They jerk, they stutter, they stop without warning.
Those are just three of more than 1,000 complaints NBC 5 Investigates uncovered from drivers across the country who said the transmissions in their 2011-2015 Ford Focus and Ford Fiesta pose a serious safety concern.
The suspected culprit is a dual transmission that purportedly would offer the economy of a manual transmission with all the ease of an automatic one. Priced at around $1,000, many drivers now say Ford’s factory-installed “PowerShift” transmission ended up costing them much more.
Ron and Ann Surace, an Evanston husband and wife, said their 2013 Ford Focus was the first car they ever bought brand new, but it’s been nothing but trouble, breaking down every 4,000 miles.
“Something is not working out right here,” Ron Surace said. “Something is wrong, seriously wrong with this vehicle.”
The Suraces say they repeatedly took their Focus to the dealership and were told the transmission’s stuttering, jerking and shaking was normal.
“They even said the computer had to get used to me,” Ron Surace recalled. “And that’s when the hair on the back of my neck stood up.”
The same make and model resulted in the same story in Country Club Hills where Donna Chancellor said her troubles started the day she drove her used 2013 Focus, with 10,000 miles on it, off the lot. Chancellor said she took the car to the dealer five times in four months, and each time she heard a different excuse.
“Oh that’s the characteristics of the transmission. It’s supposed to do that,” Chancellor recalled. “I just knew it wasn’t right.”
NBC 5 Investigates found nearly 1,400 complaints on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website, filed over the last five years from Ford Focus and Fiesta drivers across the country. Many said they feel unsafe and are scared to drive their cars.
Chicago attorney Greg Moss said these complaints now sound very familiar.
“Out of nowhere the phone was literally ringing off the hook and …what we saw was every single vehicle had the same complaint,” Moss told NBC 5 Investigates. “It was a transmission shutter, or a jerking,”
Moss said he has filed 130 lawsuits in several states.
Ford issued around 100 Technical Service Bulletins connected to transmission in the fleet and has offered extended warranties for some drivers.
“They're not interested in extended warranties,” Moss said. “They're interested in having their vehicle fixed immediately and being able to use it safely.”
For its part, Ford told NBC 5 Investigates that all affected owners are now in line for a transmission software upgrade but acknowledged it is still in the process of telling many of them.
In a statement to NBC5 Investigates, the carmaker told us:
Ford is committed to providing our customers with top-quality vehicles. Ford’s PowerShift automated-manual transmission uses an advanced configuration that provides exceptional powertrain efficiency, along with a potential for unique shift-feel compared to conventional automatics.
We take customer concerns seriously. We have taken action to ensure customer satisfaction, including updating the transmission software and providing an extended warranty for the transmission control module, clutches and transmission input shaft seals. In many cases, customers have already received notification of these programs; we are in the process of notifying our remaining customers.