The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Tuesday it is “reviewing all available information, including complaints filed from consumers” after three members of Congress called for an investigation of Ford vehicles with faulty transmissions.
The safety regulator’s comments came as Ford dealers awaited further guidance on how to handle customer concerns about the defective transmissions in certain Fiesta and Focus vehicles. The automaker had said it would provide an update by July 19.
Ford has not offered additional guidance to its 3,100 dealers since the bulletin it sent them two weeks ago. That notice gave dealers permission to do a free fix on the transmissions for customers who came to dealership service lanes between July 12-19.
An investigation by the USA TODAY Network’s Detroit Free Press found that Ford knowingly sold Focus and Fiesta cars with defective DPS6 transmissions. The transmission can cause the vehicles to lose acceleration when it slips into neutral at various speeds.
Following that report earlier this month, some members of Congress — including U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-New Jersey, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that oversees NHTSA — called for an immediate review by regulators. The other members of Congress seeking a review were U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat.
Free Press investigation: Ford knew Focus, Fiesta models had flawed transmission, sold them anyway
On Tuesday, the Free Press asked NHTSA if it would follow congressional urging and look into the DPS6 problem. It said it is “reviewing all available information, including complaints filed from consumers.”
A NHTSA spokeswoman also said consumers should contact the agency with any information related to this or any other safety issue by visiting NHTSA’s website under “file a vehicle safety complaint” or by calling 1-888-327-4236.
No word from Ford
Ford discreetly issued the July 12 service bulletin to dealers instructing them to not solicit repairs. It offered extended warranty coverage on the 2011-17 Fiesta and Focus cars for those brought in until July 19. Many Ford dealers said they have been watching daily for updated instructions, but none have come.
The service manager said he called his counterpart at a rival Ford store Monday night to see if he might have missed an update. But neither man had seen any new Ford notices.
Likewise, other dealers say they have not gotten Ford guidance. But one, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said he will continue to fix any transmission issues when customers come in expressing concern. He is unclear, however, what to charge, if anything, without Ford direction.
For its part, Ford is not saying if or when it will again communicate with its dealers about the DPS6 transmission repairs and extending warranties.
“We’ve had several programs, many of which have been in place for some time, that address the DPS6 issue,” Ford Spokesman T.R. Reid said on Tuesday in a statement similar to one from the automaker last week. “What we’ve done several days ago now, was make sure our dealers were well prepared for possible increased questions from consumers as a result of the media coverage. We want customers to contact us and to be prepared to answer their questions when they do.”
Ford will present its second-quarter earnings Wednesday, so Reid said corporate offices have been busy, but when the Free Press asked whether Ford will communicate further to its dealers, Reid said, “What we sent to dealers was guidance that there was media coverage about the transmission and they could get more drop-ins by customers than normal and we wanted to make sure they were prepared to handle that.”
Reid repeated Tuesday that Ford has programs in place to address the DPS6 issues and, “some have been in place for a long time, years, so we think we have that well covered. Whenever we have different programs, we tell consumers about those plans, but that’s not what we did two weeks ago.”
‘Avalanche of repairs’
The Free Press investigation found that Ford knowingly launched two low-priced, fuel-efficient cars with defective transmissions and continued selling the troubled Focus and Fiesta despite thousands of complaints and an avalanche of repairs.
The cars can lose acceleration when the transmission — which operates to the driver like an automatic but is internally more like a manual — slips out of gear. Ford chose the transmission to improve fuel economy as the nation emerged from the Great Recession and federal fuel mileage standards rose.
Drivers also have told federal regulators about the cars bolting forward, including reports of injury accidents that the Free Press found in an analysis of more than 4,300 consumer complaints about the DPS6 to the NHTSA. Many of the cars shudder and jerk and frighten and irritate owners.
The three members of Congress called for an immediate review by regulators after the Free Press reported its findings.
On Tuesday NHTSA issued the following statement: “NHTSA is committed to its mission to keep the American public safe. The agency takes this and every safety issue very seriously and is reviewing all available information, including complaints filed from consumers. NHTSA does not comment on auto safety issues under review.”
The initial fix
The July 12 dealer service bulletin, obtained by the Free Press, went to “All Ford & Lincoln dealerships” and specifically read:
- If a customer calls or arrives at your dealership indicating they have transmission symptoms that need addressed, arrange to diagnose the vehicle and repair as necessary.
- If a customer calls without a symptom asking questions about the DPS6 media coverage, direct customers to contact the Customer Relationship Center at 1-800-392-3673 to discuss their concerns.
- This direction is applicable only for repair orders created July 12 through July 19. Additional updates will be provided by July 19.
Many owners have told the Free Press they gave up hope on getting a fix after multiple attempts. An internal Ford report on the DPS6 in 2016 noted that 350,000 vehicles “have already reached 3+ repairs in US” for transmission problems.
In a Free Press report last week, Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, said Ford is “repeating a long-standing auto industry practice of providing repairs to consumers only when asked as opposed to standing behind their product proactively.”
Follow Detroit Free Press reporter Jamie L. LaReau on Twitter @jlareauan.