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Ford Explorer Axle Bolt Lawsuit: Recall Repairs Failed

A Ford Explorer lawsuit alleges that Ford used defective subframes on 2020-2023 Ford Explorer vehicles as a cost-saving measure and failed to fix them during a rear axle bolt recall.

Ford made two different types of rear subframe assemblies for the Ford Explorer. The first has two rear axle horizontal mounting bolts. The second has just one rear axle horizontal mounting bolt, which the lawsuit alleges is the culprit behind the Explorer’s subframe failures.

The rear axle subframe assembly can fail if it has only one bolt. According to the lawsuit, increased bending stress on this one bolt can lead to sudden and violent disconnection of the rear driveshaft assembly and/or its individual parts. When the bolt fails while driving, the rear differential and rear axle half-shafts can detach. This can damage the vehicle’s suspension, driveshaft assembly and/or exhaust system.

Even before the mounting bolt fails entirely, the bolt and its nearby bushings will show signs of stress and deform over time. Ford Explorer drivers cannot maintain steering, braking or speed control when the rear axle bolt defects arise.

The 2020-2023 Ford Explorer vehicles are sold with a warranty that lasts three years or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first. This warranty is supposed to cover the rear subframe assembly. However, Explorer owners and lessees allege that even during the warranty period, they cannot get repairs that sufficiently address the problem.

Since at least 2019, Ford was aware that its Explorer vehicles needed two rear axle mounting bolts, especially on higher horsepower and torque-rated vehicles and rear-wheel drive vehicles. Since 2020, Ford allegedly knew that the one-bolt assemblies would need frequent repairs and/or replacements, would very likely fail, and that replacement parts would be equally defective.

The lawsuit cites Ford’s testing on the 2020 Ford Explorer ST as evidence of this. However, the two-bolt subframe was used only on a small subset of the 2020 Ford Explorer STs with higher horsepower and torque ratings. These vehicles were rolled out before the Ford Explorer vehicle models in the class action.

According to the class action lawsuit, Ford used the one-bolt assembly on the later Ford Explorer vehicles due to supply chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It has allegedly kept the one-bolt assembly as a cost-saving measure.

In February 2022, Ford first issued a technical service bulletin for 2020-2022 Ford Explorer vehicles. Ford advised dealerships and technicians that some 2020-2022 Ford Explorers “may exhibit a rear axle mounting bolt that has broken.” In order to correct the problem, “the rear subframe, differential cover, and mounting bolts will need to be replaced in addition to any other damaged components.”

Dealership technicians were told “Inspect the half shafts, drive shaft, and differential for any damage, replacing damaged components as necessary. Refer to Workshop Manual (WSM), Section 502-00 for removal of the subframe. Once the subframe is removed from the vehicle, remove and install any replacement components to the new subframe.”

Two months later, Ford issued a recall of 252,936 model year 2020-2022 Ford Explorer vehicles because the rear axle horizontal mounting bolt may fracture and cause the driveshaft to disconnect. The recall states that when the vehicle is placed in PARK without the parking brake applied, a disconnected driveshaft can result in vehicle rollaway.

The defect is described as follows:

“On some units the rear axle horizontal mounting bolt may fracture. Powertrain torque through the driveline causes axle rotation of the pinion angled towards the subframe, which exerts a bending force on the rear axle bolt. Peak torque is normally experienced during a launch event. After numerous peak torque events are experienced, the bolt may suffer a fatigue failure, which will lead to the axle housing moving out of position, resulting in a condition described by customers and dealer technicians variably as loud, grinding, binding, or clunking noises.”

The remedy offered in the Ford Explorer recall involved replacing the bushing and axle cover and/or updating the electronic parking brake software. However, the lawsuit alleges that Ford ignored the possibility of the drive shafts or half shafts disconnecting while the vehicle is being driven. According to the lawsuit, the proposed remedy does little to fix the actual problem.

In June 2022, Ford offered a Customer Satisfaction Program that provided a “one-time repair (if needed) to the parts required to replace a rear subframe bushing and axle cover due to a rear axle bolt bending and fracturing for ten (10) years of service or 150,000 miles from the warranty start date of the vehicle, whichever occurs first.”

A second recall was issued in March 2023. Ford recalled certain 2020-2022 Explorer vehicles because the update to the powertrain control module did not include the automatic electronic parking brake feature when the vehicle is shifted into PARK. The remedy included updating the PCM software.

In June 2023, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched an investigation into 710,253 model year 2020-2022 Ford Explorers due to rear axle bolt failures. The Office of Defects Investigation’s resume states that though Ford issued a software update, the automaker did nothing to address the failed rear axle horizontal mounting bolt itself.

NHTSA started the investigation after receiving two reports of 2021 Ford Explorer vehicles experiencing a loss of motive power and/or loss of transmission torque of the rear wheels.

Lemon Law Help by Knight Law Group is an automotive lemon law firm that exclusively practices in California. If you are a California resident who purchased or leased a defective vehicle from a licensed dealership in California, we may be able to help you get rid of your potential lemon and recover significant cash compensation. Model year restrictions apply: 2017–Present vehicle models only.

However, we cannot help those who reside outside of California or purchased their vehicle outside of California unless they are active duty members of the Armed Forces, nor will we be able to refer those to a lemon law firm in their states.

To learn more about the California Lemon Law and your legal rights, visit our guides on the California Lemon Law and Used Car Lemon Law for more information.

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