Piston Slap: The Fuel Harbinger of Fusion Steering Fail?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap the fuel harbinger of fusion steering fail

TTAC commentator Bobby Flashpants writes:

Howdy Sajeev,

I have an unique issue with my 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid. I’ve posted about it at fordfusionforum.com, and no one so far has heard of anyone with the same issue. Here’s the link for the post, and the text is reproduced (and edited to remove site-specific context) below:

I’ve got a 2010 Fusion Hybrid that’s about 40 miles from hitting 100K. I purchased it used 2 years ago with 69K miles on it. (note – this is as of 2/5/14) Over the last 6 months, I’ve had the issues with the “Service Power Steering NOW” and “Service Advancetrac” warning lights, and the associated deactivation of the electric power steering system. I’ve seen this issue reported before, and I know I’m not the only one who has encountered it.

I’ve had this failure occur 3 times now, and have had the system reset each time – once at a Ford dealer, once at an independent repair shop, and once at a tire center (who claimed that they couldn’t figure out how to do it, but the system was functioning normally again when I started it up to leave). Both the dealer and the Indy shop recommended replacing the steering rack as the only permanent solution, each estimating ~$1500 for the job (which lines up with what others have reported when confronted with this issue).

Here’s the thing, though – after seeing this occur so many times, I’ve noticed that the failures only occur when the fuel level is below 1/4 tank. As long as I fill up when I’m between 1/2 and 1/4 quarter tank, the steering and stability control continues to function normally. I’ve not seen anyone else report this type of correlation?

In the interest of full disclosure, the Carfax showed that my Fusion had been in a fender bender under the original owner, and we had an incident of hitting a curb and a mailbox that required a new wheel hub/bearing, rim, tire, and windshield.

I’m in a pretty small town in GA, with only one Ford dealer. The Indy shop I normally use is usually pretty good (if not particularly cheap compared to dealer rates), so before I make the trek to Atlanta or Columbus for 4th opinions, I wonder if you or any of the B&B have any insight on a cheaper solution for a system that doesn’t appear to really be broken.

Thanks! I’m a long-time TTAC lurker after following Murilee over from Jalopnik, and have soaked up the power of your Panther Love for a couple years now. My best to you and the crew!

Sajeev answers:

Well I’m glad you’ve listened to me, so you know you must sell this formerly wrecked Fusion and for a 2011 fleet-special Crown Vic. Is there any other alternative?

If you must live in the real world, a place I normally dislike, I suggest that opinion from a Ford dealer in a bigger town. Odds are your front suspension’s damage created the steering rack’s problem. If the damage required a new front hub, wheel and (something as shockingly far away as the) windshield, odds are the steering rack is waaaay out of spec.

Is it possible that a fuel vapor canister’s processor or low fuel warning relay is controlled by the same module that talks to the power steering system? Calling that a stretch is a rather large understatement, even considering the body damage. The steering’s physical damage is more logical.

Let’s hope people with training on modern Fords can leverage their skills, training materials and connections to Dearborn to solve this one. My money’s on a new steering rack fixing the problem. No way did it emerge unscathed when the wheel busted and the windshield cracked.

[Image: Shutterstock user Jimmy Yan]

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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  • WheelMcCoy WheelMcCoy on Apr 21, 2014

    The gas thing piqued my curiosity. I learned your model has a 17.5 gallon tank. 1 gallon of gas weighs approximately 6.2 pounds at 68F. At a quarter tank, you are hauling a bit more than 27 pounds, and that's when your problems start. What if you throw a 50 pound bag of kitty litter in the trunk? If this makes the problem go away, it doesn't mean you don't have a problem. The weight is just hiding it. Maybe a lighter tail changes the attitude of your car just enough to confuse the traction control sensors which were messed up during the encounter with the mailbox.

  • William442 William442 on May 08, 2014

    My father's 50 Olds went 85,000 miles, and he never changed the oil.Try a new Civic.

  • Jeff S We have had so many article about gas wars. A lighter subject on gas wars might be the scene from Blazing Saddles where the cowboys were around the campfire and how their gas contributed to global warming or was it just natural gas.
  • Jeff S We all have issues some big and most not so big. Better to be alive and face the issues than to be dead and not have the opportunity to face them.
  • NJRide Now more than ever, the US needs a brand selling cheaper cars. I know the old adage that a "good used car" is the best affordable transportation, but there has to be someone willing to challenge the $45k average gas crossover or $60k electric one that has priced out many working and middle class people from the market. So I think Mitsu actually may be onto something. Call me crazy but I think if they came up with a decent sedan in the Civic space but maybe for $19-20k as opposed to $25 they might get some traction there's still some people who prefer a sedan.However, I just compared a Trailblazer on Edmunds to an Outlander Sport. Virtually same size, the Trailblazer has heated seats, keyless ignition and satellite radio and better fuel economy for almost same price as the Mitsu. Plus a fresher body and a normal dealer network. This has always been the challenge off brands have had. Mitsu probably would have to come in $2-3k less than the Chevy unless they can finance more readily to the subprime crowd.
  • MaintenanceCosts At least on the US West Coast, Waze is perfectly happy to send cut-through drivers down residential streets or to disregard peak-hour turn or travel restrictions. I hope if it's going to be standard equipment the company starts taking a more responsible approach.
  • MaintenanceCosts I'm more curious about the effect (if any) on battery lifetime than range. Drawing current faster creates more heat and if that heat is not promptly drawn away it could affect life of the cells.I agree this sort of thing can make sense as a one-time option but is consumer-hostile as a subscription.
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