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Ford Escape - Fouled AT Valve Body at 44k

My daughter bought a used 2012 Ford Escape in Jan 2015 with about 25k on the clock (2WD, 4 cylinder, AT). We had a thorough AAA inspection prior to purchase and it was declared in great shape.

Since buying it, she’s driven it another 20k including a trip from California to Denver. It’s never towed anything and she’s a sedate and conservative driver. It’s only had a couple of trips into the mountains near Denver.

It started having shifting problems, so she took it to the local Denver Ford Dealer. The Ford service dept found the valve body was fouled / varnished, so they “rebuilt” it. No new parts were installed. The Escape is still under the original drivetrain warranty, but Ford refused to pay because no parts were broken. The total charge to rebuild the valve body, flush the AT and torque converter, and replace the ATF (Motorcraft XT10 QLVC) was $1,000.

My poor daughter had authorized a $200 diagnostic and was shocked to get this $1,000 bill (needless to say). I called the dealership service dept. and they said they were perplexed by the varnish at such low mileage. They said the fluid appeared clean and not burned (no burned odor or appearance). They blamed it on some vague “contamination” by the first owner. They quickly offered to knock $500 off the bill. Their work is warranted for 2 years unlimited mileage.


  1. How can varnish form on the valve body under mild driving conditions at 45k miles? How can varnish form if the fluid appears clean and not burned? I didn’t see any pics of the valve body prior to cleaning, so I can’t confirm it was really varnished; it’s just the dealer’s claim.
  2. While I appreciate the dealer knocking off $500, I’m a little concerned they did it too quickly after I hinted I thought they were taking advantage of a young woman in her 20s who doesn’t know much about cars. Should I be happy with the dealer’s efforts to make us happy? Or should I be concerned that they were too quick to make this good and perhaps they didn’t actually do what they said they did? Were they trying to rip off a young woman? I get the feeling it took a call from Dad asking the right questions to get the $500 taken off the bill.
  3. Wouldn’t it have been cheaper to simply slap in a new valve body rather than “rebuild” the old one?
  4. The invoice didn’t include a new AT filter. When I questioned this, they said that year / model of Escape does not have an AT filter. I looked on the web and can’t find one and one auto parts company on the web confirmed that there is no replacement AT filter part for that year 4 cylinder Escape. I’ve never heard of an AT without a filter. Is that correct?
  5. Lastly, how could AT fluid get “contaminated with gunk”? Many AT these days are sealed and don’t even have a dipstick.

Thanks in advance. Sorry for the long first-timer question.

My concern is this . . .

Your daughter apparently authorized $200 in diagnostic fees

yet she was hit with a $1000 bill

Did she at any time . . . either verbally or written . . . authorize the actual repair of this valvebody

AFAIK, verbal agreements are not legally binding

There have been some cases where a customer verbally agreed to car repairs over the phone . . . above and beyond the initial diagnostic fee, that is . . . and then for whatever reason they either disputed their authorization or simply didn’t pay. Bottom line is the judge ruled in the customer’s favor, because there was no written signature authorizing the additional work

It’s also concerning that the shop repaired a valve body at the customer’s expense, when the car MIGHT still have remaining new car warranty in effect

I couldn’t have expressed it better than db4690 did!

Verbal agreements are legally binding if you can prove that they happened, which is usually next to impossible unless someone was recording audio of the conversation.

As for OP’s problem, this is pretty normal for Escapes. My workplace leases a fleet of them, and keeps getting new leases on Escapes despite the fact that almost every Escape we’ve had has broken in unusually short timeframes and that we keep getting charged for crap that’s caused by Ford’s bad product.

The generation that included 2012 was especially bad. We had transmission problems in 75% of the vehicles we leased (and we leased new versions of that generation twice, so after 3 years they still hadn’t fixed the problems). The dealerships loved to charge us for transmission fluid exchange after their crappy slipping transmissions burned the fluid before the things saw 20,000 miles. This is something I would have vigorously fought if it were my car, but which my office just rolled over and paid, much to my annoyance.

Specifically regarding this incident, the transmission fluid “appeared clean” but was “contaminated” by the previous owner. That line reeks of BS. Either it’s clean or it’s not. Further, what is the nature of the contamination and what evidence do they have that this contaminant clogged the valve body?

If they want to deny warranty coverage for this, they need to provide actual evidence that the transmission fluid was contaminated and that the contamination is what failed the part. If car makers were able to deny warranty coverage just based on visual assessment of fluid condition without having to prove that bad fluid caused the problem then they could blame total engine failure on you using the wrong washer fluid and get away with it.

I have never had a failed part repaired when the car was under warranty at the dealership. They always just swap the part out, even when the fix is exceedingly easy. Hell, when the power mirror started jittering on one of my cars, the standard fix was to squirt more lubricating grease into the mechanism, but they just replaced the entire mirror instead. Why? Because it’s warranty work and replacing the part is faster.

To me it sounds like this dealership is scamming you. I would be making an awful lot of noise in your shoes, and if the dealership didn’t reverse the charges and remove and replace the part I’d be calling Ford corporate.

Aside from the warranty question…you have no idea what the original owner added to the tranny fluid, or how that owner used this vehicle. This could explain the varnish problem.

I have heard of some pretty odd things that people were told to do to a new vehicle to add to longer miles on the odometer.

As far as rebuilding the valve body, I have my doubts. I’m not familiar with rebuilding a valve body, but I would think that at least there would be seals or O-rings to replace.

I’d have to wonder if they found some easy fix for the shifting problem and padded the bill to pay better for their finding and fixing the problem. Maybe the job was worth $1000 in time on the lift and labor involved.


I wonder if it’s possible if someone had serviced that trans in the past and used the wrong fluid or put in some miracle additive during the prior ownership.

Without seeing the contamination and so on I have no idea what transpired. Since this work was apparently authorized it’s all going to be water under the bridge now but the problem sounds like one that should quite possibly have been covered by a factory warranty.

Of course, if the daughter signed a mandated “AS IS” disclaimer at the time of purchase the only one responsible is the buyer if there are no added warranty additions to that disclaimer.
If so, she should have a copy of this form.

Wouldn't it have been cheaper to simply slap in a new valve body rather than "rebuild" the old one?

I wouldn’t think so. Plus, cleaning the old body allows for labor charges vs an expensive new part…no problem with that.