There is light and perhaps money at the end of the tunnel for some owners of Ford Fiesta and Focus vehicles now that a Canadian court has approved a class-action settlement over the cars’ problem-plagued dual-action transmissions.
Current owners may be partially refunded what they paid for their vehicles, according to class-action lawyer Ted Charney, with compensation determined by how often they were forced to replace faulty clutches. People who leased may get a total refund on payments, minus usage.
The settlement, which was approved earlier this month by an Ontario judge, covers the 2011-2016 Fiesta and the 2012-2016 Focus. It’s estimated 160,000 of the cars were sold in Canada.
Halifax resident Jordan Bonaparte went public in 2016 with his concerns about the PowerShift dual-clutch transmission. His Focus had started acting strangely about a month after he bought it in 2013.
“It would go from bumping to, all of a sudden, the car would jerk forward five or seven feet [1.5 to 2.1 metres],” he said. “The biggest issue at first was my fear of hitting the car in front of me or slowing down and having the car behind me hit me.”
He was especially concerned because he had purchased a new vehicle to ensure his new baby would be safe. In the end, after two transmission replacements and needing a third, he and his wife stopped driving the Focus because he didn’t think it was safe on the road.
Even previous owners will get something
Bonaparte’s story touched a nerve with other owners who shared their concerns with CBC News and Transport Canada. The problems included shuddering, delayed acceleration, sudden acceleration and sudden loss of power.
The federal department said it subsequently received more complaints about the issue than any other in the past 10 years. As of this month, there have been 1,936 complaints, although the department said it “is not aware of any injuries or collisions occurring as a result of the transmission performance in these vehicles.”
The settlement also offers what Charney calls “modest relief” for people like Bonaparte who sold their vehicles rather than continue to drive a car that didn’t seem fixable.
If they had three or more transmission hardware parts replacements, they may be eligible for $250 or a $500 Ford certificate. The amount increases as the number of replacements increases to a maximum of almost $3,000 or an almost $6,000 Ford discount.
Charney said that when negotiating the settlement, he was well aware transmission replacements only seem to fix the problem for a period of time.
For current owners who meet certain criteria, Ford must install a new clutch with a two-year warranty.
This class-action lawsuit differs from others in that there is not a specific amount of money attached to it. The judge who approved it suggested it could cost Ford $50 million, but Charney said “nobody really knows,” partly because it also covers those who have problems in the future, something most class actions do not.
“The program will be open for probably another five years until the 2016 cars are off warranty,” he said.
He said it is intended to cover a whole variety of situations involving people who have the cars over multiple years.
The settlement also includes an option for Ford to buy back vehicles, at the automaker’s discretion.
Owners can get full information from the website of the settlement administrator, RicePoint. A claims form is expected to be posted there by the end of this month. After that, it’s expected to take six to 12 months to process them.
In Australia, Ford was ordered to pay a $10-million penalty in April 2018 for what the Competition and Consumer Commission called “unconscionable conduct” in the way it dealt with transmission complaints about the vehicles. It is one of the largest penalties handed down by the commission, which it said “reflects the seriousness of Ford’s conduct.”
In the U.S., a settlement was reached, but it has been appealed by some owners who felt it didn’t provide enough compensation. A decision from the courts is expected later this year.
Advice for those who’ve been wronged
As for the man who blew the whistle on the vehicles, Bonaparte said he feels proud to have played a part in exposing the problem.
“I didn’t think it would lead to these followup stories and people from all over the country coming forward, but I’m glad it did,” he said.
His advice to others who feel they’ve been treated unfairly: “Protect yourself by being thorough, doing your research and documenting everything and ultimately not giving up.”
Transport Canada opened a defect investigation into the vehicles in November 2016. When asked about the status of the 2½-year investigation, a spokesperson simply said it’s “ongoing.”