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.