The Ford Escape has always maintained its position as a top contender in the competitive compact SUV space despite a long list of Ford Escape problems. Over the years, Ford has sold millions of these units. Most people love Escape because of its fuel efficiency, practicality, and awesome driving experience. This is largely why the Ford Escape is still one of the most popular SUVs. This compact SUV serves as the car maker’s second-best-selling car after the F-series trucks.
This comes as no surprise, as the automaker has become an industry leader by offering basic, affordable cars for more than a century. However, the affordability of Ford vehicles often comes at a hidden cost. The vehicle’s long-term reliability is often compromised to make them more affordable. Despite being one of the top-selling vehicles, the Ford Escape has its share of growing pains. Ford Escape owners have always reported catastrophic issues with the car’s transmission or engine.
Ford Escape problems do occur outside and inside of the car’s warranty. This has seen numerous complaints filed from Ford Escape lessors and owners. However, some model years of the Ford Escape are more bugged by problems than others. For instance, check engine lights and engine stalls are common with the 2017 Escape 1.5-Liter EcoBoost. You can find thousands of complaints by Ford Escape owners documented on government websites and online consumer forums.
Overview Of The Ford Escape
The Ford Escape has been around for the last 20 years and has four different generations in its name. The original Ford Escape was a product of the collaboration of two major car manufacturers, Ford and Mazda. Each of the carmakers sold their version of this joint venture independently. Mazda marketed this vehicle as to the Tribute, and Ford’s version was sold as the Escape. These two versions did not have much in common, although they shared the same underpinnings. On the exterior, the cars were almost completely different.
Although they look quite dated today, the first-generation Ford Escapes were way ahead of their time. At the time, the Escape was introduced as the only SUV equipped with a hybrid powertrain. Since then, Ford has continuously rebadged and redesigned the Escape to suit a wide spectrum of buyers and applications. Here is a quick overview of the four Ford Escape generations. This will prove handy when choosing which model years of the Ford to escape to avoid.
First-Gen Ford Escape (2001-2008)
Ford launched the first Escape in 2000 as a 2001 model offering. At the time, most SUVs on the road were large and truck-based. Car manufacturers like Honda and Toyota had discovered another SUV nook and were shifting from body-on-frame designs to compact crossovers. Toyota produced the Toyota RAV4, and Honda produced the Honda CR-V. Ford responded to the competition with the first-Gen Ford Escape. At the time, the market for the smaller car-like crossovers was booming.
Since Ford never intended the Escape to be a serious off-roader, the car was primarily fitted with a standard front-wheel-drive format. However, they still made an off-roading option available. You could choose to get an Escape with a Dana setup that included a locking center differential that made it possible to direct 100% traction to the front wheels until the system detected a slip.
As with any other older vehicle, the first-generation Escapes are quite dated, which means you should watch out for the usual wear and tear. However, well-known issues with the first-generation Escape include computer failure, transmission failure, wheel strut tower rust, and power steering failure. It is probably best to avoid the 2008 Ford Escape as it has the greatest prevalence of engine-slash-transmission issues and a rear window that explodes.
Second-Gen Ford Escape (2008-2011)
The second-generation Ford Escape came out looking different from the first-gen, but it is basically the same vehicle with a new exterior look. Most of the internals of the second-Gen Escape were carried over from its predecessor. Both generations of the car were built on the same CD2 platform. However, the second-gen Escape had some cool new features like curtain airbags. At the time, such features were a big deal.
There are three engine options to choose from for the second-gen Escapes. The standard engine option was a 2.3-liter inline-four that generated 153 horsepower. A second more powerful option was a V6 engine that developed 200 horsepower. Ford made an even more powerful V6 engine alternative available a year later. This third engine option generated a whopping 230 horsepower.
Transmission issues were also carried over to this version of the Ford Escape. If you have a second-generation Ford Escape under your radar, be on the lookout for evidence of transmission repair in the service history. It is most likely that you will find records of some repair work that was done to correct the transmission.
Third-Gen Ford Escape (2013-2019)
The third-generation Ford Escape was introduced in 2012. Ford Europe designed this new generation. It, therefore, came as no surprise that the vehicle took on a European-inspired flavor. In Europe, the third-gen Ford Escape was badged as Ford Kuga. It is common to see the third generation Escape being described as an automotive perspective of a training shoe, which is a pretty accurate description. The third-gen is nothing like the first two generations.
The game-changer here was turbo-power. This version of the Escape came equipped with a turbo-powered engine. There was a non-turbo base engine option that was not as popular because they were aimed at fleets. The majority of the third-gen Ford Escapes were bought with a turbo-four EcoBoost engine under the hood. This was the more desirable option of this version of the Escape.
The worst downside of the third-generation Ford Escape models has been engine problems. The EcoBoost engine on these models can offer better fuel economy and deliver more power than any previous vehicle version. Despite these huge advantages, the EcoBoost engine available on third-generation Escapes is prone to stalling, shuddering, and intense shaking. In the extreme, these engines are known to catch fire. This is why most third-gen vehicle models have a track record of catching fire for apparently no reason.
The carmaker addressed this issue by developing a fix that does not quite solve the fire problem completely. The fix involves upgrading the software that manages the engine temperatures. The software update does not cover every issue that could leave the EcoBoost engine vulnerable to catching fire. However, if you are still interested in buying a third-gen Escape, ask for evidence that this fix has been applied to the car.
Fourth-Gen Ford Escape (2020-Present)
The all-new Ford Escape was revealed in the third quarter of 2019 as a 2020 model year offering. This new generation of the Escape ushered in another completely new styling of the SUV. This Escape is ultra-modern, and you can choose from four powertrain options; a turbo-3, turbo-4, plug-in hybrid, and a hybrid.
As other carmakers work to streamline their SUV lineups, Ford is offering their customers more options. With the fourth-generation Ford Escape, owners and lessors have a plethora of powertrain and trim to choose from. If you wish to buy the 2020 Ford Escape, you can choose from trim levels like Titanium, SE, S, and SEL. New owners of this version of the Escape have four engine options.
The first option is a base engine. This engine is a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder that generates 181 horsepower. The second option is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that develops 250 horsepower. The hybrid powertrain options are 2.5-liter four-cylinder that is paired with two electric motors. The hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrain options make a total of 221 horsepower.
Some of the already reported issues with the fourth-generation Ford Escape include cheap cabin materials prone to quick wear and tear and transmission problems. Most owners of the 2020 Ford Escape have registered a common complaint that the transmission takes time to hunt for the right gear. This is not something you would wish to experience while on the road because it can lead to accidents and other road hazards. No major changes were made to the 2021 Ford Escape.
Ford Escape Problems: Has There Been Any Recalls?
Obviously yes. With such a huge pile of complaints, there is no way Ford could have escaped recalling some of their Ford Escape models. The carmaker, in 2015, had to recall some first-gen Ford Escapes and Mariner models. The recall of the car models made between 2001 and 2009 was due to the high prevalence of transmission problems. The majority of the recalled cars had 2.3 to 3.0-liter engines that had been recently rebuilt.
The transmission-related issue was due to a faulty lever bolt that hindered shifting. Most car owners who had their cars recalled reported that the control lever disengaged gears without warning. The issue was that the lever bolt could not be tightened, and therefore there is no way you can tell the current gear position of the car. The gear position indicator would show that the gear is in parking even when driving at high speeds.
In 2016, Ford had to recall the electric system software of their 2017 Escape model. This recall affected the SE and Titanium Ford models of that year. The issue here was that the automatic windows would close in on people’s heads and hands before auto-reversing. Another recall was made with 2018 models that had a faulty front hose that leaked gas.
Ford had fashioned the 2018 Ford Escape with side curtain airbags, in line with their continued commitment to improved safety. However, the airbags were reported to fall off during deployment occasionally. You wouldn’t want a detached airbag flying at you in the passenger cabin. It would lead to serious injury.
Ford Escape Problems: Which Were The Biggest?
Transmission-related issues have been one of the biggest downsides to any generation of the Ford Escape. Unfortunately, the transmission is one of the vital components of your car. The transmission is integral to the workability of any vehicle. Therefore, this is one issue you want to have fixed before you are left stranded on the roadside.
As we discussed earlier in this guide, the second-generation Ford Escape is notorious for transmission-related issues. If you don’t know the symptoms of the transmission problems, you might miss them until the issue translates into a more serious and expensive problem. If left unaddressed, your vehicle becomes more vulnerable to stalling anywhere at any time. Here are some of the most common transmission problems with the Ford Escape.
Common Transmission Problems
Low Fluid Level
Low fluid level is one of the most common problems with many cars and the 2014 Ford Escape in particular. The low fluid level makes it hard for the transmission of the car to shift gears. Since most cars are prone to having low fluid levels, it is advisable to routinely check the fluid level of your car and make any additions if necessary.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of a car that is low on transmission fluid levels.
- The car will shake inexplicably or produce a jerking motion that throws you back and forth when you try shifting gears.
- Low transmission fluid levels can manifest by overheating the transmission. The transmission is well designed not to overheat. If it overheats, it is a telltale sign that you have transmission problems like low fluid levels.
- A transmission that is low on fluid will delay when shifting gears. Ford Escapes with low fluid levels are reported to take more time shifting gears.
Change the transmission fluid if you happen to experience any of the above symptoms with your Ford Escape. It is advisable not to flush the transmission fluid as it can cause more damage to a transmission that is already experiencing problems.
Delayed shifts on your Ford Escape are often a result of malfunctioning transmission solenoid or valve body and are generally common with automatic transmission vehicles. In the worst cases, it can lead to total failure of the transmission system, and therefore your car won’t shift to a higher or lower gear. Some common symptoms of this issue include:
- The car takes time to shift from drive to park or vice versa. A damaged body valve usually causes this, and you should therefore consider replacing it.
- You may have probably heard of Ford Escapes that won’t reverse. Before the reverse gear fails completely, you may hear some clunking sounds whenever you engage the reverse gear.
- Ford Escape drivers have reported having transmission problems that manifest as radical shifting. This is likely caused by old transmission fluid or the valve.
Deteriorated Gear Synchronizers
As the name suggests, the gear synchronizers synchronize or match the spinning speed of the gear you are shifting to with the speed of the gear you are shifting from. A well-functioning gear synchronizer will result in a smooth and seamless shifting experience. Ford Escapes equipped with a manual transmission setup is vulnerable to developing worn-out gear synchronizers than most other manual vehicles in the segment.
Gear grinding is another major transmission problem in a Ford Escape. The 2008 Ford Escape is particularly prone to developing this problem. Fortunately, it is mostly a simple case of a clutch that won’t release or an improperly adjusted shifter. Generally, most manual vehicles develop this issue from time to time. If not fixed in time, it can lead to transmission failure. The low transmission fluid level is also known to cause this issue.
Shifting Into An Intended Gear
The 2008 Ford Escape again is notorious for shifting into an unintended gear. In the 2008 Escape, this issue was caused by a malfunctioning manual lever sensor. Also, if your manual lever is in the wrong position, it can cause this problem. Imagine having a car that erroneously shifts to a higher or lower gear than intended. Dangerous, right? When the manual lever sensor fails, the 2008 Ford Escape goes into limp mode. In this mode, you can shift into different gears, but the PCM won’t be able to tell which gear you are shifting into.
Clutch Pedal Issues
The linkage or hydraulic system of the clutch can malfunction and cause the pedal engagement to be very low. Fortunately, this is easily fixed by bleeding the hydraulic system and other simple adjustments. However, it can also go in a different direction, whereby you have a high-grabbing clutch. Although this is also fixable, it may leave you with a worn-out pressure plate and clutch disc.
The 2012 and 2013 Ford Escape have a common vibrating issue when the vehicles are accelerated beyond 35 MPH. This is usually caused by a faulty torque converter. In most of these cases, the engine unceremoniously shuts off when a gear is engaged. A damaged torque converter produces a loud whining noise. When driving with a faulty torque converter, you will experience a bumpy ride that feels like driving on a rough road.
Worn-out clutches are the most prevalent transmission issue with most cars and the 2011 Ford Escape in particular. With a slipping transmission, the 2011 Ford Escape will have symptoms such as high revs when downshifting. This is definitely a sign of clutches that are burning out. The car loses traction and may lead to other safety hazards. Many drivers of the 2011 Escape have reported having a gear that slips in and out when they are driving.
Apart from spring leaks, Ford Escape engines are known to catch fire. Even on newer models of the Ford Escape, owners and lessors have reported having coolant that leaked into the engine and wreaked havoc on it. In most cases, it all starts with a check engine light that comes on, and when the car is taken for further diagnosis, it is discovered to have coolant leaks in the engine. When the coolant leaks into the engine’s head gasket, it causes a complete shutdown of the vehicle.
There have been several reports of the turbo booster not functioning when needed. This turbo booster comes in handy when changing lanes on the highway. It accelerates the vehicle, allowing you to change lanes safely. When the turbo booster fails, the SUV does not accelerate even when the gas pedal is pressed. This puts the life of the driver and passengers at risk when driving on the highway.
The 4-cylinder variants of the EcoBoost engine on Ford Escapes had a design defect that allows coolant to leak into the engine’s cylinders. This causes engine failures, misfires, and in extreme cases, fires. The 1.5L, 1.6L, and 2.0L variants of the EcoBoost had a design that involved grooves in the cylinder head. Over time, coolant pooled up in these grooves and slowly degraded the gasket seal.
As the coolant level drops, the engine overheats, leading to damaged pistons and cylinder heads. This only aggravates the leakage, and when it eventually reaches the combustion chambers, the engine goes up in flames. This led to the famous Ford Escape recall in 2012 when they recalled over 140,000 of the 2013 Escapes.
Second-generation Ford Escapes have had a high number of reports on loss of power steering assist when on the road. The car manufacturer acknowledged this issue and developed a fix for it. The loss of power steering is supposedly caused by inefficient EPAS configurations and can be fixed with a PSCM update. This issue can be quite annoying, especially if you are on a long drive.
What Is The Cost Of Repair For Ford Escape Problems?
The average repair cost for most common Ford Escape problems can vary greatly depending on the severity of the damage and complexity of the repair. Transmission issues, the most common problems with the Ford Escape, can see you pay up to $6000 in repair costs. A used Ford Escape transmission will cost you between $1000 and $2500. The labor cost can cost you as much as $2500 and as low as $1500.
In other cases, Ford Escape owners who experienced issues with a malfunctioning PCM solved the problem by replacing faulty components. The affected components include the actual PCM, cylinders, spark plugs, and even coils. This fix cost them an average of $2500 worth of repairs to get the engines running properly and efficiently.
Just like most other cars, the Ford Escape has its share of problems. Compared to other SUV juggernauts like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, the Escape seems to be less reliable. Fortunately, most of the issues reported by Ford Escape drivers are fixable in a dealership or other mechanics. Most online car reviewers rate the Ford Escape as an affordable, reliable, and fuel-efficient smaller SUV option. However, some model years of the Ford Escape, such as the 2008 and 2011 Escapes, should be avoided altogether.
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