COAL: 2013 Ford Focus SE – Clutches Replaced

I was on my way to the dealer in late November when a thought had occurred to me. “There’s no way my car is going to qualify for a clutch replacement.” As if aware of its future examination, my car’s DCT shifted better than it had been in quite some time. Under the extended warranty program owners aren’t asked to pay for a diagnosis. But it’s still a hassle. And I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of having the original clutches past the expiration of the extended warranty, which is February 2020.

Fortunately, my assessment was wrong.  The car needed new clutches. But they found another issue once they dropped the transmission. That complicated things.

Here’s the paperwork I received when I picked up the Focus. I forgot to ask why my clutches qualified for replacement, but according to my research, Ford authorizes replacement for two reasons. The first reason involves oil leaking into the clutches. Additionally, Ford has a system that analyzes the shift behavior of the clutches. If the car exhibits a variance of 500 RPMs or more during certain shift parameters, the car automatically qualifies for new clutches. For all I know my car could have qualified for both those reasons.

Unfortunately for my wallet, the plot thickened once they dropped the transmission. Turns out the rear main seal was leaking. Apparently, it was a minor leak. But they strongly advised replacing the seal now because waiting would mean having to drop the transmission all over again, which would increase the cost significantly. I opted for the replacement. Aside from a patched tire, this is the first non-maintenance related expense I’ve incurred since I purchased the car nearly seven years ago.

Ready for a tangent? While waiting for my car, I got the chance to scrutinize a 2020 Ford Explorer ST. Ford all but botched the initial rollout of the Explorer, so I wanted to see one for myself. I also relished the opportunity to compare the Ford with the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride. My assessment is positive. I didn’t find any issues with the interior. And there weren’t any mismatched or extra wide panel gaps on the Explorer’s exterior. I also thought the cabin contained materials on par with the Korean models. That being said, the Koreans nailed the aesthetics. That’s what makes them feel like much more expensive crossovers.

Back to the Focus. The new clutches work great. I don’t think the car ever exhibited such crisp shifts even when it was brand new. The stuttering that would regularly occur below 20 mph is gone. At low speeds it feels like a traditional torque converter automatic transmission. Above 20 mph, the shifts are exactly what you’d expect from a competent dual-clutch. Acceleration is unchanged, although the car seems far more reluctant to downshift. I’m guessing that was intentional.

For a short while, my concerns about owning a Powershift equipped Focus were non-existent. Then two things happened: Consumer Reports released their latest reliability data and the Detroit Free Press published another damning account about the troublesome transmission. The new data supports the claim that Ford still hasn’t developed a permanent fix.

Here’s a screenshot from earlier in the year, before the latest data was made public. When I saw this reliability snapshot I was hopeful that the new clutches would suffice for the rest of my time with the car. The data also suggested that Ford was right when they claimed that 2016 and newer models experienced far less issues with the clutches. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

None of these latest developments are encouraging. I have flirted with the idea of selling the car and getting something else, but there’s no way I’d get anything remotely comparable to the Focus for the roughly $6000 I could theoretically get from Carvana. And I don’t want to take out a loan for a newer car just yet. Since I work from home, my car doesn’t get driven very often. It only has 27,000 miles on it. That’s an advantage in a situation like this and the primary reason why I’m sticking with the Focus for the foreseeable future. As long as I don’t let the Focus damage another garage door, the car will probably be fine. I just wish I could feel a bit more confident about the car when I’m behind the wheel.