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Ford MUST recall all Focus RS vehicles worldwide and provide answers to consumers.

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By Stuart Johnston

A rash of engine failures is causing anxiety amongst owners of the Ford Focus RS, a halo performance car in Ford’s model line-up introduced in South Africa in July 2016.

To date, AutoTrader has learned of at least seven South African-domiciled Focus RSs that have needed engine replacement, due to sudden loss of engine coolant and a misfire on engine start-up.

And the engine failures are not restricted to South Africa. On world-wide Focus RS owners forums, this problem has been a “hot” topic for some months. Focus RS owners in the USA, Germany and the UK, have reported similar problems.

Ford is “aware of the problem”

A Ford South Africa spokesperson said the following in reply to a detailed e-mail sent to its communications department, requiring answers to various aspects of these engine blow-ups:

“We’re aware of a small number of engine issues related to the Focus RS. We’re investigating currently and working to understand more about the issue.”

cylinder-head gaskets and cylinder block issues

The problem that has surfaced in number of RS engines seems to be in the areas of cylinder-head gaskets that are failing, and in some cases, cracks in the cylinder block. In both cases this allowed coolant to enter the combustion areas of the engine, causing coolant loss and potential damage to the internals of the engine. And this problem has occurred in some cases with the cars having covered less than 5 000 km!

It appears as if Ford, globally, are aware of a fundamental problem in at least certain batches of the 2,3-litre EcoBoost engine, which has been highly-tuned for its application in the very special and expensive Ford Focus RS.

Ford has replaced engines under warranty

Speaking to local RS owners who have had this problem, it appears that after a Ford representative has consulted with dealers where this fault has been reported, and the engines have been replaced with no intensive discussion between owners and Ford representatives.

Richards Bay RS owner, Siva Pillay, had his RS engine replaced having covered just over 4 000 km. Mr Pillay was satisfied with the accommodating attitude of the Ford representatives, who replaced the engine under warranty. But he was annoyed that he was told he would need to pay for a replacement clutch, as this was a “wear-and-tear item, not covered under the standard Focus RS 4 year/120 000 km warranty.”

“I refused to do this, as I argued that it was ridiculous to suggest that a clutch plate should only last 4 000 km. I asked that the original clutch be reinstalled with the new, replacement engine. This in fact happened. Now the clutch has started to slip badly, which I feel is not acceptable. This car was sold specifically as a performance car. At the launch, specific mention was made about its suitability as a track-day car!”

Another owner who needed an engine replacement on his RS after covering just 14 500 km, was Gauteng-based Norman Koekemoer, who runs a large transport business.

“The car started misfiring on start-up, and it lost engine coolant. I took the car in to Basil Green Ford in Edenvale, and after consultation with a Ford service manager, the engine was replaced under warranty. It was also requested that I replace the clutch on my car at my own cost at this stage, but I refused. I measured the clutch plate and proved that there had been only five per cent ware on the plate, so the same clutch was reinstalled.”

“No more launch control”

Since the engine replacement, Mr Koekemoer’s RS has now covered an additional 4 000 km with no problems. He was satisfied with the accommodation he received from the dealer, but says he is now just going to drive this car in a normal fashion, and not utilising “launch control” at all.

Mr Pillay and Mr Koekemoer belong to a South African-based Ford Focus RS forum on the internet, and to date they note that seven of their members, out of a total of 20, have experienced engine failures on their Focus RS cars. In all cases, it appears as if engines have been replaced under warranty.

A search on the internet world-wide indicates that this problem has surfaced in the USA, the UK and in Germany. Some of the symptoms appear to be a head gasket sealing problem, allowing coolant to leak into the combustions chambers, while in others, a crack on the engine block between cylinders one and two has appeared in a number cases, possibly due to stresses imposed by the high power and torque outputs of the RS engine.

A sound like an old DKW two-stroke…

At least two videos have been circulated on this problem which begins with a rough engine start-up, trails of white smoke out the exhaust (the coolant being introduced into the combustion chamber of the engine, through a fault), and a popping noise not unlike that of an old two-stroke DKW! In both these videos, posted by UK enthusiasts, the owners reported that the engines of their cars had subsequently been replaced by Ford under warranty.

Another video by an American-based engine specialist, details an awareness of this 2,3-litre EcoBoost problem in early 2016. The video also shows a specific crack on an engine block that has developed in a casting area between cylinders one and two, and in an area containing engine coolant.

Launched as a track-day car

The Focus RS, launched here in July 2016, was promoted by Ford as an ideal fast street car that could double as a track-day car. The launch literature specifically mentioned the transmission’s ability to be switched to the so-called “launch mode” for ultra quick starts, and also to “drift mode”, where more power on the all-wheel-drive system was transferred to the rear wheels, along tail-out slides to be induced, something that is not usually possible on all-wheel drive cars which tend to favour a neutral cornering stance (with a tendency towards understeer), or the front wheels to lose traction first, in extreme cornering.

High levels of power and torque

The Focus RS also boasts a high level of power, at 257 kW, and 440 Nm of torque. This, along with the launch-control mode on the transmission, enables the Focus RS to record a 4.7-second 0-100 km/h time and a top speed of 266 km/h. However, this level of performance from a five-door family hatchback doesn’t come cheap. At launch, the car cost just R100 shy of R700 000.

Resale values

Whilst owners of RS cars afflicted so far have been satisfied with Ford’s willingness to replace engines under warranty, the problem (however widespread it turns out to be), has already caused anxiety amongst RS owners. And some report that new Focus RSs are already being discounted by as a much as R50 000 in some Ford dealerships.

This problem with RS engines was brought to AutoTrader’s attention by Mr Meent Borcherds of Pretoria, an arch Ford fan, and lifelong friend of South African motorsport great Sarel van der Mere. Mr Borcherds owns an iconic Mk I Twin Cam Ford Escort from the 1970s, and also a 1984 Ford Sierra XR8 with just 20 000 km logged in the past 30 years!

Collector’s value concerns

“I bought my Ford Focus RS as a collector’s investment, and I have covered less than 1 000 km so far with my car,” said Mr Borcherds.

“My anxiety at the moment is that this same cylinder-head or engine block problem will surface on my car once it is out of warranty, as I do so little mileage on the car. What will happen to my investment, which is not inconsiderable at a price of R700 000, if I sit with a potentially defective engine in my car? Or if I have to replace an engine when the car is out of warranty? Ford needs to address these kinds of questions with this problem that has surfaced.”

Questions to Ford still to be answered in full

In light of our contact with RS owners, AutoTrader put the following questions to Ford South Africa’s communications department, via an e-mail:

1. The problem seems to be in the cylinder-head gasket blowing and, more seriously, engine blocks cracking. This has been documented by various owners and engine technicians around the world, including USA and the UK. Ford must be aware of the problem, as many engines have been replaced under warranty. Is this correct, according your information?

2. Has Ford identified a cause of this engine block cracking?

3. Has Ford engineered a “fix” for the problem (i.e. strengthening of the design to the engine block)? Engine re-mapping to reduce torque loads at certain revs?

4. Has this problem surfaced in engines in a specific time period?

5. Regarding engines that have been replaced in customers’ cars - what guarantee is there that this problem won’t surface again?

6. Given the widespread nature of the problem (we have seen discussions of these failures in the USA, the UK, and South Africa on the internet), is it not appropriate to launch a recall? Some owners with very low mileage cars are worried that this problem will only surface once the car is out of guarantee.

7. It has been some 18 months since word of this block-cracking surfaced on the internet. Why has there been no word from Ford to RS owners reassuring them that their problems will be taken care of?

8. It seems that the problems are restricted to early versions of the 2,3-litre turbo engine. Would Ford consider replacing the defective engines with a later, improved version? According to Mr Pillay, his defective engine (Version 4) was replaced with a similar-series engine (V4), leading him to fear that a similar fate may befall his replacement engine at a later stage, perhaps once it is out of warranty.

9. My acquaintance who drew all this to my attention bought his car as a long-term investment and has extremely low mileage. As it seems that this fault has now been identified globally, would this customer be in line for an improved replacement engine, even though his engine has not yet suffered any failure as yet?

*At this stage, Ford South Africa is not prepared to reply to these specifics, other than to acknowledge that there is “ a problem with a small number of engines, and that Ford is working to understand more about this issue.”

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