— A Ford Mustang transmission lawsuit has been partly dismissed after 12 car owners complained the manual transmissions can suffer complete failures while driving.
The plaintiffs seek to represent owners and lessees of 2011-2019 Ford Mustangs equipped with MT82 manual transmissions.
According to the 183-page transmission class action, the plaintiffs allege the MT82 and MT82-D4 manual transmissions had defects from the time the Mustangs left Ford’s possession and control. The transmissions allegedly slip, jerk, clash gears and harshly engage.
The plaintiffs also allege the Mustang transmissions suffer “premature internal wear, increased shift efforts, inability to drive, and eventually . . . a catastrophic failure.”
According to the lawsuit, the Mustang owners believe the MT82 transmission was based on a transmission meant for smaller vehicles with less horsepower than the Mustang.
The MT82 Mustang transmission is allegedly too weak for the car, which causes failure of the synchronizer to move along the shaft quickly enough for the gears to work smoothly.
In addition to premature wear and eventual failure of the Mustang transmission, the class action alleges the car is a safety hazard because transmission problems affect “the driver’s ability to control the vehicle’s speed, acceleration, and deceleration.”
Ford Says Transmission Lawsuit Should Be Dismissed
Ford told the judge the entire lawsuit should be dismissed because it doesn't adequately allege the Mustangs have defects. Ford says the plaintiffs must specifically allege what is defective about their transmissions rather than relying on "conclusory allegations."
Further, Ford argues it is not enough to allege only the symptoms of a defect, including that the transmission “slips, jerks, clashes gears, and harshly engages; has premature internal wear, increased shift efforts, inability to drive, and eventually suffers a catastrophic failure.”
Judge Laurie J. Michelson had trouble defining what is required to even plead a defect.
While Ford referenced a 2015 court case concerning what is required to plead a defect, the judge referenced a separate 2015 ruling by another court which came to a different conclusion.
"This disagreement about what is required to plead a defect has not been settled by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Nor does it seem to be a settled issue in any other circuit." — Judge Michelson
However, the judge found the plaintiffs in the lawsuit alleged more than just symptoms.
"The Court must read Plaintiffs’ allegations as a whole, and in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs." — Judge Michelson
In addition to naming alleged symptoms of a defective Mustang transmission, the lawsuit also alleges why the transmissions cause those symptoms.
According to the judge, the plaintiffs allege the MT82 transmissions in their Mustangs were adapted from smaller vehicles and “because the synchronizers were designed for lower-horsepower applications, they are insufficiently robust for use in the high-horsepower Ford Mustang vehicles.”
Without dismissing the entire Ford class action lawsuit, the judge moved on to discuss claims made by Mustang owners.
Ford had better success regarding claims the automaker allegedly violated the Michigan Consumer Protection Act. Ford cited recent case law to convince the judge to rule Ford’s vehicle sales to the plaintiffs are exempt from the Michigan Consumer Protection Act.
But Ford didn't have such luck regarding providing notice under the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act.
Under the Act, a consumer must provide written notice to the potential defendant by certified or registered mail “[t]hirty days or more prior to the commencement of an action for damages.” However, Ford says the California plaintiffs failed to provide timely notice of the lawsuit.
But the judge disagreed. The plaintiffs have been allowed to amend their class action lawsuit three times, and the judge says the latest amended lawsuit is the "operative complaint."
As long as the California plaintiffs provided Ford with 30 days notice prior to the filing of the third amended lawsuit, the judge found this was good enough to satisfy the notice requirement of the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act.
Did Ford Know About Possible Mustang Transmission Problems?
The judge then moved on to tackle claims that Ford knew the Mustang transmissions were allegedly defective when the vehicles were first sold.
The allegations in the lawsuit relate to the MT82 transmission introduced in the 2011 Mustang, and the MT82-D4 transmission first used in the 2018 Mustang.
For the MT82 transmission installed in 2011 to 2017 Ford Mustangs, the plaintiffs claim Ford knew about the alleged problems from customer complaints posted on online forums and in trade publications.
But the judge ruled online complaints are inadequate to show knowledge without any specific allegations about how Ford would have known about the complaints.
Next, the plaintiffs allege Ford performed internal tests on the transmissions and allegedly must have known about potential problems. But the judge says courts often reject general allegations about testing and analysis conducted by an automaker.
Courts reject “theoretical results from pre-production tests without accompanying verification that the tests occurred and revealed a safety defect.” Quoting a different case ruling, the judge says the plaintiffs need “at least a hint as to the test results” to support allegations about testing.
Additionally, data on repairs and warranty claims from Ford dealers could possibly be a relevant source of knowledge if the plaintiffs could show Ford received data about a "disproportionate number of repairs and warranty claims related to a certain part. But Plaintiffs make no such claims."
Although the Mustang owners who sued claim transmission data from dealers is in control of Ford and only Ford, the judge ruled the plaintiffs must "give some indication of the contents of dealer data to support their allegation that Ford knew of the transmission defect from that data."
According to the Ford class action lawsuit, the automaker also allegedly knew about the Mustang transmissions based on technical service bulletins sent to dealers, and complaints filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
In addition, the plaintiffs reference a previous federal investigation into Ford Mustang transmissions.
In September 2010, Ford issued a service bulletin to dealerships about “clutch pedal stayout” when shifting at high RPM. And in March 2011, Ford issued another service bulletin about “increased shift efforts in cold ambient temperatures.”
Then in August 2011, NHTSA opened an investigation into the manual transmissions in 2011-2012 Mustangs based on complaints that drivers had trouble shifting gears.
There were 364 complaints submitted by consumers, but over 300 of those complaints were provided by Ford. NHTSA said there were “higher than expected shift efforts in cold ambient temperatures” and “increasing difficulty selecting gears along with gear clash or grinding.”
NHTSA closed the investigation after finding Ford issued service bulletins to dealers, with NHTSA saying, “[t]here is no indication of loss of motive power or unreasonable safety risk associated with the alleged defect in the subject vehicles.”
"Since Ford itself provided over 300 complaints to NHTSA and was involved in the investigation process, it is clear that Ford had notice of a possible transmission defect at least by the spring of 2011, if not earlier. But according to the NHTSA investigation report, Ford addressed the shifting concerns raised in the consumer complaints by issuing a service bulletin instructing technicians to use lower-viscosity transmission fluid and designing a revised clutch plate fastener that was made available through a special service message. — Judge Michelson
The judge also notes NHTSA explicitly found there was no unreasonable safety risk associated with the possible transmission defect. "So the NHTSA report cannot be used to show Ford had knowledge of a material defect after the report was released in December 2011."
According to the judge, it would be reasonable for Ford to believe it had fixed the transmission issues.
Concerning Mustang transmission complaints submitted to NHTSA after its investigation, the judge says some courts hold the existence of complaints to NHTSA is not good enough when there is no evidence Ford saw the complaints. Other courts have found customer complaints are enough to show an automaker knew about alleged problems.
"But even assuming that Ford monitors NHTSA complaints, many courts, including this one, suggest that the volume of complaints about a specific issue must be significant enough to draw Ford’s attention." — Judge Michelson
In the class action lawsuit, the Ford Mustang plaintiffs provide about 36 NHTSA complaints from a 9-year span. But the plaintiffs do not indicate the total number of relevant complaints from this period, and only some of these complaints pre-date when the plaintiffs purchased their Mustangs.
"So Plaintiffs have not alleged sufficient facts to suggest that complaints about shifting issues were frequent enough or voluminous enough that they were not lost in a sea of complaints and repairs amassing by the dozens each day.” — Judge Michelson
The MT82-D4 Ford Mustang Transmission
For the 2018 Mustang, Ford released a new version of the transmission, the MT82-D4.
But in March 2018, Ford issued a service bulletin regarding the “inability or difficulty to shift into second gear” for 2018 Mustangs built on or before November 15, 2017.
A few months later, Ford issued another service bulletin about the “inability to shift into 3rd or 4th gear” for all 2018 Mustangs. And just two months after that, Ford issued a bulletin for 2018-2019 Mustangs regarding “inability to drive in first and second gear.”
This led the judge to find the plaintiffs have adequately alleged Ford had knowledge of a MT82-D4 transmission defect beginning with the 2018 Mustang.
According to the judge, the plaintiffs who purchased 2018 and 2019 Mustangs have adequately pled "Ford committed fraud by failing to disclose a material fact about their vehicles’ transmission."
The judge also ruled in favor of Mustang owners by saying the plaintiffs adequately alleged transmission problems rendered their Mustang cars both unsafe and unreliable.
Although some claims against Ford will continue, the automaker did convince the judge to dismiss all unjust enrichment claims.
The Ford Mustang transmission lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division: Gregorio, et al., v. Ford Motor Company.
The plaintiffs are represented by Capstone Law APC, Gordon & Partners, P.A., and Kopelowitz Ostrow Ferguson Weiselberg Gilbert.