Is Ford Covering Up Focus Malfunction?

The Center for Auto Safety is the nation’s premier independent, member driven, non-profit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to improving vehicle safety, quality, and fuel economy on behalf of all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

Consumers Want Recall Issued

November 7, 2006

When something breaks, you get it fixed, right? But what if it breaks again, and again? That’s what hundreds of Bay Area drivers say is happening to a key part in their Ford vehicles. Some accuse Ford of covering up the problem for years

We’re talking about the Ford Focus — the economy model of Ford’s fleet. The issue is with the ignition lock: when it fails, how often it fails, and who ends up footing the bill.

"It came on all of a sudden. You never known when it’ll happen," says Sharon Starr of San Francisco. She’s describing something hundreds of other Ford Focus owners are all-too-familiar with.

"It’s locked up. It’s locked, like you’re putting in a key that doesn’t work," says Staff. 

The same problem, happening over and over again, to consumer after consumer.

"We got back into the car and it wouldn’t start," says Focus owner Jeffrey Crouch.

"It just would not start at all. It was just locked," says Sherri Patrick, another Ford Focus owner.

"This is the number one unresolved problem in the Ford Focus," according to Clarence Ditlow, head of the Center for Auto Safety in Washington DC. Ditlow says Ford issued a technical service bulletin — or TSB — to inform its dealerships about the problem. That means customers who report ignition lock failure while still under warranty get the repair for free. But once consumers are "out of warranty," they’re out of luck too.

"They admit there’s a defect but they’re saying to the consumer, you pay for our engineering mistake, not us," says Ditlow.

"They told me that I needed this whole new part and that they knew about it, but Ford wasn’t recalling it because it wasn’t a safety issue," explains Starr.

The company tells 7 On Your Side, "Based on our review of the reports Ford has received, a technical service bulletin to help technicians repair an ignition cylinder problem is the appropriate action."

But consumers we talked to insist it’s a safety issue that warrants a recall.

"If someone was following me and I needed to start the car, I’d consider that a safety issue," argues Patrick. "You know, if my kids would get stuck someplace, that’s a safety issue to me and they should do something about it."

Ford disagrees, saying: "If we identify a safety defect, Ford takes the appropriate action."

"It’s inexcusable," says Pleasanton attorney Jeffrey Fazio, who is suing Ford on behalf of all California Ford Focus owners.

The lawsuit claims Ford knew about the problem before it began selling the focus in the United States back in 1999, but failed to disclose the information .

Fazio says in most cases, the problem doesn’t manifest until after the standard 3 year, 36,000 mile warranty expires.

Although Ford would "not disclose or provide supplier information" to 7 On Your Side, the lawsuit says "ignition locks Ford sells as replacements are just as defective."

The lawsuit seeks punitive damages but also reimbursement for consumers who’ve had to pay out-of-pocket for ignition lock repairs.

"It can cost up to about $500 each time it fails, and they have a tendency to fail more than once," says Fazio. "Ford knows that, and has no intention of paying for it. Instead, it foists it onto the consumer."

The lawsuit also accuses Ford of providing free repairs to some consumers whose warranties were expired, but not to others – an alleged violation of California’s "secret warranty" law.

"You shouldn’t have to complain loudly or long enough to get your due," says Fazio. "When a company provides an extended warranty, they have to provide it to everybody."

"We’d like Ford to simply do a recall and replace this ignition cylinder with a better one that’s stronger and won’t break," Ditlow adds.