What's Normal for New Ford Focus?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 05, 2016

Dear Car Talk:

I have a 2014 Ford Focus with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that shudders on takeoff and then smooths out past second gear. The dealer says this is normal, and we have put up with the shudder until recently. At 13,000 miles, it has become worse. I checked with a very reputable Ford dealer in our area, who has been in business since 1908. He describes it as a "soft flare," and claims it can be adjusted via computer analysis. What do you think?

-- John

I hope the dealer's slogan isn't "Telling People 'That's Normal' Since 1908!"

If you have a newish car, and a dealer tells you something is "normal" or "they all do that," ask him to go for a ride with you in another new car off his lot. If that other brand-new one does it, too, then he's right -- and you just made a bad purchase decision. But if the other new car doesn't do whatever yours is doing, then you've got a pretty strong case to insist that the dealer fix yours.

In this case, the software update is worth a try. Ford has had a lot of complaints about this problem. And it has a lot of customers who are unhappy with being told "it's normal." We'll add you to the list, John.

Ford did issue a Technical Service Bulletin (TSB 14-0047) to try to address this. The "fix" involves reprogramming the car's power-control module and transmission-control module and then measuring the transmission outputs. That's the "computer analysis" your dealer is talking about.

And then, if that doesn't fix it, I think the next step in the TSB is to tell you it's normal, try to get rid of you and hope your car gets swallowed by a sinkhole while you're sleeping that night.

While we haven't seen a 2014 Focus with this problem in the shop yet (newer cars tend to go to the dealers while they're under warranty), we've heard that, in many cases, the real problem is the clutch.

The outer input shaft seal in the transmission apparently can pop out and cause a transmission-fluid leak, contaminating the dry clutch and causing the shudder.

So you should let the dealership try the software fix. But if that doesn't solve it, go back and ask them to check the bell housing to see if there's any sign of transmission fluid that's leaked out. You even can have an independent mechanic check for you.

If there is a leak, then the Ford dealer needs to remove the engine and transmission, fix the leak and replace your clutch. They won't like that, but Ford sold you a warranty with your car, and this is what it's for. Be very nice but firm about it, John, and good luck.

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