By on March 14, 2018

2017 ford fusion, Image: Ford Motor Co.

Ford Motor Company has announced a recall of 1,378,637 vehicles for a very concerning problem: steering wheels that may come loose and detach from the steering column while the car is underway.

It’s a problem first investigated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last year, but Wednesday’s recall spreads a wider net. Affected vehicles include Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ sedans built in the U.S. and Mexico over five model years. According to Ford, the problem stems from a key bolt that just can’t stay married to the threads.

“In affected vehicles, the steering wheel bolt may not maintain torque, allowing the bolt to loosen over time, and if not serviced, a steering wheel could potentially detach and lead to a loss of steering control and increased risk of a crash,” the automaker said in a statement.

Ford claims it is aware of two accidents and one “alleged” injury related to the issue.

When it first began looking into the steering wheel problem last October, the NHTSA focused on 2014-2016 Fusions — a group totalling 841,000 cars. Ford’s recall adds half a million more and broadens the scope to newer models, as well as the Fusion’s Lincoln MKX sibling. Some 62,479 of the affected vehicles were sold in Canada, another 14,172 went to Mexico. The rest are America’s problem.

In total, the recall covers 2014-2017 Fusions built at Flat Rock Assembly from August 6, 2013 to February 29, 2016, 2014-2014 Fusions built at Mexico’s Hermosillo Assembly from July 25, 2013 to March 5, 2018 (nine days ago), and 2014-2018 MKZs built at Hermosilo during the same time frame.

“Dealers will replace the steering wheel bolt on the vehicle with a longer bolt with more robust thread engagement and larger nylon patch placed properly for proper torque retention— at no cost to customers.”

It isn’t just steering wheel detachments on Ford’s to-do list today. At the same time, Ford announced another recall for 2013-2016 Focus sedans equipped with the 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine and B6 manual transmission, as well as 2013-2015 Fusions equipped with the 1.6-liter four-cylinder and the same manual tranny. Rare models, indeed.

“Torque capacity reduction due to clutch lining wear can cause excessive slip, introducing a large amount of energy and heat into the pressure plate,” the automaker stated. “Structural failure or fracture of the pressure plate eventually may occur. Leaking transmission fluid near an ignition source can lead to the risk of an engine compartment fire.”

Unlike the loosey-goosey Fusion steering wheels, the second recall only affects 5,872 vehicles in North America.

[Image: Ford Motor Company]

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36 Comments on “The Wheels Are Coming Off At Ford – Steering Wheels, That Is...”


  • avatar
    MrIcky

    Well now, that’s one of the more thrilling recall issues I’ve heard in a while.

  • avatar
    1500cc

    I thought all steering wheels were pressed on in addition to having a retaining nut. That’s why you need a puller to remove them, as an additional safety measure. And any time I’ve had to remove a steering wheel, there was no way it was coming off by hand, unless the hands in question belonged to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      I suspect the bolt in question is on the u-joint, aka coupler. Not the bolt that holds the wheel to the upper shaft. The coupler has two such bolts.

      I also suspect this problem is more widespread on Fords than this recall covers. A coupler bolt came loose on my Escape. Very disturbing, and I’d like the cost of that repair back from Ford. This is in addition to replacing the lower shaft and electric rack. Which they did recall. I will never buy another Ford.

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      My B5.5 Passat didn’t require a puller. On the other hand, the bolt (a very broad one) was pretty high-torque, had factory-applied Loc-Tite, and the service manual had things like instructions to make a punch-mark every time the bolt was removed, and throw it away once it hit removal #5.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    (Chomps cigar and nits brows in best Grouch Marx impersonation)

    “And I thought the steering on my Toyota was vague…”

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    We’re talking Ford here, so normally I’d say “At least they aren’t bursting into flames”. But the steering wheel coming off? Whoa, Nelly! “Quality is Job #1”

  • avatar
    dougjp

    Oh boy, could this be the start of a whole new round of Ford jokes. Let’s see…

    – Now we know why Ford is diverting so many millions to rapidly develop self driving cars!

    – Would you trust a self driving Ford car? Absolutely not! At least with a normal Ford, when the steering wheel comes off, I’m still in position to slam on the brake pedal!

    – To passenger – “I’m tired. Here. Take the wheel!

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    And people wonder why I’m wary of Fords.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      My only experience with a Ford confirms your concern. My Ford is the most unreliable vehicle I’ve ever owned, even worse than a cheap Chrysler car. Among numerous other problems the Ford has had two serious steering defects.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    “Have you driven a Ford lately?” “No, not with my hands anyway.”

  • avatar
    sirwired

    You gotta wonder how this design made it through testing. It’s well-known that steering wheels can come loose, and every car I’ve ever worked on has taken pretty extreme measures to keep that from happening. Tight press-fits, bolts that (look) oversized for the job at hand, etc.

    It’s pretty obvious that something that gets twisted back and forth like this is going to face issues with the bolt working loose, and that you need to put at least some thought into keeping that from happening. (I’m surprised steering wheel bolts don’t have cotter pins, or safety wire, or something like that to keep them from coming completely un-done.)

  • avatar
    mcs

    I’m confused. I’ve read elsewhere on this site that experienced manufacturers like Ford know how to build cars and that only certain new manufacturers don’t have their act together.

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

    “When America needs a better idea, Ford puts it on a detachable steering wheel!”

    “Go further. In unexpected directions.”

    “Built [by] Ford… tough!”

    “Ford. Designed for living. Engineered to come undone.”

    “Ford. Feel the difference. Take it with you – it’s portable!”

    “There is a Ford in your future. You have been forewarned.”

    “Built for the road ahead. And that drainage ditch. And, watch out, a telephone pole!”

    “Bold moves. Unexpected surprises!”

    “Ford has a better idea. Hope you like it!”

    “The Best Never Rest. By that we mean Our Drivers Are Worried Sick and Losing Sleep.”

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    “What do I have to do today to put you behind the wheel of this Ford?” “I dunno, reattach it?”

  • avatar
    hirostates12

    “You picked a fine time to leave me, loose wheel..”

  • avatar
    gasser

    Every time I read TTAC about the latest Ford recall, I kick myself for EVER buying Ford stock. These types of recalls for such basic issues, are not, in my eyes, excusable. Does the Ford company think that customers who have these recall issues will ever again trust Ford with hard earned dollars?

  • avatar
    tylanner

    Removing the engine oil cap on my girls 2013 Ford Focus life taking the cap off of an empty gallon of milk. It is simply incredible that these vehicles don’t fail structurally. During the inevitable Zombie Apocalypse, Ford econo-boxes would last on my list.

    There is a huge difference between surviving and progressing as a company….it is clear where on the spectrum Ford lies.

  • avatar
    gtem

    To add a point to the discussion, I’m on my second ’93-’97 generation Ranger now, my point of reference is almost exclusively Japanese makes, namely Toyota and Honda.

    My Rangers have had a lot of small things that needed attention (as is apt to happen on neglected older pickup trucks), but strike me overall as very sturdy and durable things with fairly fundamentally sound engineering in terms of powertrain, drivetrain, frame, body and suspension. Twin I-beam is crude but durable, Lima engine isn’t the highest tech thing but is incredibly long lived and has a non-interference belt 3.0 and 4.0 OHV motors have good reps as well). My older used Japanese vehicles generally have fewer small things that need tinkering with, but almost all of them came from more caring previous owners, something that is a major factor that cannot be overlooked in such comparisons of older vehicles. I particularly like the paint quality on these old Rangers, and how well the bodies stand up to corrosion (big exception being the lower part of the radiator core support, F150s suffer the same issue).

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      The front end parts on my Escape are more perishable than vegetables.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        I’ll give Ford credit for decent, if not great, trucks. After acquiring my own ’97 Ranger and spending a few $K to fix the hydraulics of the clutch (MT), it’s been good, if underpowered. Put a few thousand miles on it and the little 2.3 I-4 seems to have woken up but it’s still underpowered, just not as badly.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        Oh I believe you, and hardly surprising. I didn’t mean to imply that old Ford truck reputation does not carry over to modern light-duty offerings.

        The Twin-I Beam on the pre-’97 F150s and pre-’98 Rangers hails from the 60s and is a crude riding but damn near bombproof setup.

        The few times I’ve test driven S10s for example, they just feel more like lighter-built things closer to cars (in terms of comfort as well to be fair). The Ranger feels just like a shrunken down but real and serious truck.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          The new downsized E-bodies, the Eldo, Toro and Riv used many of the same front suspension and drive components as the 4wd S-10, so yeah a bit more car like than the TIB/TTB Rangers.

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    Alan Mulally strikes again.

    Profits now, recalls later is not a good business plan.

  • avatar
    ernest

    I’m going to bet someone in accounting at Ford knows how this got screwed up… and why. Engineers know how to design a bolt and keeper, for f’ecks sake. But accounting said it had to be cheaper. Anyone else want to bet?

    • 0 avatar
      Erikstrawn

      This. I have the tool kit for repairing spark plug threads. Someone in Ford accounting doesn’t like Ford engineering’s explanations of how threads work.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      If the purchasing agent is anything like one I used to work beside, I’d say that’s very possible. They always went for the cheapest and when it came to production parts, if the design specified a certain bolt and the agent saw it extending more than 1/16″ beyond the bolt, she’d order shorter ones. That brand had some problems over the years because the agent did the same thing for the maintenance shop until I took over that shop’s buying. In one year alone I saved the company $20K in lost time and replacement tools because I purchased actual work-grade tools (name brand) vs literal ‘farmer’s market’ discounts from who-knows-where.

    • 0 avatar
      IHateCars

      “But accounting said it had to be cheaper. Anyone else want to bet?”

      I’m thinking that blue Loc-Tite was cheaper than red Loc-Tite, but who knows. Sounds like they will fix it in the recall with “more robust thread enagagement”.

  • avatar

    The truth is the wheel is coming off for the entire company.

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