Thoughts on Ford Motor Company.

Introduction

Check Engine light on a 1996 Dodge Caravan.
Check Engine light on a 1996 Dodge Caravan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not much of a mechanic – okay, I’m not one at all. My dad is a mechanic and always took care of the repairs when I was a child and teenager, so I did very little with cars myself – though I sometimes accompanied him when he was performing oil changes or similar routine maintenance. When I moved to Pennsylvania to attend Philadelphia Biblical University, I didn’t have a car and when Charity and I married in 2003, we still didn’t have a car.

My dad had always bought extremely cheap (or free) cars and fixed them up…so I attempted to replicate this experience – but it didn’t work out the best seeing I didn’t know a lick about automobiles. Our first car was a 1990 Toyota Corolla we bought for $1,300. Within a few months it was dead. I had accidentally left the oil cap off after checking it on a trip back from visiting my family in New York and in addition to lacking a splash guard to keep the oil from splashing out the Corolla’s oil light apparently wasn’t working – so the first we knew was when the smoke started billowing and the car made horrific grinding noises before dying and never starting again.

That was an awful experience – and that is only a little bit of the story. After that it was back to no car…but then some family friend’s in North Carolina phoned us to offer a Suzuki Samurai for free – all we had to do was fly down and drive it back. Josh Hostetter and I did just that – and it was quite the adventure. For those who aren’t familiar with the Suzuki Samurai, its almost like a jeep, had a manual transmission, and feels a bit like driving in a tin can on wheels.

This car lasted us for perhaps a year but it was falling apart as well. At the same time I had graduated from PBU and was about to take a position with Collages.net – whose main offices were in Langhorne but had colocation facilities in Philadelphia – to which I was required to commute in cases of upgrades, maintenance, or emergencies (day or night). Knowing the Samurai was going to need some significant cash dropped into it to keep it going I decided it was time to give up on the used route and instead bought a new car from the now defunct Stockburger Chevrolet (acquired by Reedman-Toll).

We didn’t have a lot of money – even with the trade-in it was still difficult getting financing, but in the end I drove away with a 2005 Chevy Aveo XLS, a sub-compact car. For the next two years Charity and I would share this vehicle – more easily accomplished due to her job at the time being within walking distance…but as her hours increased and she undertook graduate work at PBU in counseling the strain of being a one car household became more difficult and on June 14, 2007 we went to Discount Auto and purchased a 2001 Ford Escape XLS with ~68k miles on it.

And after all that, here is the real start of our story.

Out of the Gate Repairs

On the 17th we took the car in to our mechanic – Bertrand Automotive – and were informed that the car needed some work. All the tires should be replaced, the oil pan had a slow leak, and several of the break hoses had slashes or cracks requiring replacement. We couldn’t afford all the repairs at once, so I’d take the car in and have the repairs done each week as we received our paychecks – July 9th, 13th, and 20th. Over those three trips the tires, a tire valve, a sensys radial, two control arms, and four break hoses would all be replaced. This set us back around $1250 (within a month of buying the car).

Now, I don’t know much about cars…but I expected some repairs to be necessary and I knew that components wore out over time and that there is an ongoing cost to maintaining a vehicle in working condition…so even these costs didn’t kill me…but then the real issues began to rear its ugly head.

The Ugly Issues

The Escape began driving rough. It would shake at certain speeds, the check engine light came on, and it would sometimes stall while idling. On November 25th 2008 I took the car back in to Bertrand’s. They found the engine error PO303 and replaced the spark plugs and a coil pack ($400).

After this the car still ran rough – but maybe a little less so – and things went okay until September of 2009 when Charity grew fed up with the A/C not working and we dropped another $190 to have it fixed. This was followed a few months later in January of 2010 with Bertrand replacing another coil pack ($220) after the check engine light appeared again.

The issues continued and on July 27th we took the car to Ace Automotive due to a banging noise in the front of the car. They determined the issue was a driver’s side sway bar link assembly and removed and replaced it ($250).

In September 2010 the check engine light came on again. We were both getting exasperated at the number of issues the car was having and the mysterious and somewhat unfixable nature of the problems. I did some Googling and discovered other individuals were suffering from similar issues and found a recall I thought applied. I took the car to McCafferty’s – an authorized Ford dealer. Unfortunately, the block of cars ours was in didn’t have the recall on it – even though the issue appeared the same as that given in the recall – and the repair wasn’t free. The error was 96.95, “Bad Idle Air Control Valve” according to McCafferty and a self-test found “P1507.” McCafferty removed and replaced the Air Control Valve for $240.

The vehicle continued to run roughly and in November we took it again to Ace Automotive – but after testing and checking for codes they were unable to replicate the issues. I did more Googling and looked for recommendations on mechanics who had experience with Ford vehicles. I discovered Paul’s Auto Repair and took the car there in March of 2011. They replaced the intake manifold gasket and resolved error codes PO301, PO171, PO174 ($425).

The car ran better than usual, though still not perfect. In June 2011 we took it in again after the issues became more apparent and Paul’s Auto Repair replaced the fuel filter and spark plugs ($370).

In October we ran into another big issue – the car wouldn’t shift gears. Luckily, it was the shifter cable and Bertrand Auto replaced this for $215. The car began running rough again at some point – but we couldn’t afford to constantly take it back in when the problems never seemed to alleviate entirely and always grew worse over time…but in March of 2012 we replaced the rear shocks ($425) and now we are looking at taking it in again – to have the tires replaced, the a/c fixed (which has been broken for well over a year), and the newly lit check engine light checked yet again.

Update: The A/C wasn’t working, took the car in to Paul’s Auto Repair where they informed us that the A/C compressor was entirely dead and had destroyed other AC components as well. It was going to cost around $1,000 parts and labor to repair. They offered the alternative of a bypass pulley assembly – we took that route which set us back another $421. Literally the next week the windshield wiper motor blows. Thanks Ford!

Update: On 6/21 we took the Ford Escape into Reedman-Toll and traded it and purchased a 2012 Subaru Forester for Charity. We rolled the trade into reducing the purchase price of the car…it knocked off $1k…and, honestly, while I would have liked more for the trade I don’t think Reedman-Toll treated us wrong (in fact, I was very pleased with the experience overall). For a moment I thought to myself, “Should I take the car back and sell it on Craigslist?” Charity said, “To some poor, unsuspecting soul?” I agreed and took the trade. Goodbye Ford.

Side Note

During this time we also had regular maintenance and minor repairs performed on the car as well as annual inspections. Some of the prices above include some of these items – though the majority of the cost was for the items mentioned. I include all these details about the car and the various mechanics we used to demonstrate that the issues reoccurred over a period of time and that the response, “Your mechanic didn’t know what he was doing” doesn’t hold – since we had four different mechanics working on the car over the years.

Analysis

I’ve learned a few lessons over the years from this car:

  1. Take the car to the mechanic before you buy it for an inspection to ensure you know everything you’ll need to replace after purchasing. I can’t fault Discount Auto for my lack of knowledge – but I might have driven a harder bargain on the price if I’d known I would drop well over $1,000 into maintaining it within the first month.
  2. Don’t buy a Ford. Yeah, I know that is harsh – but it is the lesson I’m taking from this experience. I’ve had a few issues with my Chevy Aveo – but nothing nearly as severe or confusing or reoccurring as the issues I’ve had with the Ford Escape…and it still doesn’t have 100k miles on it!

But Dave…

I’m not complaining about having to make repairs to the car – or blaming Ford for most of them. Replacing tires, windshield wipers, oil filters, control assemblies, and so on over time is understandable…even having to replace coils or have the a/c repaired is understandable – but it seems evident to me that there is a design / manufacturing issues with the 2001 Ford Escape that resulted in the recurring and never-quite-resolved issues with the a/c and engine (vehicle shaking, stalling, check engine light).

IMHO, Ford needs to and should make right these design flaws in their vehicles.

It Is Just You!

Some, especially after seeing my lack of knowledge about automobiles and my big mistake of leaving an oil cap off might say, “Dave, this is a Dave problem, not a Ford problem.” I might agree with you – if a quick search of the web did not reveal that the issues I have experienced where by no means unique – especially the shaking, stalling, and check engine lights…Here are a few reads to get you started:

Funny Thing Happened…

Well, they haven’t acknowledged the issues I mentioned above, but I did get a letter from Ford today about my vehicle and a safety recall notice 12S37 / NHTSA Recall 12V-353 which states in part,
“On your vehicle, there may be inadequate clearance between the engine cover and the speed control…cable, which could allow the engine to be stuck at full power when the accelerator pedal is fully or almost-fully depressed. A throttle that is stuck fully or almost fully open may result in very high vehicle speeds and make it difficult to stop or slow the vehicle, which could cause a crash, serious injury, or death. This risk exists regardless of whether or not speed control is used.”

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