Nova Scotia

Ford owners frustrated by pace of transmission probe

Two years after Transport Canada opened an investigation into the dual-clutch transmissions in some Ford models, not much has changed — except for an increase in the number of people complaining.

No indication when 2-year government investigation will end

June Farmer shows her displeasure on the exterior of her car. (Yvonne Colbert/CBC)

Two years after Transport Canada opened an investigation into the dual-clutch transmissions in some Ford models, not much has changed — except for an increase in the number of people complaining.

"I'm nervous to drive it," said Cole Harbour, N.S., resident June Farmer, one of 1,777 people who have filed a formal complaint with Transport Canada.

6 clutches later

Farmer bought a 2011 Ford Fiesta with 2,000 kilometres on it.

In September, she had a sixth clutch installed. It is the same problem experienced by many owners of Ford Fiesta vehicles made from 2011-16 and Ford Focus models from 2012-2016.

She said her car jerks and sputters when she tries to move forward after a stop. It even died on a busy highway while she was driving 100 km/h with her daughter and two-year-old grandson in the car.

"Luckily we were at an exit and we were able to coast off the highway, but we could have all been killed," she said.

Some of the decals Farmer has put on her Ford Fiesta. 'I wanted to make a statement,' she says. (Yvonne Colbert/CBC)

She said she will not drive her car on the highway again. "I don't trust it," she said.

Her car sports a sign on the back that says "BOUGHT A LEMON." There are also several angry-looking lemon decals on the Fiesta.

"Had they not been so expensive, I would have put them all over my car," she said.

A problem coast-to-coast 

Paulette and John Schedel live in Vancouver and own a 2012 Ford Focus. They bought it new for more than $27,000.

They, too, have experienced "shudders and jerks" and have had what Paulette called four serious incidents that almost caused accidents.

"We were turning left at a very busy intersection and as we were halfway through, with lots of time to make it, the car started jumping and bouncing and stalling and we had people honking and waving their fists at us," she said. "It could have been a serious accident."

Vancouver's Paulette and John Schedel have had troubles with their 2011 Ford Focus. (Submitted by Paulette Schedel)

They have had three new clutches installed in their car in two years, the most recent in March.

Now that clutch has failed, too. Ford initially said it would not pay for a replacement because the car is 1,000 kilometres past its warranty so the couple, both seniors, parked the car rather than pay approximately $4,000 to replace the clutch. 

Late last week, after writing a letter to Ford's president, the Schedels were delighted to receive a call saying the automaker would install a new clutch for a small fee and would give them a two-year warranty on parts and labour, something she says her dealership told her is unusual.

Small claims court an option

George Iny, Automobile Protection Association executive director, says others who are still looking for help with repairs could consider taking Ford to small claims court.

He said there's a good chance the automaker will settle before a hearing by making a partial offer. If they don't, Iny suggests proceeding with the case because most adjudicators would understand a buyer wouldn't voluntarily purchase a car that needs to have its transmission taken apart and rebuilt every 50,000-100,000 kilometres.

Is Ford stalling?

Iny said carmakers can "stall government a good long period if they don't want to issue a recall and there are no fatalities or injuries being reported."

Some of the invoices June Farmer has stockpiled for work on her 2011 Ford Fiesta. (Yvonne Colbert/CBC)

He thinks Ford doesn't believe it has a duty, past the warranty, to help people who bought these vehicles.

"They've already announced that they won't be selling the Fiesta and Focus in the future, so there's no real commitment by the company toward maintaining the user-experience for the owners of those transmissions," he said.

It's been two years since Transport Canada launched its investigation into this issue, but Iny says that's not unusual and safety defect investigations can take years.

He cites one recall by another automaker that was issued 15 years after the vehicle had been put on the market.

Transport Canada said in an email that the defect investigation is ongoing "as new information continues to come forward on a frequent and regular basis."

No injuries reported

"Transport Canada is not aware of any injuries or confirmed collisions which have occurred as a result of an identified defect in the subject vehicles or transmissions," Annie Joannette, a department spokesperson said.

When asked what concerned people with affected vehicles are to do, Joannette said they are encouraged to report to Transport Canada's defect complaint and recalls hotline or submit a complaint online.

That provides little solace to Farmer, who has already done that.

Said Farmer: "Do we need to have someone injured or killed before the government will do something about this?"

She says she will not sell her car and pass the problem on to an unsuspecting buyer

Ford reacts differently in Canada

In the United States, Ford has settled a class-action lawsuit about the issue, but it's being held up by some participants who are not happy with the agreement.

Among other things, it would see Ford repair or buy back vehicles, offer cash payments and reimbursement for clutch repairs — if two or more clutches were replaced under warranty and owners had to pay for their own clutch replacement after that.

A similar class action in Canada is working its way through the courts.

CBC requested an interview with someone from Ford to discuss the transmission issue. There was no response to three emails over a six-day period.

However, Ford did respond to a subsequent tweet asking why no one in their media centre answered media inquiries.

In an email 10 minutes after the tweet was sent, Ford spokesperson Christine Hollander simply said: "Ford is committed to providing its customers with top quality vehicles. We are equally committed to addressing potential issues and responding quickly for our customers. We don't comment on pending litigation."

Ford recalled more than 136,000 Focus models in Canada last week for a fuel-valve problem.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yvonne Colbert

Consumer Watchdog

Yvonne Colbert has been a journalist for nearly 35 years, covering everything from human interest stories to the provincial legislature. These days she helps consumers navigate an increasingly complex marketplace and avoid getting ripped off. She invites story ideas at yvonne.colbert@cbc.ca

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