Put 'er in Low: Ford's Crash-diving Transmission Earns Another Investigation

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

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]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Bullnuke Bullnuke on Jan 03, 2018

    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.

    • TR4 TR4 on Jan 03, 2018

      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.

  • EBFlex EBFlex on Jan 03, 2018

    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.

  • Tassos I never used winter tires, and the last two decades I am driving almost only rear wheel drive cars, half of them in MI. I always bought all season tires for them, but the diff between touring and non touring flavors never came up. Does it make even the smallest bit of difference? (I will not read the lengthy article because I believe it does not).
  • Lou_BC ???
  • Lou_BC Mustang sedan? 4 doors? A quarterhorse?Ford nomenclature will become:F Series - Pickups Raptor - performance division Bronco - 4x4 SUV/CUVExplorer - police fleetsMustang- cars
  • Ede65792611 Got one. It was my Dad's and now has 132K on it. I pay my Mercedes guy zillions of dollars to keep it going. But, I do, and he does and it's an excellent vehicle. I've put in the full Android panel for BT handsfree and streaming with a backup cam.
  • Lou_BC Wow. People say they want sedans and there should be more of them. Goes to show that internet warriors do not accurately represent the desires of the general population. What do people buy? Pickups and CUV'S. Top 10:1. F Series2. Silverado3. Ram4. Toyota Rav45. Model Y Tesla6. Honda CRV7. Sierra8. Toyota Camry9. Nissan Rogue10. Jeep Grand Cherokee Only 2 sedans.#5 Is a sedan and an EV#8 The ubiquitous Camry The only way to resurrect the sedan is by banning crewcab pickups.