EcoBoost Blues

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Back in the late ’70s, engineers over at Chrysler came up with a way to help their existing engines – which had been designed back in the 1950s and ’60s – stay compliant with emissions control requirements passed years later. It was called Lean Burn. Some of you may remember. By increasing the air in the air-fuel ratio – “leaning out” the engine – and electronically controlling ignition timing, hydrocarbon (HC) emissions can be significantly reduced.

It wasn’t a bad idea. In fact, it was a good idea (see here for technical details) and the essential components – electronically controlled ignition – are standard equipment in all new cars today.

The problem was the technology Chrysler used at the time wasn’t quite ready for prime time. Glitches plagued the early Lean Burn engines. The electronic controls were sometimes balky – and mechanics of the era often couldn’t diagnose/correctly repair the system when it acted up.

Fast-forward 30 years.

Ford – like many current car companies – sees turbochargers as a way to comply with escalating federal fuel-economy mandates while also maintaining the power/performance levels customers expect. Ford calls its line of small-displacement/high output – and high efficiency – turbocharged enginesEcoBoost engines. They range from a 1.0 liter three-cylinder in the 2014 Fiesta subcompact to the 3.5 liter V-6 (with two turbos) used in the Taurus SHO and the full-size F-series pick-up truck. In the latter applications, the turbo V-6 delivers the power/performance of a V-8 with the economy of a six. In the Fiesta, the tiny 1.0 liter engine provides the on-demand output of a larger four – but much better gas mileage when you’re just poking along because only three cylinders are consuming gas as opposed to four of them.

Again, it’s not a bad idea.

But – once again – there may be some teething problems.

The Detroit News is reporting that some owners of EcoBoosted Ford vehicles are complaining – suing, actually. They are claiming that their vehicles lose power – and shudder – during acceleration. One lawsuit (a class action lawsuit) in Louisiana – see here – another in Ohio. Reportedly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has received about 100 complaints about EcoBoosted Fords – most of which seem to be directed at either the Taurus SHO or the F-150.

The lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the Louisiana case state that “Many Ford F150 EcoBoost owners have reported that their trucks have stalled, shuddered, failed to accelerate and/or entered into limp mode while driving.”A writer for Green Car News described a similar issue with the ’14 Fiesta (seehere).

Reportedly, Ford has issued Technical Service Bulletins – these are memos to mechanics – about a component of the EcoBoost system called the Charge Air Cooler – which suggests that there is a problem and that Ford is aware of it.

Whether it is an isolated/small problem – or a big problem – remains to be seen. If it turns out to be a big problem, Ford is going to have a big problem. Because the automaker has committed big-time to the EcoBoost concept. It’s not just one model of car that’s potentially affected – as in the case of fire-prone Pintos back in the day. This situation involves engines used in several models of Ford vehicles – and a concept that Ford intends to apply virtually across the board, to every car (and truck) it makes.

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