I like a system that will degrade gracefully. Rear-view camera goes out? Turn around, you lazy bum. Blind-spot warning not working? That never stopped you before.
What makes me nervous is when an automaker takes a working system and replaces it with something shinier that’s running off of 3 or 4 electronic control units (ECUs). Something like power steering.
Why Electronic Power Steering?
Hydraulic systems are so yesterday. They have pumps, fluid, and a multi-decade track record of success and relatively easy maintenance. Be gone, hydraulics! Embrace your digital overlord.
Electronic power assisted steering (EPAS) systems replace a lot of the mechanical parts of previous steering assist systems (pumps, fluids, hosts, pulleys) and replaces them with tiny computers called ECUs and a whole bunch of code.
Benefits of EPAS
- They are lighter than hydraulic systems
- They have variable power assist, giving more help at lower speeds (when you need it most) but are used less at higher speeds
- Points 1 and 2 mean your engine can squeeze out a couple extra MPGs
- The systems can, in theory, compensate for things like when the car pulls to one side or drifts.
Disadvantages of EPAS
- Complexity. Take Ford’s EPAS, for example, which has a Power Steering Control (PSC) Motor, Electronic Control Unit (ECU), and a Torque Sensor and Steering Wheel Position Sensor.
- They are difficult to diagnose. Was it a PSC failure or did the ECU send improper instructions? Perhaps one of the sensors is misreading the data it’s supposed to be collecting.
Problems with Ford’s EPAS
Ford’s EPAS suffers from systemic defects that “render the system prone to sudden and premature failure during ordinary and foreseeable driving situations” and cause drivers of the cars to “experience significantly increased steering effort and, ultimately, loss of control.”
There is a mechanical backup, so if the EPAS goes out you’ll still be able to steer. It’s just going to take a lot more effort.
One major concern about Ford’s EPAS is that sometimes when it goes out, it does so without any warning. No dash lights, no chimes, just a sudden loss of steering assist.
Driving a car without power steering is totally possible, I’m sure your grandfather would tell you he did it for years. But if it’s there and then suddenly POOF not there, well that quick and unexpected change is very dangerous:
“I was driving my 2008 Ford Escape when I made a left turn and my steering wheel froze. It took all my strength to try to turn the wheel to try to get out of the turn and into on coming traffic. I pulled over to closest parking spot, shut the car off and called my husband.”
Lucy G, 2008 Ford Escape Owner from Elgin, IL
What’s the first question a customer service representative asks you when you call with a tech problem — have you tried unplugging it and plugging it back in? The crazy thing is, that sometimes actually works. Some Ford owners have said that shutting the car off and turning it back on sometimes fixes the issue, although it’s only temporary:
“As with numerous others here, steering froze without warning when driving. Shutting off and re-starting the car seems to HAVE TEMPORARILY solved the problem.”
klarry, 2008 Ford Escape Owner from Ashby, MA
Power Steering with Pull Drift
The 2008 Escape (and it’s sibling Mariner) were some of the first vehicles to feature Ford’s pull-drift steering compensation; a part of an all-new EPAS system. Ford describes EPAS with pull-drift as a “sophisticated sensor system that constantly measures the driver’s steering torque, adapts to changing road conditions and helps compensate for slight steering changes.” But what happens when the system stops measuring? Bad things, that’s what.
Defective Torque Sensor
When you turn the wheel in your Ford, the torque sensor monitors which way you’ve turned and how far. That information is sent to the ECU, but what happens when the information never gets sent? One widely accepted theory is that a defective torque sensor isn’t giving the ECU the information it needs, and the power steering as a result gets disabled.
So the simplest solution is to just replace the torque sensor, right? Well, unfortunately the torque sensor is part of the steering column assembly and is not serviceable separately. In other words, once that sensor goes the entire steering column needs to be replaced. And that’s expensive with the average repair cost around $1,500.
Ford and Mercury Vehicles Most Likely to Lose Power Steering
|Ford||Focus||2012-2014||2012: Power Steering Failure »|
|Fusion||2010-2014||2010: Power Steering Not Working »|
|Escape||2008-2012||2008: Power Steering Failure »|
|Mercury||Mariner||2008-2012||2008: Power Steering Stopped Working »|
|Milan||2010||2010: Steering Locked Up While Driving »|
May 2014: Over 900,000 2008-2011 Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner SUVs were recalled because of failures with the torque sensor inside the EPAS. Additionally, the 2011-2013 Explorer was recalled because EPAS electrical connection failures. Roughly a year later the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was petitioned to see if that recall really did any good.
April 2015: 520,000 model year 2013-2015 Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ, plus 2015 Ford Edge CUVs were recalled because their steering gear bolts can corrode and break, causing an immediate loss of power steering.
May 2015: Almost 423,000 cars can experience an electrical connection failure in their power steering systems. This includes the 2011-2013 Ford Taurus and Flex, 2011-2012 Ford Fusion, 2011-2013 Lincoln MKS and MKT, 2011-2012 Lincoln MKZ, and the 2011 Mercury Milan.
Consumers slapped Ford with a class-action lawsuit in a California district court, claiming Ford equipped the Focus and Fusion models with a defective power steering system that is prone to sudden failure.
The official complaint says Ford “failed and continues to fail to disclose to consumers that the defective steering system exposes occupants of the defective cars, occupants of the surrounding vehicles, and pedestrians to the “risk of collisions and grave bodily harm.”
The complaint also says “Ford has ignored, concealed and failed to adequately address the numerous complaints it has received about defective vehicles’ steering failures” and that “Ford’s knowledge of problems with the EPAS system in the defective vehicles was revealed during the course of a NHTSA investigation into steering failures experienced by the Ford Explorer, which suffers from a similarly defective EPAS system.”
The plaintiffs accuse Ford of falsely touting the safety and reliability of the defective autos at the same time the company promoted the vehicles as safe and by lauding the Electronic Power Assisted Steering (EPAS) specifically, states the complaint filed June 27 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Jose.
Plaintiffs William Phillips and four other individuals from various states and North Carolina-based Performance Fire Protection LLC claim Ford made misleading and reckless public statements about the general safety ratings for defective cars, the suit claims.
The lawsuit was almost dropped when the judge called it “unwieldy in scope and unduly burdensome.” Luckily, the plaintiffs were given a chance to amend their complaints.
In March 2016, the same judge denied Ford’s motion to dismiss the case. Guess they can’t steer around the issue after all, how ironic.
A Timeline of EPAS Failures
Actions You Can Take
This step is crucial, don't just complain on forums! The sites below will actively manage your complaints and turn them into useful statistics. Both CarComplaints.com and the CAS will report dangerous trends to the authorities and are often called upon by law firms for help with Class Action lawsuits. Make sure to file your complaint on all three sites, we can't stress that enough.
Step 1: File Your Complaint at CarComplaints.com
CarComplaints.com is a free site dedicated to uncovering problem trends and informing owners about potential issues with their cars. Major class action law firms use this data when researching cases. Add a Complaint
Step 2: Notify the Center for Auto Safety
The Center for Auto Safety (CAS) is a pro-consumer organization that researches auto safety issues & often compels the US government to do the right thing through lobbying & lawsuits. Notify the CAS
Step 3: Report a Safety Concern to NHTSA
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the US agency with the authority to conduct vehicle defect investigations & force recalls. Their focus is on safety-related issues. Report to NHTSA