Author Topic: Should I replace my low reliability car?  (Read 1452 times)

kaizen soze

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 130
Should I replace my low reliability car?
« on: September 08, 2018, 02:58:17 PM »
My wife and I share a 2013 Ford Focus with about 80k miles. It has a 6-speed Powershift transmission, which is a robotically driven manual transmission. To the driver it appears to be a conventional automatic, but under the hood it's a different beast. When it works, it's great, getting excellent mileage and peppy performance.  My  wife can't drive a manual, and has no interest in learning, so for us it's an auto or nothing.

The 2013 Focus has known issues with the transmission and the TCM. So far the actual transmission in our car has never had a problem as far as I can tell. We recently had a break down due to the transmission control module 100+ miles from home, and we ended up with a big towing bill only partially offset by the lifetime drivetrain warranty we have on the car. Ford also has their own extended warranty on the car, which means that replacement of the TCM was completely covered.

Consumer Reports has this car listed as a 1/5 on reliability both overall and for the transmission. These are just relative ratings, but from what I understand, CR doesn't give a 1 or 2 unless more than 3% of the survey respondents report an issue with the car. This is somewhat helpful, but I wish CR shared the raw data (or maybe they do and I just haven't found it). I don't care whether the car is relatively less reliable than other cars, only the percentage of car owners reporting reliability issues. I'm also not sure whether the replacement updated TCM now in our car is thought to be any more reliable than the original TCM.

Anyway, I'm trying to figure out whether to just keep it or sell and get something else. Well are FI, own the car outright, and mainly use the car for interstate car trips. Only a few of the miles we put on it are local miles, since we can walk almost anywhere. We probably put about 5-6k miles on it per year since buying it two years ago. Our living arrangement is somewhat temporary, so I'm reluctant to sell and not replace (anticipating this as a suggestion).

What say you all? Keep or replace?

Goldielocks

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 6540
  • Location: BC
Re: Should I replace my low reliability car?
« Reply #1 on: September 08, 2018, 03:13:11 PM »
Keep.  You have had  a single maintenance issue that is related to it being considered unreliable.  That may be it.   Many cars have transmission issues around 5 years.   I have replaced transmissions on cars 3 times in the past 25 years.

Good to look at consumer reports, but I had a car for 10 years (bought used) that was rated pretty low as well, that gave me no problems until right at the end, at 13 years old, and we scrapped it because the repair would be 50% the value of the car before the issue came up.  Even then we weren't sure about it.   I think I drove it more conservatively, and it was a slightly different model package than what most of the reviews were on.

In the meantime, figure out what to do to reduce the impact of an issue when you are far from home.  (Cell phone?  AAA or towing service that you have on speed dial?  Warm clothing and blankets in your car if you drive in winter?   

Now, if you get a second issue, fairly soon, and if you can not handle the "stranded far from home delay", then sure, switch into something else with lots of reliabilty.

Dave1442397

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1070
  • Location: NJ
Re: Should I replace my low reliability car?
« Reply #2 on: September 08, 2018, 04:17:08 PM »
There's a discussion about the TCM issues here - https://www.focusfanatics.com/forum/mk3-tsb-recall-problems-archive/469009-ford-focus-fiesta-powershift-dual-clutch-tcm-failure-symptoms.html

I'm sure you can find other discussions out there too.

Personally, I'd get rid of the car if possible. I just dumped a car that has known timing chain (not belt) issues. It was covered by a GM extended warranty, but most of the failures are starting to show up just as the cars age out of the warranty period. Between that and the transmission issues, it could have easily cost me $8k+ to repair, and that's about what it was worth as a trade when I got rid of it. I went back to a Japanese car, which hopefully will last a lot longer.

Car Jack

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1347
Re: Should I replace my low reliability car?
« Reply #3 on: September 08, 2018, 07:24:01 PM »
I had a discussion with a fellow engineer who went all deep dive into all the failure mechanisms of the Focus transmission.  Things overheat and shutdown the car.  Oil leaks into the transmission and onto clutches and the car shuts down.  From memory, I think he listed 6 major causes of the car shutting down with a failure and they all can happen.  So it's not just a single failure point, get it fixed and merrily go on your way. 

Ironically, the Focus with a manual is dead reliable.  It's also one of the best buys on the market because although it's not a twin to the Mazda 3 anymore, they both started in the same place.  Look at a used last gen Mazda 3 vs a Focus manual and you can see how much of a break you get.

I'd dump the car.  Best case......trade it towards a manual used Focus

It's a decent car.  I've actually got a rental (paid by Ford) for a few months and besides some odd choices made with the car (technology for the sake of technology but much more difficult to use than low tech old stuff), it's a good handling, quiet car that has enough power, although it appears to have zero traction control as I constantly spin a tire when leaving a stop.

magnet18

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 231
Re: Should I replace my low reliability car?
« Reply #4 on: September 09, 2018, 09:16:01 AM »
If you're still in warranty keep it for now if you want, but I'd sell it before warranty is up

If it goes out your options are do the pricey repair, or sell the car for a fraction of what it's worth

BigMoneyJim

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 113
  • Age: 49
  • Location: DFW, Texas
    • Jim's Personal Finance Blog
Re: Should I replace my low reliability car?
« Reply #5 on: September 09, 2018, 10:42:54 AM »
If Uber/Lyft is an option in a pinch, do you really need reliability?

Also, a really poor reliability rating doesn't necessarily mean your car is doomed, although with 1/5 maybe it does. But there is inefficiency in swapping cars out: registration, sales tax, etc.. So if it's not broken and you have other options if it breaks, you can drive it until you have to decide to junk it or fix it.

That said, if you have enough money and understand the costs of having a better car...well I currently have a 2014 electric Leaf and a 2010 Prius, and I'm single and live alone, so I'm not throwing stones at anyone not being full tryhard frugal on cars.

Goldielocks

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 6540
  • Location: BC
Re: Should I replace my low reliability car?
« Reply #6 on: September 09, 2018, 12:05:22 PM »
I had a discussion with a fellow engineer who went all deep dive into all the failure mechanisms of the Focus transmission.  Things overheat and shutdown the car.  Oil leaks into the transmission and onto clutches and the car shuts down.  From memory, I think he listed 6 major causes of the car shutting down with a failure and they all can happen.  So it's not just a single failure point, get it fixed and merrily go on your way. 

Ironically, the Focus with a manual is dead reliable.  It's also one of the best buys on the market because although it's not a twin to the Mazda 3 anymore, they both started in the same place.  Look at a used last gen Mazda 3 vs a Focus manual and you can see how much of a break you get.

I'd dump the car.  Best case......trade it towards a manual used Focus

It's a decent car.  I've actually got a rental (paid by Ford) for a few months and besides some odd choices made with the car (technology for the sake of technology but much more difficult to use than low tech old stuff), it's a good handling, quiet car that has enough power, although it appears to have zero traction control as I constantly spin a tire when leaving a stop.

I understand what you are saying, but you are weighing in the fear (although logically derived) into your mindset, and downplaying the cost to sell and buy another car.

Where I am coming from is that there has only been one failure so far (not a trend for your specific car),  you know that the engineering is ok on it, but not great, so has a good chance of a $3k repair in future, (FYI, not so uncommon) etc.

VERSUS

Enormous cost to sell a 2013 car and transition into a different car.

-- WHAT WOULD YOU BUY?  CAN YOU TRANSFER TO SOMETHING ELSE WITH MINOR $$ OUT OF POCKET TO ANOTHER CAR?
-- MAYBE YOU ARE BETTER THAN MOST PEOPLE AT BUYING AND SELLING USED CARS?


At the end of the day, I found that mechanical failures, tend to cost less than you think, and less than the cost to switch out cars... AND that cars don't generally fail as much as our fear expects them to.  The largest issue is the hassle of the delay...  and yet, it is a newer (5yr old) vehicle so lots of failures should not start to happen soon.   Maybe I have been driving older cars where I can say it is not a big deal for a mechanical issue once every couple of years, as I know what to do, borrow or rent cars for critical drives (I don't use them for business travel), most failures are not on the road - I can usually drive it to the shop / get it close to home myself.

CAVEAT -- This is about Sudden failure of large items.. some vehicles have extraordinary wear on parts due to poor design.  Strange, but needing new sets of brakes every year or other "wear" items on a foreign car can really add up fast.

Ecky

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 183
Re: Should I replace my low reliability car?
« Reply #7 on: September 10, 2018, 07:10:10 AM »

RWD

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 3687
  • Location: Mississippi
Re: Should I replace my low reliability car?
« Reply #8 on: September 10, 2018, 07:52:22 AM »
How much longer is the transmission covered under warranty? I wouldn't own the car a day longer than that.

Jon Bon

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 940
  • Location: Midwest
Re: Should I replace my low reliability car?
« Reply #9 on: September 10, 2018, 08:04:26 AM »
It all boils down to how you guys are doing financially. A new to you car could easily be 10-20k depending. How would that effect you guys? Easily buy with cash or zero down and a 96 month loan?

The answer depends on how big of a transaction this would be for you.


trollwithamustache

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 693
Re: Should I replace my low reliability car?
« Reply #10 on: September 10, 2018, 08:17:22 AM »
so... you don't some kind of AAA / towing coverage and you are blaming the car?  That definitely justifies buying a new Jeep F-250 land commander.  but no leather seats, that is not mustachian.

HipGnosis

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1595

RWD

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 3687
  • Location: Mississippi
Re: Should I replace my low reliability car?
« Reply #12 on: September 10, 2018, 11:22:25 AM »
This is worth a read:

http://www.dashboard-light.com/vehicles/Ford_Focus.html

image
WOW!
This is my favorite graph from that page. The 2013 Focus has four times as many problems as the average 2013 vehicle.

Dr.Jeckyl

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 143
Re: Should I replace my low reliability car?
« Reply #13 on: September 10, 2018, 03:18:28 PM »
The most reliable vehicle is the one that you already own and is running fine. Trust me I own two vehicles that according to Consumer Reports I would be better off lighting them on fire and walking to work. However, one is 10 years old with almost 150k and the other is 15 years old with 275k. I would trust both of them to make a cross country trip. That's not to say I don't have minor issues here and there but that is why I pay an extra 12 every six months to my insurance company for roadside assistance.

ChpBstrd

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1614
Re: Should I replace my low reliability car?
« Reply #14 on: September 10, 2018, 03:41:14 PM »
Ford has had poor quality automatic transmissions since at least the 1970s, when the issue with Pintos exploding was discovered due to do them stalling in the middle of interstates and being hit from behind.

With your low mileage driving, you are not in a hurry. But I do think you should be shopping. You could trade into something else for no more than the cost of registration if you do the following:

1) Don't be in a hurry. Plan to spend 3-9 months bargain hunting.
2) Offer to pay cash... with your lowball offer.
3) Avoid dealers. Use craigslist, ebay, facebook, or the local paper. You might consider a dealer only if the lot isn't paved!
4) Consider salvage titles. Reliability will still be much higher than a Ford automatic!

I agree with the earlier poster that Ford manuals are fairly reliable. These offer good value because they still price in the bad reputation from the automatics! But if you own an automatic, plan to replace it at least once. Who needs that drama?

Goldielocks

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 6540
  • Location: BC
Re: Should I replace my low reliability car?
« Reply #15 on: September 10, 2018, 06:40:48 PM »
This is worth a read:

http://www.dashboard-light.com/vehicles/Ford_Focus.html


I looked up my old vehicle, and it rated a score of 18, compared to the average of 40.  That car, at the end of its 13 years of life, was the single most cheapest vehicle we had ever owned (bought used at 1.5 year old, so we still carried quite a bit of depreciation).

I now drive a Toyota, with a theoretical score of 90 on this scale.  Already we have had charging issues, and lots of brake / wheel issues, and the transmission is starting to thunk at well under 200k miles.

The specific vehicle and its history is equally important as the reviews on reliabilty.   I only look at reviews before I buy a car. Once I own it, I look at that car's specific repair history.

kaizen soze

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 130
Re: Should I replace my low reliability car?
« Reply #16 on: September 10, 2018, 09:56:06 PM »
I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who replied. Lots of interesting perspectives here, and lots to think about.  I'll have to remember to bookmark the dashboard-light URL, it seems like really useful information if and when I go car shopping.

Just a few points of clarification in case anyone is still interested in this discussion. Most of the mileage on the car is road trip miles. This means that breakdowns like the one we had are particularly painful. We were far enough from home that the tow home cost more than roadside assistance covered, and we had to pay the difference. We were in some sense lucky that we weren't so far from home that a tow home wasn't really reasonable. 

The Dashboard light website reliability information is eye-opening for sure. Perhaps I shouldn't but do I take this with a grain of salt. Since these transmissions are not conventional automatics, a lot of the complaints about them -- but by no means all of the complaints including by me! -- are from drivers who don't understand that they will sometimes shift a little more roughly than they expect. In other words, it shifts smoothly most of the time, but it is a clutch and the car's onboard computer doesn't always guess correctly what you're trying to do with the car, resulting in rough shifts every now and again.  Just like someone with a manual transmission. I bring this up to make the following point: a lot of the complaints about this car come from people who don't necessarily have a defective transmission, just one that doesn't feel the way that they expect an automatic to feel. If this were the only problem with the transmission, it would be a good trade-off imo since it does get good mileage and has pretty good performance.  Of course, there are many like me who have major transmission problems as well. But this is one reason why it's hard to get a very clear picture here of how bad these cars really are.

That is all for now. Thanks again.