CONSUMER WATCH | Ford Fiesta ST misdiagnosis results in R94k engine replacement

15 October 2020 - 14:53
By Brenwin Naidu
A ford Fiesta ST similar to the one owned by Abi Garner.
Image: Supplied A ford Fiesta ST similar to the one owned by Abi Garner.

Abi Garner had no qualms buying a second-hand 2014 Ford Fiesta ST with 34,000km on the odometer.

She bought the vehicle from Atterbury Motors, a used-car dealer in Tshwane, at which she was a salesperson.

At the time of purchase in December 2017, a reasonable term of coverage was still left in the factory-issued warranty and service contract. The former had a mileage cap of 120,000km, while the latter was limited to 60,000km and both were due for expiry in November 2018.

In January 2018 she took the vehicle to Allen Joss Ford, for a routine service covered by the plan, which included the replacement of all four spark plugs.

The start of her problems began seven months later, when the vehicle began to exhibit shuddering during acceleration from standstill and a loss of power.

The car was towed to Lazarus Ford in Centurion. “The dealership said I was imagining things and that I should fetch the car, since there was nothing wrong with it.”

So, she did. Two days later, while leaving her place of employment, the vehicle started its shuddering routine yet again. But this time, the severe loss of power was accompanied by the check engine light on the instrument cluster. Colleagues helped her push the Fiesta back to the office, where it sat parked for the weekend.

“The following Monday it was towed again, to Allen Joss Ford.”

Initially, she was told by the service adviser that the technician suspected water in the piston chambers could be the culprit. Then, faulty spark plugs were deemed to be the cause: two were identified and would be replaced under warranty. “I asked why they would not be replacing all four, as a set. Their response was that the warranty only covers the faulty ones.”

At the same time, the Ford also had its water bottle replaced as part of a recall campaign. A month later her ST was back in the workshop, to inspect a gearbox rattle, defective tyre pressure sensors and the engine fan, which Garner said was working overtime even during short trips.

While the service department claimed the fan was operating without issue, they informed her that the engine mountings would be replaced.

All seemed well with the little ST, until exactly one year after this dealership visit. In August 2019, around the same time it was due for its annual service, the loss of power and unnerving shudder resurfaced. The vehicle could not be driven and was towed to Allen Joss Ford.  

Garner explained the problematic history of the vehicle to the service adviser. “To both our surprise there was no record of the [previous] issues, warranty claims as they stated or job cards on the system.”

She was told that the spark plugs were again the root of the matter, although this time, she would have to foot the bill for four new spark plugs at between R1,500 and R1,700.

“I asked them if they had done additional tests, because this was the third time the car was in and surely these spark plugs cannot be a recurring issue if they were replaced before – but they were adamant that all they could pick up were the spark plugs.”

The real drama would start once the manufacturer warranty expired in November, at which point the iMPAC aftermarket warranty she purchased kicked in.

In March 2020 the dreaded shudder and power loss necessitated yet another tow to Allen Joss Ford. “To my surprise again the previous issue of missing information on the system was still not sorted out and the 26 August 2019 visit was also not present on the system, however an invoice hard copy was still with the service adviser.”

She then spoke to the service manager, who assured her that a thorough investigation would be conducted to find the underlying issue. Later that day she received a call, explaining that the engine seemed to be running correctly since another spark plug had been replaced.

“I told [the service adviser] that this is not the problem. Every time the spark plugs are replaced the car works fine for a few months and then the same issue arises.”

On March 5 another diagnosis came. Garner was told “that the reason for the spark plugs dying is due to a control module that is faulty”.

She was unhappy with this and probed a little further, directing an inquiry to the workshop manager who had been attending to her vehicle.

“He explained that it is to do with the tyre pressure sensors, not the engine. I then asked about the underlying engine issue, he became defensive and said there was no problem with the engine and that he has no record of [the previous issues] on the system and therefore it never happened.”

Garner then asked how it was possible that the spark plugs would fail repeatedly over a short period of time. She claims the workshop manager could not answer, but allegedly conceded to something that left her startled: “Sometimes their workshop replaces spark plugs with used spark plugs when they are not too worn out.”

“This infuriated me and I asked him if the four new spark plugs that I paid for to be replaced in August 2019 were then in fact used. He said he was not sure, but that it was possible.”

On March 6 she received an e-mail from the customer relations department at Ford South Africa, stating that further tests would be conducted on the vehicle. On March 10, a verdict came: the cylinder head was found to be warped.

A frustrated Garner was left with questions: why had these tests not been done sooner, while the vehicle was under warranty?

At first, the forecast cost for replacement of the head was R20,000. After a further round of testing it was learnt that the cylinder head was not the only issue: the whole engine would need to be replaced, at a cost of R94,929.13.

She was told that, as an act of goodwill, Ford would be covering 50% of the cost towards parts and labour.

A quotation dated March 24 outlines that the contribution from Ford would be R31,527.77, leaving an amount of R63,409 for Garner to settle.

Then lockdown happened.

The next time she would receive correspondence about the matter was on May 27. And then things became even more complicated.

A new agent from the customer relations centre at Ford was assigned to the case. In an e-mail, the agent stated: “The total amount for parts and labour is coming to R94.929.13 - 50% = R47,464.57. If your warranty company approves their contribution of R30,000, you will be left with an amount outstanding of R17,464.57.”

The iMPAC policy would cover a portion (R12,000) under a specific overheating benefit, but not for the entire engine replacement. Garner asked why. Their response was that the damage was caused by excessive heat. “As a result of the excessive heat, coolant seepage within cylinder number 4 can only be caused by a failed cylinder head gasket,” the consultant told her.

She presented this verdict to Ford, who denied that overheating was the cause. This led to more back and forth between iMPAC, Ford head office and Allen Joss Ford.

Reluctantly, Garner was ready to fork out the contribution to have the defective engine replaced. Then she stumbled across the fine print.

The contribution from Ford was for parts at cost price, which meant Garner would still need to cover the retail mark-up. “The quote without their share is R63,409. Therefore, with iMPAC portion deducted it would come to R51,409 for my account.

Naturally, she made a follow-up inquiry. The service and operations manager at the dealership said:

“It is standard procedure for FMCSA to reimburse a dealership at dealer billing only, this denotes cost of sales to dealer. The quotation you received has been done on retail prices as all other quotations are done. We cannot comment on your discussions with Ford customer care as we were not part of the discussion regarding contributions.”

It appeared as though Garner was being sent around in circles. At her wits’ end, she reached out for advice from the office of the Motor Industry Ombudsman. “They said that the case sounds like I have a good chance of winning.”

But the prospect of waiting up to eight months for a ruling put her off. “My instalment and insurance is going to cost me more over that period of time, than it would cost to just pay the remaining balance on the quote.”

In the first week of September Garner was sent a new breakdown indicating that of the R94,936 quoted, Ford would contribute R35,027 plus a further R12,409. Adding in the R12,000 from iMPAC, that left Garner with an amount of R35,500 to settle.

But there were still issues. After taking the vehicle to a separate outlet to have the brake discs and pads replaced, it was found that the CV shaft was loose.

“I called Ford, as it turns out that they needed to remove that CV to get the engine out and back into the car. The technician had tightened it wrong and threaded the bolt in skew, leaving it with about 5cm of play.”

“Hi-Q did a quick fix to get the car driving and Ford agreed to come and collect the vehicle the next day.”

Garner also complained of scratches on the bodywork that had not been there previously.

“I now have the car and I have driven it and it seems okay, but I can't help but feel like I am waiting for something else to go wrong.” This week Ford South Africa responded with official comment on the matter.

“I can confirm that in the case of Abigail Garner, a case was opened for a loss of power concern on her Fiesta,” said Minesh Bhagaloo, GM of communications.

“The dealer conducted a diagnosis and noted that as per the engineering report the cylinder head and block needed repairs. The total amount for the repair was R94 936, and Ford, as a gesture of goodwill towards Ms Garner’s repair contributed R35 027. Ms Garner had a subsequent shortfall of R12 409, which Ford covered, also as a gesture of goodwill.”

He added: “In terms of the further concerns around the CV propshaft repair - the CV was recently repaired at no cost to Ms Garner, and the car will be valet/polished per a date agreed to by Ms Garner. We have also arranged with the dealer for a loan unit for Ms Garner when the vehicle comes in for the valet.”

“Our customers are a top priority for us and we always try to meet their expectations.”