A mechanical problem in millions of Ford engines is sparking frustration, hefty repair bills and four lawsuits.
The problem affects spark plugs in several Ford models, including the best-selling Ford F-150. Spark plugs in affected vehicles coming up on their 100,000-mile tune up tend to break in half when unscrewed.
Bill Rimmer, of Cooperlake Automotive in Smyrna, showed a broken spark plug to Channel 2’s Jim Strickland.
"As you can see, we are missing a piece of metal," Rimmer said.
The missing piece was still stuck inside the engine and could cost hundreds of dollars to tune up.
It happened to Ford F-150 owner Roger Miller.
"I thought it would be a simple hour's worth of changing the spark plugs," said Miller.
Instead, his 2006 F-150 ended up at a repair shop.
"I started to change the plugs in it, and I got three of them out with no problem, and the fourth one, I started to take out and it broke off," said Miller.
PDF: Ford Spark Plug Liability Litigation
It cost almost $400 to finish the work Miller expected to do for $50.
"I've talked with a few mechanics that said it's hard to tell people, ‘Look, this tune-up is going to run you probably $300 to $600 if everything goes smooth. But if a plug breaks, it's going to be more for each plug that breaks.’”
Miller was angry. The former Ford fanatic joined a class action lawsuit -- one of four lawsuits filed in Atlanta and three other federal courts. He believes the spark plugs were a design flaw.
The complaints involve 2004 - 2008 models with Triton 5.4 Liter 3 Valve engines. Popular nameplates like the F-150, Mustang, Expedition and Lincoln Mark LT are among the affected models.
Testing with Channel 2 trucks
Channel 2 Action News had trucks with the same engine, so Strickland took them to Rimmer to test the spark plugs. Rimmer had no problem removing plugs from the first test truck, but the second broke off.
"We got a winner," Rimmer said.
The broken-off piece wound up wedged inside the engine. Rimmer said it is ironic because part of the problem is Ford's durability.
"These plugs are made to go 100,000 miles. The problem with the design is they didn't anticipate this carbon building up and causing this problem," he said.
That carbon sticks to the interior of the engine, and when drivers twist the plug, it cracks into two pieces.
Ford officials told Strickland it is a routine service matter. They warned dealerships about the plugs in a 2006 service bulletin. They plan no recall but have designed a special tool to get the broken plugs.
"Why would there be a broken spark plug tool if there wasn't a problem?" Miller said.
Strickland watched Rimmer, a mechanic with 25 years of experience, wrestle with the fragmented piece of plug using Ford's tool.
"It's the only engine in existence like this that breaks spark plugs," said Rimmer. "The average person just trying to change spark plugs is not going to be able to do this job."
Ford's statement also hinted the do-it yourselfers who try to tune their trucks take the blame for not following Ford's lengthy procedure.
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