Ford's warranty on Focus extended; engines can stall

11/20/03

Christopher Jensen
Plain Dealer Auto Editor

 

Ford has extended the warranty for the fuel delivery system of the 2000 and 2001 Ford Focus for 10 years.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating thousands of reports that the Focus "stalls unpredictably." But Ford has told the federal government a recall is not needed because stalling is not a safety problem.

Stalling is a serious safety defect, said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen and a former NHTSA administrator.

That is why a recall is necessary instead of an extended warranty, said Clarence Ditlow, head of the Center for Auto Safety.

Ford notified its dealers this month of the new warranty, which has no limitation on mileage. Ford also said it would reimburse owners who already paid for the repair. It covers about 671,000 vehicles in North America.

The problem is that the fuel pump filtering mechanism clogs.

The result can be "engine hesitation, loss of power, surging," dealers were told.

Not all vehicles have the problem, which tends to occur between 20,000 and 30,000 miles, and the key factor is fuel quality, Ford spokesman Glenn Ray said.

Ford said it redesigned the system on the 2002 Focus, but the memo to dealers says the automaker won't replace the older units unless they fail.

NHTSA began investigating Focus stalls in April 2002. In September 2002, the agency was concerned enough to intensify the investigation, saying there were 3,475 consumer complaints.

Ford told NHTSA it had 11 complaints of accidents and the agency said it knew of nine. Some of those reports may be duplicates, the agency cautioned. The agency and automaker agreed there were four injuries.

"The data analysis . . . indicates the Focus will stall at all speeds without notice," according to the NHTSA report.

Ford told NHTSA there is no safety problem, although it acknowledged "that stalling is not desirable." Ford also said that long before the car stalls, consumers would probably get a warning because the engine would not be operating smoothly.

And Ford noted that the agency had discontinued an earlier investigation into another Ford, in which the agency concluded stalling was not a safety issue.

But NHTSA investigators said that was an apples-and-oranges comparison. The case to which Ford refers involved Ford Crown Victoria police cruisers, and it was easy to predict when the police cars would stall, the investigators wrote in a report.

The police cars were also much larger - and therefore safer should they be struck by another vehicle. And they have emergency lights to warn other motorists of a problem. Finally, once stalled, they could be restarted.

The Focus is more vulnerable because it stalls unpredictably and it may be impossible to restart, the investigators wrote.

Ford's own memo to dealers may not ease the concerns of Focus drivers worried about chores such as merging with highway traffic. It says the Focus can stall "under a variety of driving conditions" but warns it happens most often when the gas tank is less than one-quarter full "and the driver is attempting to accelerate while making a right turn maneuver, such as entering a highway through a cloverleaf or driving uphill."