Ford Finally Fixed?

Aug/3/2011 14 Malia Lane
Ford Escape - Towing Issues

I wish I knew the answer that question.  More than anything I wish I could believe that I could answer it definitively with a resounding, “Yes!”

Why Did My Axle Fall Off?

I really wish that the axle falling off as I posted on Ford Escape Problems Even Worse Now was not due to the negligence of the last Ford repairman who fixed my car in SC.  It took so long to get that part when it was backordered, etc., that I came to really care about the Service Director there and truly believe she was looking out for me.  And it’s not that I still don’t believe that – but the Service Director, Matt, here in Sault St. Marie at Soo Motors said that while they certainly can’t say with 100% certainty what the cause was, their best guess is that the last repairman didn’t properly “torque” the nut and bolt that holds the left front lower control arm and it finally worked its way off which made the axle fall off.  The service tech (Randy) who worked on it this time agreed, confirming that this left axle was the same one that was replaced in SC.

Matt said he had never seen this happen before, and that if it was a case of a defective part, he thinks there would have been evidence of the bolt being sheered off, but that did not seem to be the case.  When I talked with Bruce today (my “angel” who helped me so much on Monday) he told me that he even looked for it at the scene and down the street (he just happens to be a former master mechanic and knew what to look for).

I couldn’t understand why it would have taken since May for it to finally work its way off, but Matt explained that wasn’t so unlikely since there’s usually tension that would keep it in place or something like that – he went into a more detailed explanation than I could begin to understand at that moment, but I understood he was saying it holding on since May and then falling off was certainly possible.

So I really don’t know for sure what caused that axle to fall off.  But I really want to believe that it’s fixed now!

Should the Escape be Flat Towed?

However, it didn’t make me feel better to hear Matt flat out say that even though the Escape was supposedly designed to be flat towed, “From everything I’ve seen, if it were me, I’d use a dolly – I don’t think it should be flat towed.”  My response to that was that I was not interested in having a car that had to be towed with a dolly – yet another piece of equipment to deal with, find a place for at sometimes crowed campgrounds, etc.

And other than the towing problems, I absolutely love my Escape.  But – and this is the all-important but – I would have never bought that car if I thought it couldn’t be flat towed in exactly the way Ford said it could be.  I then spent thousands to get it all set up for flat towing with new base plate and an auxiliary braking system (Brake Buddy) because it was heavier than the little Saturn I’d been used to towing for the 8 years before.

Re: Remco Auxiliary Pump

I asked Matt about the Remco pump that was referenced in the Ford Service Bulletin (TSB 11-7-15) where it says at the bottom:

“For customers that do not comply with the Flat Tow guidelines, Ford Motor Company is aware of an accessory cooling pump available from Remco Industries that a customer can purchase and have installed. This pump may provide an alternative to the Owner Guide Flat Tow guidelines by circulating transmission fluid during towing operations; however, Ford Motor Company does not warrant this aftermarket product.  Further, the use of an aftermarket product may void your … warranty…”

First, I commented that I thought it was interesting that Ford used the language “For customers that do not comply with the Flat Tow guidelines…” when I and so many people who have experienced transmission failures most certainly do comply with the flat tow guidelines (which are certainly simple enough) and are still having problems.

Matt said, “The way I read it is the auxiliary part would help because that would remedy the fact that the original equipment transmission doesn’t circulate the fluid, so that pump would help.”

My question to Ford:  so why can’t Ford come up with something like this that they can warranty???  I’m sure the engineers are working on it but that doesn’t make people who are towing the car they bought for that purpose feel any safer on the road right now.  Nor can most afford to just take our lumps, get rid of the Escape and go buy another car for towing – especially when taking into consideration the expenses associated with new base plates and prepping the new car for towing.

“I faithfully follow Ford’s towing guidelines –
why did my transmission still fail?”

His opinion on why people are still having transmission failures when they scrupulously follow the guidelines:  “What I think would be the problem is that the internal components of the transmission are still spinning even though it’s in neutral and engine’s not running, the pump is not circulating fluids through the transmission to properly lubricate or cool the parts that are moving.”

He did say that the particular problems I had twice – the left axle seal leaking – was not related to overheating, which is the problem most people are having that have resulted in multiple transmission replacements.

The Importance of Not Overfilling Transmission Fluid

Because I’d already been exposed to at least 3 other Ford service techs who obviously did not know, I asked Randy if he fully understood where the proper transmission fluid levels were for towing and the procedures that had to be followed to get the correct reading.  He assured me that none had leaked out so he did not have to add any fluid and after test driving, etc., the level still looked good to him based on the Ford service bulletin.

But he said he did notice my fluid is darker – that it had changed color from the new bright red – which indicates it is getting heated more than what comes from normal driving.  I asked if he could tell from the records if the transmission fluid had been replaced in SC when the axle assembly was replaced and he said he thought it was probably just topped off at that point.

Driving/Towing Styles and Procedures

They also said that my driving/towing style probably has contributed to me not having the overheating problems others have had.  I never drive over 60 mph (usually have cruise control set to 55), I usually never drive more than 200 miles in a day, and since being in MI, mostly less than 100 miles in a day.  And I follow all instructions about letting the motor idle at least 5 minutes before towing, running through the gears before and after starting after towing, etc.  But now I understand better that I need to be doubly diligent about stopping and letting it cool off, run through the gears, etc.

While Ford guidelines say not to tow for greater than 6 hours at a time, Matt said he would stop and go through the procedures outlined in the guidelines at least twice that often.  He also said that outside temperature could be a factor in the transmission overheating so that’s another factor I have on my side while towing through Michigan.

Ford Bashing?

I have seen some comments that people didn’t think it was right for me to “bash” Ford as having a product that “sucked” based on my experience because it wasn’t necessarily representative of the quality of their entire line.  But really, my own experience with my own Ford product is my best teacher and that’s what I’m going to write about…

Honestly, it really is not my intent to bash Ford. I totally bought into the documentary I saw: “Ford: Rebuilding an American Icon – The inside story of Ford Motor Company shows its astounding comeback just a few years after nearly collapsing”.  I was impressed with the interviews with President and CEO Alan Mulally who said, ““The company is determined not to repeat past mistakes.”  I was even more impressed that Ford did not take the government bailout and I still can’t believe this dedicated company can’t figure this transmission thing out, so I’m keeping the faith for now.

But I will also not back down from speaking what I know to be the truth from my own experience.  I will also advocate for those readers that I hear from whose stories are sometimes heartbreaking.  Trips they had planned and dreamed of for years and have been completely ruined by these problems.  Can you imagine driving a 36′ or larger motorhome, towing a car behind you, and having a car pull alongside you gesturing wildly at your rear, trying to let you know your car is smoking like crazy?  Then trying to find a place big and safe enough to pull over…and having to spend your long-planned for vacation dealing with service reps, and then constantly worrying that the whole process will be repeated next time you’re on the road?

Thanks, Soo Motors!

Anyway, I’m tired and will get off the soapbox for now.  But again I have to say how impressed I am with most of the Ford people I’ve dealt with.  When I arrived at Soo Motors in pretty much a state of shock after seeing my axle on the ground and wheel all crooked, then totally aggravated after dealing with the total incompetence of the Ford Roadside Assistance rep, I was greeted by a friendly and smiling face of a woman who did her very best to take care of what I needed at that moment.

I was also extremely impressed with Matt, the Service Director, as he patiently answered all my questions and was unabashedly honest in his opinions and didn’t even say, “off the record!”    Only problem is he said he was shy and didn’t want his picture taken…  🙂

So since I always like to include a picture of the person I’m thanking for being one of my angels, please meet Sandee, my service advisor:

Thank you, Sandee – you were very much appreciated by me Monday and today!

3-12-12:  I updated my website page with more information (and conflicting opinions from Ford about whether they’ll pay for the Remco pump).

As for me, after the fix above (August, 2011), I haven’t had any other issues with the Escape after towing it another 3,300 miles since then.  Whenever I’ve had oil change done, though, I make the dealer firmly note on the work order not to fill the transmission fluid.  I’ve learned that not all dealers are aware of how critical the fluid level is.