The Ford Focus is a popular choice for new drivers who want a sporty yet budget-friendly hatchback as their first vehicle. While it sold over 13 million units by 2019, the Focus went through its share of reliability issues. Certain problems cropped up more often and some year models proved more troublesome than others.
Is the Ford Focus Reliable?
In a list of the top 20 worst vehicles, CarComplaints.com assigned the #9 and #12 spots to the 2014 and 2012 Ford Focus, respectively. The most common complaint involves the Ford dual clutch automatic transmission. The Drive reports that Focuses with manual transmission enjoy comparable reliability with competitors like the Mazda 3.
The Ford Focus scored 4 out of 5 with RepairPal, putting it in the 27th place among 36 compact vehicle models. RepairPal also noted that the Focus has average ownership and annual repair costs. In terms of fuel economy, Cars.com reported that the basic Focus trim can achieve up to 40 miles per gallon (mpg). Testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Focus good overall crash and safety ratings for a compact car.
Compared by model year, CarComplaints.com identified the 2000-2003 and 20012-2014 model years as the most troublesome for the Ford Focus. Other model years proved much more reliable. Improvements finally showed in the 2015 Focus and the 2018-2019 Focuses received fewer complaints.
Top Ford Focus Problems
The Focus is more reliable than it’s given credit for, but issues with troublesome year models have marred its reputation. Below are the most commonly reported Ford Focus problems:
Fluctuating Engine RPM
The 2018 Ford Focus enjoys one of the best reliability levels of the model. An analysis by CarComplaints.com indicated that the worst of the PowerShift transmission woes from 2011-2015 have gotten resolved. Only a few cases of improper shifting show up on the 2018 Focus’ track record with its transmission.
Despite its decent reputation, the 2018 Ford Focus still runs into problems with its engine. Some users have reported that the engine’s RPM can jump after they shifted the gear into the park position. The RPMs can also rise despite depressing the clutch pedal.
Exhaust and Fuel System Issues
Consumer Reports reported that more than a million units of the 2012-2018 Ford Focus year models were recalled because of a bad purge valve in the exhaust system that could indirectly damage the car’s fuel tank. Known issues included loss of power, malfunctioning fuel gauges, and an inability to restart the engine after a stall. The recall required the vehicles to be reprogrammed and any affected parts to be replaced.
A follow-up article reported that Ford issued a related recall for 2012-2014 and 2017 Ford Focuses. The company explained that these vehicles didn’t get a complete software update and required additional reprogramming.
Many complaints about the Ford Focus involve the transmission system. The problem began in 2011 when Ford updated the Focus with the “PowerShift” automatic transmission. Dual-clutches and dry clutches were troublesome enough on their own, but PowerShift made things worse by combining the two features.
The 2011-2016 Ford Focus year models suffered from transmission problems. The countless issues with the PowerShift transmission propelled the 2014 Focus to the #9 spot on CarComplaints.com’s list of the worst vehicles.
If the 2014 Ford Focus is the black sheep of the family, then the Ford Focus ST is its opposite. While the sports compact also shared the same faulty exhaust valve as the Focus and Fiesta, Focus ST units with manual transmissions enjoyed decent reliability.
Its EcoBoost engine is a downsized boosted engine that delivers the same output as a bigger engine while consuming less fuel and generating lower emission levels. The Focus ST also has turbochargers to increase its engine operating pressure. While it has its advantages, this type of engine came with its own share of problems.
Motor reported that both downsized and turbocharged engines are prone to low-speed pre-ignition. In this scenario, the fuel-air mixture in the cylinder ignites before the ignition system fires off the spark plug. Low-speed pre-ignition can damage the pistons and other internal parts. To avoid this, drivers should avoid accelerating the Ford Focus ST when it’s in high gear at low revolutions per minute (RPM).
The 2012 Ford Focus is not too far behind the 2014 model year in terms of complaints. An ABC News report covered issues with the model year’s steering system. Many owners reported that the electronic power-assisted steering system randomly shut down while they were driving, depriving the steering of power and increasing the risk of an accident. Another incident involved the steering wheel locking up right after the driver started his Focus.
Ignition Key Problems
While problems with the PowerShift automatic transmission made the Ford Focus infamous, it didn’t occur quite as often as ignition key-related problems. The most commonly reported issue by Focus owners was a problem with the key not turning in the ignition.
This problem turned up most often in the 2003 Ford Focus and effectively rendered the vehicle undrivable. There were also reported cases of keys getting trapped in the ignition.
The 2000 Ford Focus was the first model year to develop numerous problems. CarComplaints.com counted 556 individual complaints levied against this model year, including the same ignition key problems that hounded the 2003 Focus.
The 2000 Ford Focus also developed numerous engine problems. The most common issue was the engine dying during operation. The second most likely problem was more severe—drivers reported blown engines, which required extensive repair or outright replacement.
The Ford Focus is such a popular model that many people will still buy the compact car despite its many flaws. For those who are eyeing a used Focus, it’s a good idea to read up on the most common issues with the specific year model you’re considering to decide if its pros outweigh the cons. Stick to a manual transmission Focus or Focus ST to avoid the model’s biggest pitfall.