Ford’s blind spot over PowerShift failure

Car owners have rights in addition to Ford’s undertaking to the Federal Court in relation to vehicles with “PowerShift Transmission”.

In April 2018, Ford admitted to engaging in unconscionable conduct in the way it dealt with complaints about vehicles with the PowerShift transmission system in 2015 and 2016. It agreed to provide refunds to some consumers and pay $10 million in penalties.

According to the ACCC, from 2011 to 2016, Ford supplied over 70,000 Fiesta, Focus and EcoSport vehicles fitted with the PowerShift Transmission.

Victorian mother Judy (not her real name) bought a demonstration model Ford Focus in July 2012. She had the PowerShift transmission completely replaced four times between February 2014 and June 2018.

Judy instructed Consumer Action that:

  • when she was at the Ford dealership on 16 November 2015 and was told that the transmission needed its second complete replacement, she immediately asked if she could hand the vehicle back;
  • she was told by Ford staff that she could not hand back the vehicle;
  • she was deterred by the comments of the Ford staff member to pursue the matter further; and
  • it was only after receiving advice from Consumer Action in late 2017 that she made a written demand for a refund or replacement vehicle.

These facts closely resemble the claims made by the ACCC in the Federal Court. Indeed, Ford made admissions in the undertaking that “customers were told refunds or no-cost replacements were not an option”.

In August 2018, Consumer Action Law Centre assisted Judy to apply to Ford’s Independent Complaints Review Program. The Program was set up following the ACCC Federal Court action to review consumers’ requests for refunds or replacement vehicles fitted with a PowerShift transmission between 1 May 2015 and 1 November 2016 that were experiencing issues with the transmission.

The next month, the Independent Complaints Review Program determined that Judy was “not eligible” to benefit from the undertaking because she “did not make a request for a refund or replacement vehicle to Ford Australia during the period between 1 May 2015 and 1 November 2016”. This is despite Judy asking to hand back the vehicle in November 2015.

Judy ultimately commenced proceedings against Ford Australia in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), which has since been resolved to her satisfaction.

Judy’s case suggests that the Independent Complaints Review Program are only considering customers who made a written request for a refund or replacement vehicle during the period of 1 May 2015 and 1 November 2016. If you made a verbal request to Ford Australia during the relevant period, you may need to assert your consumer rights for a refund or replacement by commencing proceedings in VCAT or in your local state Tribunal if you live interstate.

In Consumer Action’s experience, asserting your legal rights against a car dealer or manufacturer in a local Tribunal can be complex and hard fought. Judy’s case is just one example of the problems Victorians face when resolving car disputes. Our lawyers are convinced that establishing a free and speedy dispute resolution service would solve the barriers to justice people face when taking on car dealers.

Do you agree? Join our campaign for proper car dispute resolution here: Fix My Car

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