Another feud about faulty Fords

In January 2017, Ford recalled 4,556 of its Kuga vehicles in South Africa after many reports of that specific model catching fire. Now the car manufacturer is under pressure again: Ford owners say their Fiestas and Ecosport models have alarm systems that criminals are able to override within seconds.

Facebook page “My FORD was broken into South Africa” has become the mouthpiece of several thousand disgruntled owners of the popular brand. Group members recently surpassed the 14,000 mark and the numbers are still growing. They are all complaining bitterly about the alarms in their Fords that did not go off when their vehicles were broken into. More recently the complaints are also about Ford South Africa expecting its clients to pay for what is obviously a factory/design flaw.

Earlier this year Ford said in a statement the break-ins were neither related to vehicle design nor manufacturing faults but were a result of “a vulnerable access point into the vehicles”.

However, the alarm in some Ford models is disabled when the lock on the driver’s door is forcefully opened with a sharp object like a screwdriver. When the lock snaps, the manual override is activated and all the door locks pop open. As a result the boot becomes accessible, leaving whatever goods in there open to theft by the car thief. To replace the lock costs around R4,000 at a Ford dealer.

Some Ford owners have been hit repeatedly. It takes an unscrupulous crook just a few seconds from the time their accomplices stop next to a parked Ford Ecosport or a Fiesta until the vehicle’s boot is opened and cleaned out. Research conducted by the Facebook group found that up to 40 Fords are broken into each day in South Africa using this modus operandi.

Gangs are specifically targeting Fords because the word on the street is that the Ecosport, Fiesta and some other Ford models are there for the taking – with their weak security systems.

Gauteng is worst hit; Mall of Africa, Menlyn Mall, Maponya Mall, Melrose Arch, Sunninghill, Craighall Park and Illovo have been repeatedly mentioned in social media posts. A  photograph posted by Briony Simon on Facebook in April shows an incident at Centurion Mall where three Fords, parked a few meters apart, were targeted on the same night. Laptops, prescription glasses and bags were stolen from the cars’ boots. The post was shared 11,000 times in just three days.

“I don’t have a boot to use any more,” says one unhappy member of the group. And with social media in overdrive, hundreds of other Ford owners are griping, all gunning for Ford South Africa whom they believe has let them down.

“I took the outside table in my favourite restaurant so I can watch my Ford after every sip. This is truly not the way to live,” grumbles Sam Ntlombe who has not had a break-in yet but is worried that the law of averages is against him and that a break-in could happen at any time.

“The only way companies listen to us is if we stick together. We had already paid for our vehicles and were not aware that there was a problem with their locking system,” writes Desiree Chaves.

“I believe Ford overlooked the fact that the alarm is not activated when the lock is snapped,” says Matthew Parker who modifies the locks of the affected Ford models by removing the lock-pins. He is a systems architect at Dimension Data but has modified more than 600 locks in his spare time while desperate Ford owners queue for his services.

The “My FORD was broken into South Africa” Facebook page was started in 2015 by Erin Gray Stacco. In recent months the page has grown rapidly, with members putting pressure on Ford to recall the models concerned or at least come up with a plan. In May this year the manufacturer eventually offered customers a solution: “A reconfiguration will ensure the existing alarm will remain active when entry to the vehicle is gained using the key lock on the driver’s door.”

But the customer is expected to fork out R155.25 for the reconfiguration and that did not go down well at all. More than 150 angry Ford owners have made their feelings known on Ford South Africa’s website.

“I don’t understand how it has become our problem that your product is faulty,” declares Jennifer Falconer.

Ford was quick to reply saying all its vehicles have an anti-theft system that meets with all required safety and security measures and, as such, this cannot be considered a design or manufacturing fault.

“The question is, which standards are those?” Brent Lawrence then asks. “Were these ‘standards’ designed by Noddy or Postman Pat?”

The core problem remains: The lock can be opened within seconds with a screwdriver!

Unconscionable conduct – judge

In April this year the Federal Court of Australia declared by consent that Ford Motor Company of Australia Limited engaged in unconscionable conduct in the way it dealt with complaints about PowerShift transmission (PST) cars, and ordered Ford to pay $10 million in penalties.

Consumers complained to Ford and its dealers about Ford Fiesta, Ford Focus and Ford Ecosport vehicles fitted with PST between May 2015 and February 2016. The cars had excessive clutch shudder, excessive noisiness from the transmission, delayed acceleration and excessive shuddering and jerking when accelerating and 37% of these vehicles had at least one clutch replacement.

“Ford told consumers that refunds and replacement vehicles were not an option, when they may have been legally entitled to these remedies under the consumer guarantees.”

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