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The Downfall of the Fiesta

The very first car I bought was a 2011 Ford Fiesta. In it, Ford debuted a bit of fancy new (to them) tech: a 6-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. There is no way that this could possibly go wrong.

Ford Focus, Fiesta owners eligible for class action lawsuit payments

The full tale of the Powershift transmission seems to be one of corporate greed and deception. I’ve heard tales that Ford engineers flat out told their managers that this transmission was not reliable enough, but nobody wanted to take the fall for delaying the much-ballyhooed Fiesta so they went ahead and shipped it without retooling for a different transmission or taking the time to make the existing one actually, y’know, work.

That said, I mostly got a good one. I never had to have my transmission replaced, and while they reprogrammed it a few times (I could probably dig through my records to find three or more times the software was flashed, but doing that and then filing the paperwork is more work than $50 warrants), it wasn’t a huge impact on my life.

When I moved to New Zealand in 2016, my first inclination was to sell the Fiesta. Selling the car and buying a new one when / if I returned seemed less complicated at the time than storing and caring for a car from several thousand miles away. However, the offers I got were, at least to my mind, insultingly low. As far as I could tell, nobody wanted a top-model entry-level car, which makes sense because if it were not for the exceptional circumstances of its purchase, I did not want one either. So the market was paying prices barely higher than those of the base model, and I didn’t think that was enough to entice me to sell.

Upon my return, I continued to use it as my primary car, up through 2019. In 2019, as the car neared nine years old (it was a 2011 model that I bought in August of 2010, for those checking my math), some nagging maintenance problems made me wonder if I should sell it or just wring out whatever life it had left in it until it became a financial liability. It’s a difficult decision, and one I’ve never felt particularly well-equipped to make, but after looking to see how much money I could expect to get for it (spoiler alert: not a lot), I decided to just drive it until it perished.

Over Christmas of 2019, we drove to visit my family in Tennessee. After arriving in my brother’s house, we celebrated together, ate a lovely meal, played some games, and then eventually decided to take our leave. When I turned the car on, I could tell something was wrong. It took a long time to get into gear. Upon acceleration, it was very choppy. It seemed to me (in my amateur diagnosis) that one of the clutches was failing to engage. It would try to shift, then drop into neutral and lose all power, then slam into the previous gear (effectively dropping the clutch) and shoot the car forward. On the winding roads leading back to the interstate, this was sub-optimal.

We made it to my parents’ house, where I parked the car, told them of our harrowing story, and began to plan. The next day, we brainstormed several options:

  1. Buy a car right away in Knoxville, leave the Fiesta at my parents’ place to sell.
  2. Borrow one of my parents’ cars to drive home, leave the Fiesta at my parents’ place to sell. Buy a new car at home, return the borrowed car at some point.
  3. Rent a car, drive to my wife’s parents’ house, borrow one of their cars, same plan as above with the Fiesta (this makes a little more sense because my wife’s parents only live an hour away).

As we were weighing these options, I decided to go out and see what my car was doing this next day. I drove it several times around the neighborhood, and it drove fine. Thus, we chose option 4, none of the above, and decided to just drive the Fiesta back home and attempt to immediately sell it.

The fact that it seemed to have returned from the dead was convenient (it made it all the way home with no problems), but I knew the clock was ticking. I began shopping for a new-to-me car. That shopping process is a story I will tell another day, but ultimately, I had an offer in hand to buy the Fiesta for $2000 and was just waiting to find the right car.

One Saturday my wife and I were out driving (to go to the SPCA to look at cats, actually). As we were leaving to return home, the car lost power and went into “limp-home” mode. I had to coast into a neighborhood (a very upscale, golf-course neighborhood, as it turned out).

A friend came to pick my wife up and take her home. I called AAA and had them tow my car to the dealer. I dropped off the keys and then my wife came in her car to pick me up and take me back home.

To make an already long story slightly less longer, it turned out both the clutches would have to be replaced, and this would cost me more than the car was worth. I told the dealership “if you want the car, make me an offer.” And actually, that’s something they were willing to do! I didn’t make the $2000 I thought I was going to make off of it, but considering that after repairs that $2000 was going to leave me $600 in the hole, I considered what I did get to be pure profit.

In the meantime, I had bought my new car so I swung by the dealership to clean all my junk out of the Fiesta and bid it farewell.

CarFax never figured out that I sold the car, which is odd because that’s kind of their thing, so a couple of months after I sold it I got a notification that the new owner had gotten its oil changed at some random service station in a town I didn’t recognize. I told CarFax to stop emailing me about this car (since I didn’t want to stalk the new owner, even inadvertently), but it let me know that they had managed to sell it to someone. I hope the new owner enjoys it!


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