When Bennie Schiavone went to wipe the dust off his Ford truck a few years ago, a whole section of paint came off.
Not to worry, Ford told the San Gabriel customer. The auto maker offered to repaint the top of his truck for $80 under a special discount program. Now, a few years later, the paint on the rest of the truck is flaking off.
The paint on Ford trucks has become the source of major controversy. The Center for Auto Safety has petitioned the Federal Trade Commission, seeking to force a mandatory recall for all of Ford’s F-series trucks produced between 1985 and 1992.
Ford has acknowledged that there is a problem with silver, gray and blue paints, and has a special program to repaint the trucks under an extended warranty or policy adjustment, a spokesman said.
Consumer advocates call it a secret warranty program that should be publicly announced, an assertion that Ford has been fighting. At stake is a potential $1-billion liability for Ford--the estimated cost of repainting all of 400,000 trucks Ford produced, according to the safety center petition. But it is doubtful that all the cars are affected or even that all the affected cars will be returned for repairs.
As savvy car buyers know, a bad paint job is one of the most costly problems on a vehicle. As car manufacturers struggle to comply with tighter environmental rules, providing a good paint job is becoming an increasing challenge. Next, I’ll look into how cars are painted.
“Ford Motor Co. does not have a secret warranty on F-series trucks,” said Thomas J. Wagner, Ford vice president and general manager for its parts and service division. “On several occasions, Ford has supported efforts by the states to outlaw secret warranties.”
Rather, the company has initiated a “customer satisfaction program” to see if people are happy with their trucks, and in other cases the company has decided to “take care of our customers,” Wagner said.
But consumer advocates say that Ford has erected a sophisticated legal defense to prevent a mandatory recall, even though its internal documents show that there is a serious problem with the trucks. The F-series trucks are the biggest-selling vehicles in America.
In a technical service bulletin, Ford says that dealers can remedy the problem by carefully grinding down the affected areas and applying three coats of acrylic urethane primer, among other preparatory steps. The usual color and clear coats follow.
Notably, Ford didn’t use the acrylic urethane primer at the factory, relying instead on only the anti-corrosion primer, according to the petition to the trade commission. The petition calls this an oversight. Exactly why Ford painted the trucks this way has never been made clear.
Debra Barclay, a spokeswoman at the Center for Auto Safety, said the center has received 2,000 responses from consumers with chipping paint on their Ford trucks.
Moreover, the safety center claims that Ford did not substantially modify its paint process until the 1993 model year, meaning that many trucks being sold today may ultimately be affected by the problem. Ford disagrees that its newly sold vehicles also will be affected in the future. Barclay said she doubts that the FTC will issue a recall. But 20 state attorneys-general have begun looking into the problem, she added.
Meanwhile, Schiavone might have done better if he had waited to complain about his truck. By the summer of 1990, Ford had instituted a policy of paying for 100% of the cost of repainting vehicles, according to the safety center petition.
If you are having problems, you should contact your regional Ford representative through the dealer or directly through the company. You may also file a complaint with the safety center by writing to 2001 S Street NW, Suite 410, Washington, DC 20009.