Popping noise/hesitation while accelerating in Ford Freestar


Hi folks,

This is a long story, so please bear with me …

I have a Ford Freestar minivan (2006). It’s a leased vehicle due to be returned in November and has about 42,000 miles on it. The warranty expired at 36,000.

It all started in late Jan. shortly after I poured a bottle of fluid into my gas tank that my dad had given me from a friend of his, a retired Ford mechanic, and that was supposed to clean the fuel injection system. (I’m sorry, I didn’t write down the name of the fluid but it probably rings a bell for most of you, who know more about cars than I do . . .)This may be pure coincidence but I thought I should mention it.

Anyway - I very soon started noticing a popping sound, several quick pops like corn popping, when I pressed the gas pedal, mostly when going uphill, very rarely on a flat.It was annoying but there seemed to be no other symptoms for a while.

I asked my dad and he said it sounded like a bad tank of gas. I told him that I did drive around 5 miles with the cleaning fluid in the tank and not much gas in it (I wanted to get to a gas station where I could use discounts before filling the tank), but no one so far seems to think that harmed anything.

Well, after the tank had been refilled the noise was still there. I also started noticing a more worrisome thing: occasionally, when I began to accelerate above 30 mph or so, there would be a hesitation, like the car was hesitating between gears. This would only happen the first time I drove the car on a given day, and only the first time I accelerated above about 30 mph. The rest of the time the van would drive fine except for the noise. At first it was only a tiny hesitation, but as time went on (even though it was still only once a day) it got to be more severe. I found that I could get the car to “unstick” by shifting into a lower gear (it’s an automatic). At first I could get it to unstick by shifting into 3rd - now I have to go to 1st. It’s very scary when it happens, but I continued to drive the van because I live in a fairly rural area, so seldom had traffic behind me, and it would only happen once a day, AND only when it was pretty cold outside. As long as I let the car warm up or I did that first acceleration in my quiet neighborhood instead of out on the main road, it seemed safe enough.

I was getting worried about the damage I might be doing, though, so I took the van to a recommended local mechanic. He said he’d never heard anything like it before.

I then took it to the retired Ford guy I mentioned above. He had a computer system in his garage, enough to let me know that there was a TSB that described these exact problems. He gave me the number and told me that he couldn’t fix it, since he didn’t have the whole computer system hooked up to Ford’s main computer, but that I should go to my dealer with the TSB number and they would know what to do. (I don’t have the TSB number now but he said you look up “engine noises” and then “popping sound in intake manifold area,” and that the solution was to “reprogram a processor.”

So I went to my dealer. They looked at the van and then said that though the TSB did “describe the problem perfectly,” it couldn’t be the processor because my van “already had that calibration.” (This is Greek to me but again some of you probably know . . .)

They kept the van for several more hours and had a couple of different people look at it. (They say they are not charging me for this.) Finally they told me they thought it must be the transmission and asked me if I would authorize a transmission check for 120.00, so I did.

Well, now we’re up to 215.00. They are charging me for replacing the transmission fluid, and I’m not sure what else. But they still haven’t actually looked inside the transmission. Their hypothesis is that it’s a “splintered or cracked gear.” They say that IF that is the problem, it will cost me around $2500 to rebuild the transmission or $3500 to replace it.

Naturally I was pretty horrified. The van is still at the garage. (I need to get it out by tomorrow night or start paying a storage fee. I haven’t picked it up because my husband wants to go argue with them about paying more than the 120.00 that I authorized.)I can’t possibly afford $2500, and it doesn’t seem right - should the transmission be going bad at 42,000 miles?

I told the retired Ford guy about all this. He’s willing to look at my transmission for me, and it would probably cost me somewhat less (haven’t got the figure yet) but he told me he doesn’t see how they could come up with a transmission problem based on my symptoms. He thinks it has to do with something throwing off the engine timing, as was described in the TSB.

Now I have a number of questions. I’ll just divide them into groups :-).

1)Does this sound like transmission to you? Should a transmission be going bad at 42,000 miles? If it has, is there any way you can advise me to negotiate with the dealer? If the transmission is bad, I would like to turn it in and get a new vehicle (Ford has a program where they will make your last 3 payments for you if you want to put them towards a new vehicle.) But are they going to say I can’t turn it in unless I have the transmission fixed? And if they do, is there any way to fight that?

2) Maybe my dealer is trying to mess with me. But if they are, and the problem is really this TSB, then how could I possibly get it fixed, since I have to have it hooked up to a Ford computer to fix it and they don’t agree that that’s the problem? I asked the retired mechanic and he said he wouldn’t recommend I take it to the Ford dealer where he used to work, either! (This guy, by the way, has not charged me anything so far, also he’s a family friend, so I don’t think HE’S trying to mess with me.)

3) Is my husband right in thinking we can haggle over that 85.00 for what they’ve done so far or is that a waste of time? (Or if we’re thinking they misled us and never should have gone toward the transmission at all, do we have any grounds for not paying for the transmission check?)

Any advice very much appreciated!!!

Sign me - Popping Pauper, Pooped in Pittsburgh


Did anyone describe the noise as ‘detonation’ or ‘spark knock’ or ‘pre-ignition’? It is very difficult to know where to begin based on the information given but seems likely to be ‘pre-ignition’ by whatever name it is called. It would be very helpfull if someone were technically knowledgeable and also capable of explaining the problem. If it is pre-ignition a tank of premium gas will greatly reduce the problem so you might try a tank.