Quest to find corporate soul of Ford leaves mom gagging

Quest to find corporate soul of Ford leaves mom gagging

By Christopher Jensen

PLAIN DEALER AUTO EDITOR

Sunday, June 24, 2001 Edition: Final, Section: Driving, Page 1F

The talk from Ford's Big Boys is enough to make Shirley Edwards gag.

Ford president Jacques Nasser talks about how he plans to make Ford the benchmark for a consumer-oriented company.

Ford chairman William Clay Ford Jr. muses about Ford having a corporate "soul" and being a responsible corporate citizen.

But that is just public-relations blabbery to Edwards, the owner of a 1993 Mercury Sable with a head-gasket devouring 3.8 liter V-6 engine.

Edwards, who lives in College Station, Texas, bought the used 1993 Sable in December of 1998 with about 70,000 miles o­n it.

She soon began having problems, including a transmission failure the following July that cost her $1,900, which was a serious problem for a single parent with two children.

Then in August 1999 with roughly 77,000 miles o­n the odometer, a mechanic told her the head gasket was gone and soon she was going to need a new engine, which would be about $3,000.

Edwards didn't have the money for a new engine, so the Sable sat for three months until a friend made some free, stopgap repairs including a new head gasket. That allowed her to drive it another 10,000 miles until May 2000 when the engine died with its boots o­n. However, car payments are close to eternal, and her $351 monthly checks still went to the bank as the car sat unused in her driveway.

She called Ford's customer assistance center for help and was rejected. Then last January she wrote Ann O'Neill, an executive with Ford's customer service operation, almost begging for a hand.

"I am tired of paying car notes o­n a car I can't drive and I am tired of waking up at night with my heart pounding, wondering from o­ne moment to the next how I will get to work [both jobs] and how I will get my children where they need to be," she wrote.

But that big-hearted, customer-oriented Ford Motor Co. wouldn't do anything. Edwards was told Ford was o­nly offering an extended warranty for seven years or 100,000 miles for head-gasket failure o­n 1994 and 1995 models.

Ford officials have said their research shows that the most serious head-gasket problem is with the 1994 and 1995 models. Of course it was no consolation to Edwards that Ford thought she was part of such a small group of consumers that, in effect, her problem didn't count.

Ford's claim that there isn't a serious problem is also disputed by the Center for Auto Safety in Washington, D.C. The Center says it has so many complaints from owners of 1993 and 1996 models that it should be clear there is a problem.

Finally, last May, after her Sable had been parked for roughly a year, Edwards told the First Federal Savings Bank ("Banking the way it was meant to be") to repossess her car.

"I am tired of fighting with Ford . . . and I can see no reason to continue making notes o­n this vehicle," she wrote the bank.

"I know this will still make my credit rating very unsatisfactory, however my hands are tied in this situation and it has been a total nightmare."

But Edwards' horrible little Ford odyssey was not over. In May, she read a Plain Dealer article o­n the World Wide Web about Ford's head gaskets.

In that story I quoted Nasser admitting that if some consumers were having head-gasket problems and were not getting help that would be inconsistent with Ford's goal of being consumer-oriented.

Nasser said Ford would take another look at whether the warranty should cover other models, and he would be interested in hearing about individual cases. So, I sent along Edwards' name and information.

Edwards wondered if somebody at Ford finally might be willing to stand behind its products?

But after a review by a "consumer affairs special liaison" in the executive offices, she was told Ford, the company with "soul," wouldn't help. The reason: She no longer owned the Sable that caused her so much trouble and helped empty her bank account.

Apparently nobody at Ford thought that maybe they could have reimbursed her for some of her expenses or helped her to buy a new vehicle, perhaps even a Ford or Mercury.

Ford later said its Nasser-ordered review indicated that there is no reason to expand the warranty to any additional models, either.

Meanwhile, Edwards said the bank has not yet sold the car and so she continues to make small payments, figuring she will still owe money even if the bank can sell it. But she figures her life has to improve.

"I'm sure the good Lord has something better for me in the future," she said.

E-mail: cjensen@plaind.com Phone: 216-999-4830

Ford rejects expanding its warranty  o­n gaskets
By Christopher Jensen
PLAIN DEALER AUTO EDITOR

Wednesday, June 6, 2001 Edition: Final, Section: Business, Page 1C

Ford Motor Co. won't expand its extended warranty program o­n head-gasket failures, which covers 3.8-liter V-6 engines o­n 1994 and 1995 models, to include other model years, company officials said. "We are not changing our program," said Ford spokesman Ed Miller.

The decision was criticized as "anti-consumer" by Clarence Ditlow, the director of the Ralph Nader-founded Center for Auto Safety in Washington, D.C.

"The 1993 and 1996 owners are plagued [with head-gasket failures], and they should be treated the same as 1994-95 owners," Ditlow said.

Last month, during a visit to Cleveland, Ford President and Chief Executive Officer Jacques Nasser said that if some Ford owners were having head-gasket problems and were not getting help from Ford, it would be inconsistent with Ford's vow to become a consumer-oriented company.

Nasser promised to review the situation, but Ford spokesman Mike Vaughn said the review found no evidence of a serious head-gasket problem with model years other than 1994 and 1995. Ford made changes to the engine for the 1994 and 1995 model years that made head-gasket failures most likely, he said.

But Ditlow said that in a two-month period, his group received 101 complaints about 3.8-liter V-6 head-gasket problems, and 69 of them were for models not covered under the extended warranty.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration customer complaint database contains about 180 head-gasket complaints from owners of the 1993 Taurus alone.

Vaughn said there may be head-gasket failures o­n 3.8-liter V-6s for model years other than 1994 and 1995. But he insisted that such failures can occur for many reasons, including poor maintenance or towing.

Some experts contend head gaskets should last at least 100,000 miles.

Many 3.8-liter V-6 owners have had failures at around 50,000 or 60,000 miles.

Complaints about vehicles not covered under the extended warranty are handled o­n a case-by-case basis by Ford's customer assistance center, Vaughn said.

However, many consumers say the center rebuffs them, simply saying there is no assistance available.

Nasser was not available for comment.

Head-gasket repairs can cost $1,000. But if coolant damages the engine, it may need more serious work, which can cost $3,000 or more.

The existing program covers 1994-1995 model vehicles including the Mustang, Cougar, Taurus, Sable, 1994 Continental and 1995 Windstar. Vehicles are covered for seven years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first.

Ford issued a technical service bulletin to dealers in 1998 warning them that "coolant may leak from the head gaskets" o­n the 3.8-liter V-6 used between 1988 and 1995 o­n the Taurus, Sable and Continental, as well as the 1995 Windstar. But Ford has denied that that indicates a defect, saying it merely tells technicians what to do should a problem occur.

CEO says Ford may extend warranty -  Gasket failure hits additional models
From the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Saturday, May 19, 2001
By Christopher Jensen Plain Dealer Auto Editor Edition: Final, Section: Business, Page 01

In a move that could save some consumers thousands of dollars, Ford will consider expanding its warranty o­n V-6 engine head-gasket repairs to other models, Ford President and Chief Executive Officer Jacques Nasser said.

Last year Ford announced an extended warranty o­n the head gaskets for 3.8-liter V-6 engines used in the 1994 and 1995 Taurus, Sable, Thunderbird, Cougar and Mustang as well as the 1994 Lincoln Continental and the 1995 Windstar. That covered slightly more than 1 million vehicles. But some owners of vehicles not included have complained that they also had head gaskets o­n the 3.8-liter V-6 fail at low mileages.

Last year Carolyn Warren of Garfield Heights found herself facing $2,300 in repairs from a failed head gasket o­n her 1996 Thunderbird even though it had o­nly 57,000 miles. "It has been a learning experience for us; it really has," she said. "We learned when you buy a car, you don't get what you are supposed to get. But you have to forgive them. If they knew better, they would do better."

Ford spokesmen have said engineering changes for the 1994 model year caused the head-gasket failures, and there is no evidence of a problem with other model years that would merit an extended warranty.

In recent speeches, including o­ne in Cleveland o­n Wednesday, Nasser talked about making Ford the leader in customer satisfaction and caring for the customer long after the sale is completed. During an interview later, Nasser said that if some Ford owners are having head-gasket problems with the 3.8-liter V-6, and they are not getting help from Ford, that would be inconsistent with Ford's goal.

Nasser said he would examine the data next week and try to determine whether the warranty should be extended to other models or if problems should be handled o­n a case-by-case basis. The extended warranty covered the head gasket for seven years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first. Ford also said it would reimburse consumers for repairs made before the policy was announced.

Head gasket repairs can cost about $1,000, but if the coolant leaks inside the engine it may cause more serious damage, requiring additional work that can cost $3,000 or more. The extended warranty alone for the 718,000 front-wheel-drive 1994-95 cars could cost Ford $200 million, according to a Michigan firm that tracks warranty costs. Ford has declined to comment o­n that estimate.

The head gasket problem goes beyond the 1994 and 1995 models, according to the Center for Auto Safety, a group founded by Ralph Nader that is based in Washington, D.C. Complaints o­n 1993 models with the 3.8-liter V-6 are "legion," and consumers are beginning to report problems with head gaskets o­n the 1996 Windstar, said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the center. The center has received 101 Ford head-gasket complaints in the last two months alone, and 69 of them were for vehicles not covered by the extended warranty, Ditlow said.

At least 180 head-gasket complaints from the owners of the 1993 Taurus were found in the customer complaint database for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "I have been given an estimate of $3,000 for a blown head gasket. I am a 66-year-old widow and cannot afford this kind of repair," wrote o­ne owner of a 1993 Taurus. Few consumers know enough to complain to the Center for Auto Safety or NHTSA, and to have that many complaints indicates a significant problem, Ditlow asserted.

In 1998 Ford issued a technical service bulletin to dealers warning them that "coolant may leak from the head gaskets" o­n the 3.8-liter V-6 used between 1988 and 1995 o­n the Taurus, Sable and Continental as well as the 1995 Windstar. The bulletin advised dealers to use new gaskets "that provide improved sealing capability and higher clamping force." But Ford spokesman Mike Vaughn said such bulletins merely tell technicians how to fix a problem "should it develop" and are "not an indication that a failure will happen, nor is it an indication of a failure trend."

Primer o­n head-gasket failure

Ford has relied heavily o­n the 3.8-liter V-6 engine since the 1988 model year, using it on both front- and rear-wheel drive models.

What is the head gasket? It seals the top of the engine, or cylinder head, to the bottom of the engine. When it leaks, it can allow coolant to escape. If the coolant leaks inside the engine, or the engine overheats badly, the engine can be destroyed.

What are the symptoms of failure? Ford says the symptoms are persistent and worsening overheating; heavy, white smoke from the tailpipe; a flashing warning light for "low coolant;" and the constant loss of coolant. Some customers also reported that the heater stopped generating heat before the gasket failed.

Where to send complaints: Consumers may send a letter describing their problems and a copy of the repair bill to the Center for Auto Safety, 1825 Connecticut Ave., Washington, D.C. 20009, or may fill out a form o­n the center's Web site, http://www.autosafety.org/.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which focuses o­n safety problems, may be reached at 800-424-9393 or www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

Consumers may send letters to Ford to: Jacques Nasser, president, The Ford Motor Co., o­ne American Rd., Dearborn, Mich., 48126.