Jul 20 2007

“Oh yeah, that’s a common problem”

Published by at 10:13 am under General

These are not words you really want to hear.  Because they usually mean money.  I own a 2003 Ford Focus ZX3, and recently the ignition lock started acting finicky.  Last night it decided it had enough and just wasn’t going to allow me to turn it at all.  The good news is I was at a shopping center two blocks from home, getting my wife dinner, so it was only a few minutes to get home, but I decided to leave the car overnight, since I didn’t have the energy to deal with it just then.

When I called the locksmith this morning, the first words out of the dispatcher’s mouth were, “That’s a common problem, I’m surprised they haven’t done a recall on that yet”.  I realize not being able to start the car isn’t a life threatening situation, but the fact that this is happening often enough for the locksmith to not only be aware of it but actually anticipate it really burns me up. I love my little Focus, and it’s been a great car over all, but the fact that I’m about to spend money on a known problem does not make me want to buy another Ford next time I’m looking for a car.

I think my next step is to go have a short talk with the local Ford dealer.  Now I’m curious to see if there are any other ‘known problems’ with the car that I’m driving around.  It’s got nearly 100,000 miles on it already, and if I hadn’t just done major work on the car, I might be looking to replace it.  And this event puts getting another Ford a lot less likely.

Update: $260 to replace the locking mechanism on the steering column, plus the knowledge that the Focus locking mechanism is probably going to have to be replaced again in 2-3 years. Yay.

Update 2: The locksmith has 6 different locks that are supposed to work with my car. So of course, the lock barrell in my car is none of those. And the one it uses is over $100 more and may not be available until tomorrow. The good news is, the locksmith (Economy Lock and Key) is sticking with the original estimate and giving me the lock for what he originally quoted me. That’s good customer service.

Update 3: Read the comment on this post by locksmith Kim Stagg. This is a known problem that is facing a class action lawsuit here in California. Mine is one of the locks that had to be drilled out and for whatever reason a Strattec barrel won’t fit into the lock. Thanks for the information Kim.

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3 responses so far

3 Responses to ““Oh yeah, that’s a common problem””

  1. Kim Staggon 20 Jul 2007 at 2:45 pm

    Hi there Martin…

    This IS an extremely common problem. Google “ford focus ignition” (WITH the quote marks) and just take a gander at the mass of results. :) Unfortunately Ford has not, and will not, issue a recall on this because they do not consider it a “safety issue.” It is an inconvenience issue only. Recalls are generally instigated only when the immediate safety of a passenger is at stake, and the physical threat to the passenger comes specifically from the car or part on the car itself. (Like exploding Pintos)

    Regarding the part of your post where you state: “…the knowledge that the Focus locking mechanism is probably going to have to be replaced again in 2-3 years…” If the correct ignition was installed into your vehicle (and the CORRECT ignition is NOT a Ford ignition), then you will not have this problem reoccur. Quite honestly, if any ignition other than a Strattec was installed by your locksmith (or a Ford dealer), then they are simply handily setting you up as a recurring source of income (even if they are doing it without malice, or unintendedly). The main problem with the Focus ignitions as factory installed, is that the ignition used was of extremely poor quality. These factory installed ignitions, in a nutshell, have tumblers within the ignition itself that begin to shed metal shavings (burrs) over time, clogging the ignition with tons of tiny metal shavings, which then wedge themselves into all the moving parts.

    Some symptoms to watch for include:

    – Increasing difficulty in turning the ignition key.
    – Key feeling “dirty” or “gooey” when inserting or removing.
    – Ignition “Sticking.”
    – Key getting “locked” into the “On” or “Accessory” position.
    – Unable to remove key at all.

    Once stuck, some online sources suggest hitting the key with a mallet or something else hard until the key can be turned again. We do NOT suggest this. This simply loosens even more burrs, and gums the works up further There are also MANY suggestions “out there” to put WD40 into the ignition to try to free the key. We do NOT suggest this for ANY lock, but particularly in this situation. If you have read the description of the issue above, you’ll see that adding WD40 into the mix will only gum up the works to a worse state than before. :) You can add to the damage already done by following some of these “fixes,” potentially adding to the cost of the repair.

    For any of the afflicted out there reading this: Keep in mind that anyone experiencing these problems PRIOR to the point of the key freezing / ignition not turning at all, can, by e-mailing a clear digital photo of your existing key, mail order a correct ignition, tumbled to your existing keys (no programming or new keys required, all of which raise the price), and can easily pop out the old and install the new ignition at home. This is not a difficult task, and even the non-mechanically minded can do it easily. :) These ignitions can be mail ordered from us, or from other locksmith companies. Local locksmiths may also offer this service. Check prices prior to ordering from anyone. And verify (get in writing) that the replacement ignition you are to receive is a Strattec. We offer this service, send out several a month in fact. The problem is so widespread that not only do we mail out several a month nationwide, but we physically drill out at least one per week for replacement here locally.

    Once the ignition freezes, or the key becomes stuck, you do need to contact a local locksmith to have the old ignition drilled out and replaced. If this is the case, INSIST on a Strattec ignition, and verify that this is what is being installed. Visually verify the type of ignition as they are getting ready to install it, and get and keep the box the new/replacement ignition comes in.

    Sorry this doesn’t come in time to help you Martin, but if the replacement ignition that was installed for you becomes an issue at some point, please feel free to call us, or check the website link I’ve included.


    Kim Stagg
    San Diego Lock & Safe

  2. Martinon 20 Jul 2007 at 3:35 pm


    Thanks for this information. I did a google search as you suggested, and I have to say I was impressed, in a bad way, by the amount of information out there on this particular problem.

    To make matters worse, the locksmith tried the Strattec, and for whatever reason, it did not fit. Mine’s a 2003 ZX3, a ES I think. Whatever the higher end model is. They had to go to the dealer to get the right part and my car’s stuck at the shopping center until the ignition is fixed. I’ll let you know what the make of the new ignition is.

    Thanks again for the information. I’m more than a little PO’d by this whole incident taking up my whole day and more than a small chunk out of my wallet. So many better things I could have done with the time money.


  3. Chrison 21 Jul 2007 at 7:35 am


    Often, where a recall isn’t done, there are Technical Service Bulletins that are sent to dealers by the manufacturer, advising them of an issue which has been cropping up, and what to do about it.

    Of course, the dealer is under no obligation to say “You know, there’s a TSB out on dodgy ignitions, we might want to inspect yours”. A useful tactic, at least while your vehicle is still under warranty, is to specifically ask every time you go in for service whether there are TSBs that pertain to your car. There are also on-line sources that you can obtain TSBs from (at a cost). I had an experience with this when 2 or 3,000 miles out of warranty, my Honda needed a new transmission thanks to an issue which was written up in a TSB but for which no recall was done. I was unaware of the TSB and thus on the hook for over 3 grand. I negotiated this down to an even 1K (installed), but a few thousand dollar repair bills really eat into the beer budget, so I am not looking to repeat this.

    Anyway, just a thought for future application.

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