Ford Announces Official Fix for Controversial Focus RS Head Gasket Failures

A recall by any other name is still a recall.

After months of owners fuming over a spate of mysterious and catastrophic engine failures in the Ford Focus RS, the company has issued an official bulletin directing dealers to replace faulty head gaskets in the 2.3-liter, four-cylinder EcoBoost engines powering its halo hot hatch.

Recalls often catch people by surprise, but the yearlong run-up to this particular process—which is not an official recall, but Ford’s “Customer Satisfaction Program"—has played out in an unusually public way. Owners have been reporting and documenting apparent head gasket failures on their Focus RSes on various forums for almost a year, many with less than 10,000 miles on the odometer. The faulty seal allowed coolant to leak into the cylinders, causing extensive damage.

The seemingly random failure rate (occurring on both stock and modified cars), the lack of a clear explanation or solution, and the complete radio silence from Ford only complicated the picture. Owners were in the dark and had no way to predict whether their Focus RS would be the next to self-destruct.

That is, until automotive journalist Bozi Tatarevic dropped a bombshell report in Road & Track last month alleging that the failures were caused by Ford installing the completely wrong head gasket at the factory. Using a few inside sources and some in-depth technical knowledge, he laid out a persuasive case that the faulty Focus RS engines were accidentally assembled with head gaskets designed for the Ford Mustang EcoBoost. Both cars use a 2.3-liter turbocharged engine, but they’re not identical, and the Mustang head gasket sports a slightly different setup that appears as though it could allow coolant to eventually deep into the cylinders.

Ford wouldn’t confirm any of this, but earlier this week the company began issuing notices to dealers and owners informing them of a new head gasket replacement program for the Focus RS. Legally speaking, it’s not quite the same thing as an official recall through the NHTSA, though the majority of Focus RSes have actually been sold overseas and doing it all in-house should ensure that owners can access a designated repair facility wherever they live - free of charge, of course.

The solution covers every single Ford Focus RS built between August 3, 2015 to July 6, 2017, which could suggest the issue is slightly larger in scope than the 3-percent failure rate often tossed around in various reports. Dealers will replace the head gasket and perform an extended pressure test to determine if the entire cylinder head needs to be replaced as well. Perhaps as a way of sweetening the deal for aggrieved owners, Ford is also throwing in rental car coverage for the estimated two-day repair job.

There is a catch, though: Owners have until January 31, 2019 to take advantage of the free fix. Also, cars that have been modified to the point of voiding the warranty are excluded.