As the Ford F-150 is set to enter its 14th generation for the 2021 model year, we figured it might be worthwhile to take a look back at the past few generations to see how this “best-selling” truck stacks up against its competitors in terms of reliability.
As we did with both the Ram 1500 and Chevy Silverado reliability stories, we’re once again returning to CarComplaints.com, Consumer Reports and the J.D. Power initial quality studies to get a snapshot of F-150 reliability and try to figure out which are the best and worst years to own.
As we’re sorting through data, it appears the F-150 reliability question may be less clear cut than the Ram and Chevy answers, and some of the data seems to be contradictory.
So, let’s see if we can make sense of what’s going on with the Ford F-150 reliability.
F-150 engine problems?
If you would only look at CarComplaints.com, you might think the V-6 and V-8 engines in the 2012 model are lemons. In fact, the site declares 2012 the worst model year because of said engine problems.
However, there are only 57 complaints logged about the engine for that year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) logs an additional 417 complaints. Yet according to NHTSA, there are only four recalls on this model year – and none of them have anything to do with the engines.
Consumer Reports actually gives this model year a 2/5 predictive reliability rating – which is higher than every other ensuing model year.
Then, if you only look at the J.D. Power ratings for 2012, which are higher than every other following model year at 88/100, you might think the 2012 model year is the one to buy.
So, what gives?
Frankly, you have to take it all with a grain of salt.
The primary complaint for the 2012 engines is “loss of power” and it was reported in both the 3.5-liter V-6 EcoBoost as well as the 5.0-liter V-8, but after taking a look at the actual complaints, most pertain to the EcoBoost. They often report the issue popping up in rainy or humid conditions, with the wrench or check engine light coming on followed by a loss of power.
Unfortunately, few people update their posts after the original complaint, so it’s hard to see what the solution was – or if there was a solution.
However, the NHTSA launched an investigation into both 2011 and 2012 model years after receiving nearly 100 complaints about the EcoBoost engine. Ford’s response was that the charge air cooler can develop condensation – particularly in humid/raining conditions – which can cause misfire and, thus, loss of power. However, Ford said it wasn’t enough to impact drivability, and did issue a technical service bulletin, telling dealers to install a deflector shield below the charge air cooler to protect it from excessive water in wet conditions.
The average mileage when the complaints kick in is about 44K miles.
But the fact Consumer Reports doesn’t log this as an issue makes us believe this isn’t as big of a deal as you might think.
Other than 2012, CarComplaints.com notes three other years with significant engine problems: 2004, 2005 and 2006, with 239, 171 and 117 complaints logged, respectively. This is the first three model years of the 11th generation, and the two biggest complaints are engine knocking and spark plugs breaking off in the head.
Consumer Reports also notes “major” engine problems in both the 2004 and 2005 models, which lead to an engine rebuild or replacement. In our opinion, this is a way bigger deal than the 2012 loss of power.
There is also an apparent issue with the throttle bodies on EcoBoost engines. Many owners have reported the truck would enter limp mode and be forced to tow into the dealer. This became such a common problem, there are numerous videos on YouTube on how to replace it like this video of a 2016 F-150.
Another big Ford F-150 reliability complaint that pops up on CarComplaints.com concerns various windows not rolling up. The site logs more than 650 complaints for 2004 on this issue alone. There are more than 250 complaints logged the following year.
This seems to be more annoying than major, and most people report the solution is replacing the power window regulator, which costs around $300.
Consumer Reports also logs this issue in its “Body Hardware” section with multiple owners complaining of rear window leaks and window motors not working.
The good news on this issue: If you’re in the market for a 16-year-old F-150, the windows have probably already failed and been repaired because the average mileage for failure is around 67K miles.
Because the J.D. Power studies only look at the first 90 days of ownership, and a lot of the long-term issues (like engine and window failure) that pop up won’t be evident at that time.
Transmission troubles times two
Back in 2019, Ford issued a recall for a whopping 1.2 million F-150s in the U.S. from the 2011 to 2013 model years that were equipped with the 6-speed automatic transmission. The recall states the transmission may unexpectedly downshift into first gear, regardless of vehicle speed, thereby resulting in the loss of vehicle control and increasing the risk of a crash.
This was on top of a 2016 recall of 150K vehicles for the 2011-2012 model year for the same darn thing.
Now if you fast forward to the 2017 to 2020 model years, there are claims of more transmission problems, with a corresponding lawsuit surrounding the 10-speed automatic transmission. The problem centers around rough shifts and clanking sounds. More specifically, the lawsuit claims the problem is related to the previous recall, stating the transmission issues were never fully acknowledged or fixed.
At the time of writing this story, there is a transmission recall on 2017, 2018 and 2020 models – but those recalls are mostly related to the gearshift position and being in a different gear than the one selected by the driver. They are all related to the 10-speed automatic transmission.
Consumer Reports also logs “transmission issues” as one of the most common Ford F-150 reliability trouble spots for both the 2011, 2012, 2018 and 2019 model years, but it is listed as a “minor” issue.
Frozen door latches
Cold things freeze, right? Well, yeah, but the last thing you want frozen is your vehicle door – especially when it’s freakin’ cold outside.
In March 2017, an owner in New York filed a lawsuit about just this, claiming the frozen door latches were a known issue Ford failed to fix. The automaker had issued at least two technical service bulletins, prior to the lawsuit, but owners still reported issues years later.
It was only after the lawsuit was filed that a recall was issued in April of 2017 and applied to 2015 to 2017 F-150s. The title of the actual recall is “Doors may open while driving.” It’s only once you dig into the recall notice you see the door latches may freeze, which may cause them to open while driving.
Long story short, the lawsuit was finally settled in March 2020, and if you were affected by it before the recall, you’re not getting much money out of it. So, the end result: If you’re looking at this model year as a used vehicle, make sure the recall was fixed.
The best of years: 2014, 2020
I’m typically a fan of recommending the last model year of a specific generation for people who are looking to buy new or used. This is because most of the kinks have been worked out in terms of technology and drivetrain.
So, of the Ford F-150 generation-ending models, both 2014 and 2020 are pretty solid.
The 2014’s worst problems seem to center around the brakes, according to CarComplaints.com, but the average cost to fix is $300-$900, which won’t break (pun intended) the bank. Chances are, buying used, this has already been taken care of.
J.D. Power gives this model an 83/100, which oddly puts it toward the bottom of the pack in terms of initial quality – it’s only rated better than the Toyota Tundra in this year.
More telling, however, is the fact Consumer Reports gives it a 3/5 reliability rating, which is better than every following year. It also ranks the 2014 F-150 as No. 2 out of 5 among 2014 pickup trucks, bested only (and ironically given the J.D. Power results), by the Tundra.
As far as 2020 is concerned, some of the long-term reliability is going to be tough to discern because it’s in its current model year, and you’re going to buy it new. However, CarComplaints.com hasn’t logged any Ford F-150 reliability complaints on this model year as yet.
It does have six recalls associated with it, though – the biggest of which relates to the transmission, mentioned above.
The worst of years: 2012
I didn’t think the engine problems alone were enough to warrant a “worst year” designation, however, it has a double whammy with the transmission issues. This model year has just four recalls, but two of them pertain to the transmission and an unexpected downshift – the most recent of which was issued in February of 2019.
CarComplaints.com estimates the average cost to fix the loss-of-power issue will be around $2,300. Since the transmission issue is under recall, that, at least, shouldn’t cost anything.
I’m going to add an addendum that 2004-2005 gets an honorable mention here because spark plugs breaking off at the head is no bueno and engine repairs are expensive.
The bottom line on Ford F-150 reliability
If all of this is tl;dr, let’s boil it down: There is no perfect model year for the Ford F-150. But if we were going to buy a new or used model, we’d stick to 2014 or 2020 for the end-of-generation quality and new technology.
A lot of the nagging reliability issues we’ve noted are under recall, which means no cost to you to fix. But neither the EcoBoost knock (2011-2012) nor spark plug breakage issues (2004-2005) have been addressed via recall, and warranty will have expired for both of these as well.
So, here’s this article with a grain of salt. We’d love to know if you’ve experienced any of the above issues, and what you’ve done about it. We’d also love to know if we missed something that is more than a nagging concern. So, comment below or tweet us.