Alleged Ford EcoBoost engine defect strands owners, draws lawsuit

Jordyn Grzelewski, The Detroit News
·8 min read

Mar. 3—Delores Allen's 2015 Ford Fusion has been sitting in her driveway, unused, since October.

That's when Allen, 71, says she noticed her engine misfiring. She took the car to a mechanic who said a spark plug was stuck. From there, she ended up at a local Ford dealership, where the issue was diagnosed as a spark plug seized into the cylinder head due to "an internal coolant intermix" — and a proposed fix would cost her thousands.

"I've had multiple cancer surgeries. I just recently recovered from heart surgery. I don't have the money to put a new engine in here," she told The Detroit News. "I've always had a car since I've been in my 20s, and this is the first time I have not had any reliable transportation."

She's not alone, according to a lawsuit recently filed against Ford Motor Co. in Delaware federal court. The complaint alleges Ford knowingly sold vehicles with defects that can cause coolant to leak into the engines' cylinders, causing issues ranging from minor damage to dangerous engine fires.

Vehicle owners, according to the complaint, have reported issues ranging from coolant leaks requiring costly engine repairs to engines overheating and smoking to vehicle fires.

The case includes five plaintiffs, including one based in Michigan, one in Colorado, two in Missouri and one in New Jersey. The proposed class-action suit seeks to include anyone in the U.S. who purchased or leased a 2013-19 Ford Escape, 2013-19 Ford Fusion, 2015-18 Ford Edge, 2017-19 Lincoln MKC or 2017-19 Lincoln MKZ equipped with Ford's 1.5-liter, 1.6-liter or 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine.

Ford offers a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty on the vehicles at issue.

The lawsuit comes as CEO Jim Farley has identified improving quality as a priority for the Dearborn automaker as part of a bid to turn around the company's automotive business, and as the Blue Oval has sought to reduce profit-eating warranty costs.

Quality issues and warranty costs have at times dogged Ford. The automaker's botched rollout of the 2020 Explorer, for example, dragged down financial results for 2019, reduced white-collar bonuses and hourly profit-sharing payouts for that year, and prompted widespread criticism of the automaker's operational execution.

Ford previously settled a class-action lawsuit regarding allegedly faulty transmissions in certain Focus and Fiesta models (and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel recently weighed in to ask the state Supreme Court to take up another case related to the transmissions issue).

And just last week, Ford announced a recall of tens of thousands of F-150s, the company's flagship product that just debuted a refreshed model.

A search of NHTSA records did not turn up any investigations into engine issues with the vehicle models included in the lawsuit, except for one open investigation into complaints from 2013 Ford Escape owners who alleged issues with their 1.6-liter turbo engines stalling due to overheating.

Allen is not part of the Delaware lawsuit at this time, but she says she is consulting with an attorney about her options. Her Fusion, which has about 80,000 miles on it, is equipped with a 1.5-liter EcoBoost engine.

She says she was quoted $6,000 for a new engine. Unable to afford that, she had the vehicle towed back to her Detroit home, where it's been sitting in the driveway ever since. In the meantime, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, she's been relying on ride-sharing services and family members to get to doctors' appointments and the grocery store.

Lawsuit claims

The EcoBoost engine is a gas-fueled, turbocharged, direct-injection engine designed to improve fuel efficiency. Different iterations of the engine are available across much of Ford's lineup.

The Delaware lawsuit alleges certain EcoBoost engines in the models named in the complaint leak coolant, causing issues such as engine overheating, cracking cylinder heads, engine damage, and in some cases engine failure or fires.

"Even with extensive knowledge of the engine defect, Ford has nevertheless failed to provide any final solution to consumers who purchased or leased class vehicles," the complaint states.

The attorneys for the plaintiffs, Philadelphia-based Berger Montague PC and Los Angeles-based Capstone Law APC, said in a statement: "We are consumer advocates, and we believe owners of these vehicles have been treated unfairly.

"We look forward to vindicating their rights. Ford should stand behind its products, and owners should have peace of mind that their engines will not fail through no fault of the owner."

Ford did not respond to several requests for comment. But an attorney with White and Williams LLP, which is representing the automaker, has sought to have the case dismissed.

"Despite almost 400 paragraphs and 17 causes of action, plaintiffs fail to state a single viable claim," Christian Singewald, Ford's attorney argued. "Plaintiffs ... allege that certain Ford vehicles suffer from an engine 'defect' that causes coolant to leak into the engine's cylinders. But no plaintiff alleges he or she experienced any problems during the time-and-mileage limits of Ford's limited warranty. To the contrary, plaintiffs acknowledge that they drove their vehicles for tens of thousands of miles, each without incident.

"Nor do plaintiffs point to any misrepresentation by Ford, or any specific fact about their vehicles' engines that Ford knew and had an obligation, but failed, to disclose when it sold each plaintiff's vehicle."

A judge has yet to hear the motion to dismiss; the plaintiffs are scheduled to file a response this month.

The Michigan plaintiff is Stacey Coppock, whose lawyers declined to make her available for an interview. The complaint says she bought a new Ford Edge in 2017 and began experiencing issues with her engine in October 2019, when her vehicle had just over 64,000 miles on it. She ended up paying $3,314 for the repair.

The lawsuit alleges Ford was aware of the leaking coolant issue as early as 2010, based on pre-production testing, warranty claims, replacement part orders, and complaints to dealers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but "knowingly ... concealed the existence of the engine defect in advertising and manuals to increase profits by selling additional class vehicles at inflated prices."

The complaint, however, "does not identify a single, specific advertisement or affirmative statement related to any plaintiff's vehicle (or its engine) that any plaintiff encountered before purchase — much less one that is false and that they relied on," Singewal argued in a brief filed last month.

The complaint provides examples of some of the NHTSA complaints, including one incident from 2012 in which the owner of a 2013 Ford Escape reported they were driving on the highway when they heard a "pop" sound from their engine, their vehicle's accelerator stopped responding, the vehicle's warning lights and gauges went dead and "brown, oily smoke" was seen coming from under the hood. The car "burst into flames and was destroyed," according to the report.

The complaint alleges that Ford breached its warranty. Though the engine issues in some cases occurred after the vehicles' warranties expired, the plaintiffs argue that the warranty limitation is "unenforceable" — a claim that Ford disputed in its response.

The plaintiffs also claim Ford violated consumer protection laws in the states where they live, including the Michigan Consumer Protection Act. Ford's attorney disputed this, arguing that the claim "must be dismissed because vehicle sales are specifically exempt from the MCPA."

The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages and a declaration that Ford is "financially responsible" for notifying class members about the issue. They also are asking for an order prohibiting Ford "from further deceptive distribution, sales, and lease practices with respect to the class vehicles" and requiring Ford to issue a recall on the defective engines.

Engine issues

This is not the first time Ford has faced issues with its EcoBoost engines.

In 2018, for example, the automaker offered to refund some customers in the United Kingdom following a BBC investigation into hundreds of drivers experiencing problems with their 1.0-liter and 1.6-liter EcoBoost engines.

Various versions of the EcoBoost have been subject to recalls, as well. For example, Ford in 2017 announced it would recall more than 200,000 cars, SUVs and vans because their 1.6-liter turbocharged engines could overheat if coolant got low, causing the cylinder head to crack and spew oil, the Associated Press reported.

According to Consumer Reports' most recent survey data, from 2020, the 1.5-liter and 2.0-liter EcoBoost engines in some Escapes, Fusions, Edges and MKCs have higher-than-average reliability issues.

"The 2018 and 2019 Ford Escape has well below average reliability for their engine components, specifically because of these engine rebuild problems," said Steven Elek, senior automotive data analyst at Consumer Reports. "Some years, it's well below average engine problems, and then other years the Ford Fusion gets a perfect engine score."

Consumer Reports received comments from vehicle owners complaining of issues such as having to replace the engine at low mileage, cracked cylinder walls, and engine overheating.

Elek said Consumer Reports has seen an increase in issues associated with turbocharged motors, though the specific coolant-related issue EcoBoost engine owners have reported is "not terribly common to see."

"It's more problems than average, in general," he said. "But it's not incredibly alarming."

jgrzelewski@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @JGrzelewski