By on January 2, 2018

2013 Ford F-150, Image: Ford

In 2016, Ford Motor Company’s stable of rear-drive vehicles came under scrutiny for six-speed transmissions that couldn’t decide whether to sprint or crawl. Owners reported that their 2011-2012 F-150s, Expeditions, Mustangs, and Lincoln Navigators would, suddenly and without warning, downshifting from upper ratios to first gear, ultimately forcing the automaker to recall some 153,000 of the vehicles in the United States.

It now looks like it didn’t recall enough of them. Dangerous downshifts continue, and not just in vehicles covered by the recall. Another concern is that the problem is reappearing in supposedly “fixed” vehicles.

In a new investigation opened on December 25th, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has expanded the probe to include 1,375,577 F-150s, Expeditions, and Navigators from the 2011 to 2013 model years.

The NHTSA lists the danger of such a rapid change in gearing in its description of the earlier recall: “An unexpected downshift to 1st gear can cause the vehicle to slow down suddenly and without warning. This can also cause the rear tires to skid or lock up, increasing the risk of a crash.”

Since Ford issued its recall, a further 123 complaints have rolled into the agency, including “many reports” concerning vehicles not involved in the recall. More troubling is word that the recall seems to have been a dud. “[Some] reports indicate that the remedy was not effective,” the NHTSA states. Some owners report their vehicles dropping from top gear to first at 50 miles per hour, then switching back. In other cases, the lowest gear wasn’t reached, but it took the owner turning off the engine and restarting it before things returned to normal.

While an investigation doesn’t necessarily mean there’s another recall in the works, the number of complaints collected by the agency makes a new safety recall extremely likely. Of course, if Ford drags its feet (which aptly sums up the transmission’s symptoms), the NHTSA can compel it to call back the vehicles.

Two crashes are allegedly linked to the shifty 6R80 autoboxes, but no injuries were reported.

[Image: Ford Motor Company]

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22 Comments on “Put ‘er in Low: Ford’s Crash-diving Transmission Earns Another Investigation...”

  • avatar

    Ford keeps one-upping itself. Back in the day they self-shifted from park to reverse; now it’s drive to low.

    Solution: manual transmission.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes please!

      • 0 avatar
        The ultimate family-friendly hybrid vehicle is finally here.

        TR4, you beat me to it.
        It seems like at least half of automotive recalls (including the occasional gruesome fatality) involve automatic transmissions. That problem wouldn’t exist without the slushbox. And it seems after decades of making auto boxes, they get re-engineered and then beancounted into undependability.

  • avatar

    How do these people know the vehicle has shifted into 1st ? Technically, there is no shift indicator.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeremiah Mckenna

      There are on the dashboard, where the odometer is, it will show the gear you are in. The trucks with the manual mode will also show what gear it is in when you push the button up or down.

    • 0 avatar

      1st gear is one of those things you just know, especially if it occurs while you’re going 50 mph. If your tach suddenly jumps to 8,000 you’ll know you’re not in Kansas anymore too.

  • avatar

    handsome photo.

  • avatar

    Running a F-150 to 50 mph in 1st would be turning 8250 rpm with the 3.73 rear end.

  • avatar

    “Two crashes are allegedly linked to the shifty 6R80 autoboxes, but no injuries were reported.”

    I’m sure the owners of these vehicles describe them with a word very similar to shifty.

  • avatar

    Sitting here cracking up at my desk thinking of how hilariously catastrophic a sound that must make.

  • avatar

    This once again confirms to me that buying a year end 2010 F150 as opposed to a “new” model 2011 was the best choice.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      I think new vehicles will always have their issues.

      I’m sort of lucky so far with my BT50. Only a gearbox change due to crappy bearings.

      I think alot of issues are due to poor QC. The manufacturers apply pressure on the suppliers. Just maintaing a seamless flow of JIT components to the assembly line can have adverse affects on quality.

  • avatar

    Only the Ford built boxes? Or do other ZF based 6 speed suffer from this problem?

  • avatar

    How much money has this cost Ford’s bottom line as well as Ford shareholders like myself??

  • avatar

    An old friend and I years ago would go cruising in his red Chevy BelAire, straight 6 with a Powerglide. It would downshift to low on demand (when floored to engage the kick-down linkage) at speeds greater than 60mph. Great fun, lotsa noise when the rear wheels slowed and skidded with the shrieking sewing-machine-on-crack scream of that old stovebolt, and a thrill when the rear of the car spun around to the lead position on the newly built I-70. Never seemed to hurt it – he was still driving it around town three years later.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, but the PG did not really have a first gear; low was about 1.8:1. The Ford 6R80 has a first gear of around 4:1. This coupled with a modern locking torque converter means much greater possibility of over revving the engine.

  • avatar

    The famous Alan Mulally cost cutting and low quality strikes again!!!

    Look at the bright side though, sure your vehicle doing this could lead to a serious crash, but at least Ford was making tons of money during that time.

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