Wrench Light Turns On. Engine Surges. Accelerator Turns Off.
Ford and Mercury vehicles equipped with an Electronic Throttle Body (ETB) are prone to sudden surges and dangerous stalls, sometimes sending them into a “limp home mode” and a never-engine orange wrench service light.
Truth be told, that wrench light can be triggered by multiple things. But if the wrench comes on and:
- You have a sudden loss of power while driving
- Your accelerator stops working or has extremely limited power
- The engine idles roughly
Well, then that my friends sounds like a …
Defective Electronic Throttle Control
Back in the day, there was a cable connecting the accelerator pedal to the throttle. If that cable snapped, well, you were up a certain famous creek without a paddle. But at least you knew what it was.
“My 2010 Ford Escape while driving at 70 MPH on the freeway in traffic the engine stalls leaving me with no power to control my speed. As my car quickly reduces speed on a major freeway I attempt to get over to the shoulder out of harms way. Ford calls this non life threatening because the car is still controllable to get out of harms way. Really??”
Sherri M, 2010 Ford Escape Owner from Hurst, TX
Somewhere along the way, manufacturers decided replacing that cable with computers was a good idea. Hence the birth of the electronic throttle body or ETB (sometimes called an electronic throttle control or ETC). The ETB controls the position of the throttle valve, which in turn manages the amount of air entering the engine.
If something goes wrong in the ETC’s code, you can go from cruising on the highway to desperately trying to use what momentum you have left to find a safe place to pull off.
Once stopped you’ll find one of two scenarios:
- Your car is now in “limp home” mode, which means you can still drive just at a very limited speed. May I suggest we call it “limp to the closest mechanic” mode instead?
- In some cases, “limp home” mode would be a luxury. Certain owners report that with the engine still running, pressing the accelerator does absolutely nothing.
A Parts Delay
ETB problems are very common with Ford vehicles and, because of that, the parts are often back-ordered and the average wait time is three weeks.
Because the cars can sometimes come back to life after stopping and starting the engine a few times, mechanics will often send you home and tell you to wait for the replacement ETB to come in. Of course, that means you’re at risk of this happening again. In that case, it’s worth asking about a rental car.
The Recall That Wasn’t (It Was)
The government is aware of Ford’s ETB problem. Back in 2013, the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation into sudden surges and power loss in Ford engines.
By March of 2014, Ford agreed to a massive “customer satisfaction program” that extended the ETB warranty to 10 years or 150,000 miles for certain vehicles.
For whatever reason, Ford refuses to call it a recall. NHTSA won’t either. But we all know what it is. Whatever you want to call it, it covered:
- 2009-2013 Ford Escape
- 2009-2013 Ford Fusion
- 2009-2013 Mercury Mariner
- 2009-2013 Mercury Milan
Why Didn’t NHTSA Recall Ford’s ETB?
An extended warranty is nice and all, but it means consumers have to wait for their ETBs to break before they can get them replaced. That leaves drivers at risk of sudden acceleration or deceleration in dangerous driving scenarios.
NHTSA’s role is to “set and enforce safety performance standards for motor vehicles[^2]”, but in this case they’ve dropped the ball. Preventive means could have been taken to prevent future incidents with Ford’s defective ETB, but instead we’re left with Ford’s reactionary program.
If the agency is looking for evidence of a safety defect, they don’t need to go far. For the 2010 Ford Fusion alone, there over 1,500 reports of problems with the vehicle speed control, engine and fuel system on NHTSA’s website.