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Rapid City Journal - Cam Failure Coverage

new 11/18/02

Mary and Raymond Hansen of Gillette with their 1996 Ford Taurus SHO, which sustained an engine failure just 16 days after the Hansens bought the car at a local used-car lot. (Courtesy photo)

Car problems leave family fuming
By Jim Holland, Journal Staff Writer

GILLETTE, Wyo. -- Raymond and Mary Hansen of Gillette decided to take their recently purchased 1996 Ford Taurus SHO for a drive in the Bighorn Mountains on a day in June.

"It was a beautiful day," Mary recalls.

But the trip turned sour when their car's engine failed while they were driving down Powder River Pass. In spite of the loss of power brakes and power steering on the curving mountain road, they brought their crippled car safely to a stop.

"We put on our seat belts and prayed a lot," Mary Hansen said.

The nightmare worsened when the Hansens found out repairs would cost $5,000 more than they paid for the car just 16 days earlier at a used-car lot in Gillette.

"We had it towed to our property, and it's been sitting here for five months," she said in a recent telephone interview. "It would be foolish to put $15,000 into a car that you only paid $10,000 for."

The Hansens since have learned that engine problems with the 1996-99 Taurus SHO (Super High Output) are not an isolated occurrence.

Timothy Wright of Decatur, Ill., established an Internet Web site in 1997 dedicated to the SHO enthusiast. When complaints started coming in about engine problems with the car, the issue began to overshadow a love affair with the car among owners, some of whom had been longtime Ford supporters.

"We are a group who thought we had a well-managed domestic-car company we could believe in," he wrote on the Web site, v8sho.com.

Wright estimates that up to 20 percent of the total production run of 19,730 Taurus SHOs built in 1996-99 potentially have suffered from engine failure.

"It is neither rare, nor caused by abuse or neglect," Wright said. "It is a design defect."

In October, Ford told business reporter Jeffrey McCracken of the Detroit Free Press that the company knows about the problem, but "only a small number of engines are potentially affected."

As of last month, only eight complaints concerning engine problems with the Taurus SHO had been filed with the National Highway Safety Administration, McCracken reported.

A company spokesman told McCracken that Ford "regretted that some customers are unhappy with the situation."

Attempts by the Journal to reach a Ford representative for additional comment were unsuccessful.

"There hasn't been a recall, and there won't be a recall," Hansen said. "They (Ford) won't take responsibility."

According to auto.com, the SHO was a limited edition, high-performance version of the standard Taurus four-door family sedan, boasting a special interior, better handling and a 3.4-liter V-8 engine built for Ford by Yamaha of Japan. The car, capable of a top speed of 140 miles per hour, sold new for an average of $31,000, almost $7,000 more than a standard Taurus.

According to the Web site, the regular, non-SHO version of the 1996-99 Taurus was the third best-selling midsize car in the country. A V-6 engine, also built for Ford by Yamaha, has seen few problems.

The problem with the SHO's Yamaha V-8 engine involves camshafts that open and close valves inside the engine. Intake and exhaust valves let in fuel and air to the cylinders or let out the burned air-fuel mixture as exhaust.

A sprocket, or gear, turns each of the four camshafts in the engine. But sprockets often have detached from the camshaft, usually after the engine has accumulated more than 65,000 miles.

When the sprocket slips, valves can be bent and pistons broken. If the car is moving at highway speeds when the failure occurs, the engine is usually a total loss.

Hansen said there was little warning of their engine's failure, which occurred at 88,000 miles on the odometer.

"There was a ticking sound for a couple hundred miles. My husband thought it was because we didn't use high enough octane gas. He put in octane booster thinking that would fix it.

"That was the only warning we had. We didn't have any blowup. It just quit," she said.

McCracken reported that some owners said the telltale ticking noise would come and go for weeks before the engine failed. Still others said noise first would become noticeable seconds before the car died.

Wright said catastrophic engine failure with the SHO is avoidable by welding the sprockets to camshafts. The repair is expensive, $500 to $600, but still a bargain compared to replacing an engine. Wright paid $600 to have the sprockets welded on his '97 SHO.

Hansen said she and her husband would have done the same repair had they known about the problem.

"We want to get the word out so others don't have the same problems that we've had," she said. "Someone's going to get killed if Ford doesn't recall this car."

The Hansens traded in other cars and bought the SHO to be their main source of transportation. The engine failure has put the family into a financial bind, Mary Hansen said.

"We had to take a $10,000 loss," she said. "We didn't take a vacation this year, and we probably won't have much of a Christmas."

Contact reporter Jim Holland at 394-8415, or at jim.holland@rapidcityjournal.com

from http://www.rapidcityjournal.com/articles/2002/11/18/news/local/top/news01.txt

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