Nfld. & Labrador

Problem with your hybrid? Burn more gas, Ford tells owner

Ford Canada has told a Newfoundland and Labrador woman who has had ongoing issues with her hybrid vehicle that she hasn't been using the gas engine enough — which she says defeats the purpose of owning it.

Manufacturer says sludge in Ford Fusion's oil cap due to N.L. woman's driving habits

Manufacturer says sludge in Ford Fusion's oil cap due to Newfoundland woman's driving habits 1:45

Ford Canada has told a Newfoundland and Labrador woman who has had ongoing issues with her hybrid vehicle that she hasn't been using the gas engine enough — which she says defeats the purpose of owning it.

The automaker said the problem could be solved with changes to her driving habits, and is working with Lisa Sweeney to find a solution.

But Sweeney is worried she's stuck with a $40,000 paperweight.

"It's been very frustrating," she said. "I mean, I just want a car that works."

Sweeney bought her brand new Ford Fusion Hybrid from Cabot Ford in St. John's in May 2014. According to the owner's manual, the vehicle uses a combination of electricity and gasoline for improved efficiency.

"We thought this was a way of doing our part for the environment," she said.

The problems started a year later, when the check engine light came on. 

Since then, the car has been back and forth for servicing at the dealership four times, and out of commission for a total of almost three months.

Driving habits

It was eventually discovered that sludge was building up in the vehicle's oil cap.

Ford Canada issued a bulletin in June, stating that the thick, milky substance was caused by condensation.

It forms when the vehicle is used in cold weather, combined with driving short distances that don't allow the gas engine to warm up to its full operating temperature.

Lisa Sweeney says she thought she was doing her part for the environment when she purchased a Ford Fusion Hybrid from Cabot Ford in St. John's in 2014. (Darryl Murphy/CBC)

A Ford Canada representative sent CBC Investigates a statement, noting that the company tested Sweeney's vehicle, and that the run time of an engine is reduced in a hybrid.

So in Sweeney's case, that means the car is "not burning off moisture that naturally occurs in a running vehicle."

As a fix, Ford Canada told Sweeney to routinely drive her car at highway speeds for 15 to 30 minutes, with the defroster on the highest setting. It also suggested more frequent oil changes.

"I generally don't drive on the highway," Sweeney said. "I have no reason to drive on the highway."

She does most of her driving to and from work — a 12-kilometre trek between her home in Mount Pearl and her employer in St. John's. The drive takes approximately 20 minutes each way, getting up to maximum speeds of 70 km/h.

"I have read the [owner's] manual from front to back," Sweeney said. "There is nothing stating in the manual that I would have to do these things." 

She said Ford's suggested fix defeats the purpose of driving a hybrid.

Sweeney says she does most of her driving to and from work. (Darryl Murphy/CBC)

Customer concerns

In July, a representative at Cabot Ford told Sweeney the dealership could be of no further assistance to her. 

She then approached Ford Canada's customer service department. 

Sweeney was told her complaint was being "escalated to the highest level" within the company, and that a regional customer service manager would follow up with her.

She hadn't heard anything from the company until Sept. 19, just hours after CBC Investigates had contacted Ford for comment.

Sweeney said the company didn't offer her any viable fixes, but noted that the door is open for discussion.

Ford Canada said it is working with Sweeney to develop a solution.

Cabot Ford steered CBC Investigates inquiries to corporate head office.

A Ford Canada representative says the company is working with Sweeney to develop a solution. (CBC)

Winter is coming

When she bought her vehicle, Sweeney purchased a five-year extended warranty, which has covered all her sludge issues to this point.

If they actually decide not to cover this under my warranty, I can't afford to have the engine repaired or cleaned in the winter time every couple of weeks or every month.- Lisa Sweeney

But she said no one will tell her whether the warranty will continue to be honoured if she keeps having these problems.

She did not have any issues this summer, because of the warmer weather, but is worried about what will happen when the temperature drops.

"If they actually decide not to cover this under my warranty, I can't afford to have the engine repaired or cleaned in the winter time every couple of weeks or every month," she said.

"So then I'd be without a vehicle, and I can't afford to go buy a new vehicle."

In case they can't come to an agreement, Sweeney has taken her case to the Better Business Bureau.

She wants Ford Canada to buy back her car so she can afford to purchase a new vehicle — though Sweeney said she will never buy another Ford or hybrid vehicle again.​

About the Author

Jen White

CBC News

Jen White is a journalist with CBC News in St. John's.

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