Ford to Repair Springs on Focus


By Christopher Jensen
Plain Dealer Auto Editor

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Ford Motor Co. is extending the warranty on the front springs of 127,606 of its 2000 model Ford Focuses because they may rust and break, particularly in "high-corrosion areas," such as Ohio. But one consumer group says a recall - not a warranty - is required. If the spring breaks, the front of the car could sag, but there is no safety problem, said Glenn Ray, a Ford spokesman. Ray said the automaker has had 708 warranty claims for broken springs and no reports of accidents.

However, Ford should be required to recall the vehicles so consumers don't have to take a chance on having a tire punctured and losing control, said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.

The front coil springs will be covered for 10 years or 150,000 miles, whichever comes first. The coverage is automatically transferred to people who buy the vehicles used. Customers who already had the repair done will be reimbursed, Ford said. The vehicles were built between March and the end of December 1999 and owners will be sent letters informing them of the warranty, Ray said.

Ford describes the action as a "customer satisfaction program" and not a safety issue. Yesterday afternoon, Ray could not immediately say whether Ford knows of any tires being punctured by broken springs on the Focus.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration records show eight consumer complaints about springs breaking on the 2000 Focus. In two cases, the consumers did not even know the springs were broken until the dealer mentioned it. But one owner said his spring broke in the driveway and the "pointed edge of the broken spring . . . was ready to puncture the tire." Had that happened at highway speeds, he worried there would have been a "catastrophic or fatal accident." one consumer complained the broken spring damaged the anti-lock braking system.

This is not the first time Ford has had problems with corrosion on coil springs. In previous cases involving the Windstar and Contour, the automaker was required to protect consumers by recalling the vehicles, said Ditlow. Ray said the situation is different on the Focus. "The way it fractures does not interfere with the performance of the vehicle," he said.

As part of a routine review, NHTSA will look at Ford's customer satisfaction plan, said Liz Neblett, a NHTSA spokeswoman. If safety might be an issue, the agency will open an investigation and determine whether Ford should be required to order a recall and replace springs that are not broken, she said.

The Focus has received excellent marks from magazines including Consumer Reports and Car and Driver for its ride and handling. A group of 50 automotive reporters from the United States and Canada named it the "2000 North American Car of the Year." But with 11 safety recalls, the 2000 and 2001 Focuses are among the most-recalled vehicles in history, Ditlow said.

Ford says the quality has improved and there have been no recalls on 2003 models. only one small recall involved less than 500 vehicles on the 2002 Focus. Quality studies, such as those conducted by J.D. Power and Associates, also show substantial improvements over the 2000 and 2001 models, Ford said.