parts "up to 10 years after production ends," but no automaker has anything in place guaranteeing drivers will be able to obtain parts as their vehicles outlast their warranties.  

As for Paul Rubner's truck, after mechanics tried to stop the constant flow of hot air from the passenger air vents, the vehicle got stuck blowing cold.

That's tolerable for the summer and early fall months, says Rubner, but not the approaching winter months. He said the windshield defroster no longer works on the passenger side, making it a safety hazard.

"I can't sell it in this condition," he says. "Nobody's gonna buy it."

He finds Ford's marketing of the F-150, misleading.

"Their advertising is Built Ford Tough," says Rubner. "But I think it's more like, Built Ford. Built to be obsolete, sooner than you'd think."

Ford fixes problem after Go Public steps in

Go Public contacted Ford Canada about Rubner's case.

The carmaker says the auto part was "discontinued due to exceptionally low demand." 

But Ford is now arranging for a supplier to build the part for Rubner.

"I'm glad they recognize there's an issue and they're doing something rather than washing their hands of it," says Rubner.

But he wishes he hadn't had to fight so hard for a remedy.

"They had an opportunity to do the right thing when I contacted them initially," he says.

"If a customer identifies a problem and it's legitimate, I think at the very least they should find a solution, rather than say, 'If you can't find the part, too bad.'"  

Ford has also agreed to pay for installation of the part.

So for detective Rubner, it's case closed.

With files from James Roberts

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About the Author

Erica Johnson

Investigative reporter

Erica Johnson is an award-winning investigative journalist. She hosted CBC's consumer program Marketplace for 15 years, investigating everything from dirty hospitals to fraudulent financial advisors. As co-host of the CBC news segment Go Public, Erica continues to expose wrongdoing and hold corporations and governments to account.


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