ATLANTA — A Channel 2 consumer investigation exposes how an inexpensive part can lead to an extra-expensive repair. Consumer investigator Jim Strickland reveals why the drivers of some of Ford's most popular cars and trucks get hit with the bill.
You know the names well, like F-150, Explorer, Fusion and Taurus. They're all Fords, and the affected model years in this case share the same engines. When a $200 part goes bad, the news gets worse in a hurry.
Shona Manigault's car is a 2011 Ford Explorer. She was pulling out of a McDonald's when it started to sputter, stall and overheat. It turned out to be a fairly routine issue involving the water pump, an engine component that circulates coolant to keep your engine at an optimum temperature. But the price of the repair was anything but routine: more than $8,100.
"Are you angry?" Strickland asked Mrs. Manigault.
"Angry is putting it lightly. I am past the moon with rage with what has happened to me with this vehicle," Manigault said.
Ford introduced the Duratec engine in 2007. Its water pump is inside the engine itself. When it fails, instead of anti-freeze leaking on the ground, it leaks into the oil, turning it into something resembling a chocolate milkshake.
"So honestly when the tech told me that, I was like, 'You've got to be kidding. There's no way at all.' And he says, ‘Yes, Mr. Manigault I'm sorry to give you this news but that's what happened,'" Cleavon Manigault said.
"12 million drivers don't know they're driving with this engine, isn't that fair to say?" Strickland asked Pennsylvania attorney Joe Meltzer.
"Absolutely," Meltzer said.
Meltzer filed a class-action lawsuit involving 15 different models spread over the last 12 years. The list includes Fords, Lincolns and Mazdas.
He said there's another problem. Just to get to the water pump, you have to tear the engine apart, removing it completely from the vehicle and racking up costly labor charges right from the start.
"When stuff like that happens for people who rely on their car to drive their families around or for their living and you see that this is a real hardship," Meltzer told Strickland.
Strickland found dozens of complaints on file with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
- "Water pump exploded and destroyed the engine."
- "My car suddenly shut down."
- "A huge design defect."
Days after a lengthy phone call with Ford, Strickland received a one-sentence email: "We do not comment on pending litigation."
The company refused to discuss general questions about the water pump location, so Strickland turned to independent Ford technician Doug Lewis with Ford Performance Specialists in Mableton.
"Tell me why Ford made the water pump design the way that they did," Strickland asked Lewis.
"Packaging is the best word I can use to describe it," Lewis said.
Lewis said unlike an external pump, the internal one saves precious space under the hood, making room for a larger engine or other components.
"My opinion, it's not a defect," Lewis told Strickland
Lewis said he's fixed a dozen of the water pump failures, including a Ford Flex he had in the shop when Strickland visited. He said he's been able to save each engine and can't explain why hundreds of drivers like the Manigaults have been told their engines were destroyed.
Of course, the replacement they got is the same design.
"I call it a ticking time bomb," Cleavon Manigault said.
A federal judge in Michigan said most of the vehicles involved in the class-action lawsuit were out of warranty. She dismissed the key parts of the lawsuit. Meltzer is working on an appeal.
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