Here's why you are paying for Ford's susceptibility to theft

10 May 2019 - 09:27 By wendy knowler
Ford says it is "committed to providing aftermarket solutions that improve vehicle security".
Ford says it is "committed to providing aftermarket solutions that improve vehicle security".
Image: iStock

“It’s not a design flaw, it’s a security weakness.” That’s the distinction which Ford South Africa is using to justify the fact that the various “solutions” it is now offering many of its customers - whose cars are being targeted by thieves, thanks to a “weak” driver’s door lock - won’t be free.

The manufacturer’s stock response to the many “but why isn’t this free?” tweets is: “Our vehicles’ anti-theft system meets all required safety and security measures and as such this cannot be considered a design or manufacturing fault, which means we are unable to offer the security upgrade for free.”

That weakness has caused scores of Ford owners massive loss and distress. Many have lost laptops, wallets and other valuables, some of them more than once. One former Ford dealership head told Carte Blanche that about 10 to 15 owners of the affected Fiesta and EcoSport models would come to the dealership every month for replacement locks at considerable cost. The new locks made the cars just as vulnerable to a quick, easy break-in as they were before. Hence many suffered repeated losses.

Bonginkosi Mthombeni of Midrand says his 2014 Fiesta has been broken into five times, and his losses include two laptop bags and their contents, an iPad and a cellphone. His car is insured by Discovery Insure, but he didn’t claim for any of his losses “for fear that my premiums would go up, especially given that the insurance company had to know that replacing the lock was no deterrent and it was likely to happen again”.

“I expect Ford to introduce a different locking system to this model at no cost as I have already lost a lot due to their flimsy lock,” Mthombeni said.

Despite being aware of the “security weakness”, the manufacturer issued no alert to affected owners about the “vulnerability” and no warning not to leave valuables in their car boots, not until the issue became public via social media. TimesLIVE asked Ford SA why it kept quiet about this vulnerability for so long, but didn’t get a response to that question.

And what of the insurance companies - had they noted a spike in theft from affected models and raised this with Ford SA?

Robyn Farrell, CEO of Telesure Investment Holdings, which owns Auto & General, Budget, DialDirect and First for Women, said their claims data had noted a recent increase in the number of claims relating to those models.

“We have contacted Ford about this issue,” she said. “We believe that if Ford was aware of this issue they should have proactively engaged with owners of the affected models, as well as insurers.”

Outsurance said it was “unable” to comment and Discovery Insure has yet to respond.

Ford SA spokesman Minesh Bhagaloo said the company regretted the “inconvenience” which “this” had caused its customers.

“Unfortunately, crime of this nature is rampant in our market,” he said. “Criminals are taking advantage of a vulnerable access point into the vehicle, which is why we are committed to providing aftermarket solutions that improve vehicle security and help prevent thefts from Ford vehicles.

“We are also investigating possible security threats on certain previous-generation Ford Rangers. This is a priority for the team and we will be in contact with customers soon to communicate details.”

So far the range of “solutions" for the fact that previous-generations of EcoSport and Fiesta models’ driver’s door can be “manipulated” in seconds, providing access to the cabin without the alarm going off, are:

• A “reconfiguration” to make sure that the alarm goes off if the vehicle is broken into via that vulnerable driver’s door, at a “nominal” cost of R155,25;

• A door-lock replacement for those whose cars have been “tampered with” - R1,200;

• An alarm fitted to base-model Fiestas at a cost of R1,886;

• A security replacement lock accessory that will only allow access via the remote key fob or a non-standard ultra-high security style “Hykee” mechanical key. "Cost and availability to be announced,” Ford says.

Reaction on the “My Ford was broken into South Africa” Facebook page has been mixed.

While some happily reported paying their R155 to make sure the car’s alarm sounded if broken into via the driver’s door lock, others objected to paying anything at all “to fix a problem created by Ford”. Others said the only real solution was the Hykee lock, which was bound to be expensive.

“They are not even fixing the problem but just activating alarms to sound when they attempt to open,” said Motso Letlape of the R155 “reconfigeration”. 

“The door will still open. That time I still need to meet a tsotsi that's scared of an alarm sound.”