A Chicago lawsuit contends that Ford Motor Co. has refused to assume responsibility properly for serious head gasket defects in the 3.8-liter V-6 engine used in tens of thousands of vehicles, including the 1994 and 1995 Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable and the 1995 Ford Windstar.
The lawsuit filed by 1995 Windstar owner Lance Lhotka seeks damages for owners and lessees of those vehicles for breach of warranty, breach of contract and violations of Michigan and Illinois consumer protection laws. It alleges that owners and lessees incur 'substantial repair expenses and diminution in the value of their vehicles' because of the defects.
Ford disputes any violations and says it responded properly to acknowledged problems with premature failure of head gaskets on those vehicles by extending their warranty.
In 1998, Ford sent notices to owners and lessees, stating that premature failure of head gaskets might cause overheating or, 'in extreme cases,' engine failure. The notices said defective head gaskets would be replaced without charge if necessary during the extension period.
'We did a lot of research on the data, and the head gasket seemed to be failing more than typical,' said Ford spokeswoman Susan Krusel.
'There's not as widespread a head gasket problem, which they'd like us to believe. Ford provided the extended warranty to all these vehicle owners, even though most will never experience a problem. Based on the occurrence data we have collected, we felt the five-year/60,000-miles extended warranty was an appropriate action to remedy the issue.'
Lhotka bought his new minivan in April 1995. According to the lawsuit, he received Ford's notice of the warranty extension in June 1998 and his head gaskets failed in June 1999, when the vehicle had 82,170 miles.
Repair not covered
Although he argued that the extended warranty would not expire until April 2000 - five years after the purchase - Ford told him the $1,415 repair was not covered because the minivan had more than 60,000 miles.
Lhotka sued in Cook County Circuit Court.
Ford has not filed its formal answer to the complaint but is attempting to have the case handled in federal court in Chicago. No judge has considered whether the lawsuit will be certified as a class action.
Lhotka's lawyer, Richard Doherty of Chicago, said Ford should have reimbursed his client because the company's extended five-year/60,000-mile warranty as written doesn't say 'whichever comes first.'
The lawsuit also accuses Ford of misconduct and seeks punitive damages and attorney fees.