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Ford F-150 Transmission Problems: Causes & Repairs

Ford F-150 Transmission Problems: Causes & Repairs

The iconic Ford F-Series spans three-quarters of a century of production and as many as fourteen generations. Affordability, capability, and reliability have been their selling point throughout these 75 years, but reliability wasn’t always up to par. Over the decades, the F-Series and its most popular piece, the half-ton F-150 model, have had their share of issues. This time we’re focusing exclusively on the Ford F-150 transmission problems. However, since the F-Series transmission problems go back decades, we’ll limit our presentation to the 21st century or the last five generations.

The last five generations of the popular pickup have all exhibited transmission issues. From hard shifts, jerkiness, and overall unpleasant transmission operation to downright catastrophic transmission failures, the F-150 had experienced it all. Even the latest and greatest 14th generation, which made its debut for the model year 2021, has already been subjected to criticism over the problematic new 10-speed automatic transmission.

If you’re in the market for a capable and reliable workhorse that won’t break the bank, you can hardly go wrong with the Ford F-150 or its larger F-Series siblings. Rarely will a vehicle be 100 percent problem-free, however, and the F-150 is no exception. This article aims to provide some insight into its transmission woes so that you can make an informed decision regarding its purchase.

Fourteenth-Generation Ford F-150 Transmission Problems

car mechanic
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The latest in the long line of Ford F-Series pickup trucks didn’t launch without controversy. While it should be the best lineup of blue oval’s pickup trucks yet, its advanced 10-speed automatic transmission – first introduced during the previous generation – still hasn’t been perfected.

Unexpected shifts into neutral

Even though the all-new 10-speed automatic transmission is Ford’s pride and joy, customers who have already experienced problems aren’t too happy about it. Internally referred to as the 10R80, the SelectShift automatic tends to shift into neutral at random, leading to potentially dangerous traffic situations.

There’s an error in the transmission’s software that can lead to a loss of power due to the computer’s error in calculating the transmission fluid pressure. Once the vehicle stops after shifting into neutral, it’ll automatically shift into Park and will need to be restarted. Ford has already issued a recall, but only models fitted with 3.5 L, 2.7 L, and 5.0 L engines without the Auto Start-Stop technology are affected by it.

Thirteenth-Generation Ford F-150 Transmission Problems

car mechanic working on engine issues
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The thirteenth generation of the F-150 produced between 2015 and 2020 oversaw the introduction of the then-all-new 10-speed automatic transmission. While, in theory, it should smooth out shifts and provide an even more enjoyable driving experience than before, the new 10R80 often tends to do exactly the opposite.

Hard shifts

Whether it’s an upshift or a downshift, the 10-speed automatic is known to shift extremely hard at random, giving the passengers the impression they’ve been rear-ended. Unpleasant and annoying shifts are bad enough in their own right, but they’re also a sign of potentially bigger issues further down the line. Furthermore, there’s no excuse for a relatively new vehicle with the latest technology to work that way.

Transmission slippage

The 10-speed automatic is also notorious for its slipping and occasionally slamming into gear. This problem typically occurs at lower speeds and in lower gears – usually when upshifting from second to third or third to fourth. The transmission will hesitate, leaving you in a potentially dangerous spot, and then slam into gear, burning the tires in the process.

Jerking and shuddering

Jerking and shuddering are also symptoms of a faulty 10-speed automatic transmission’s software. Due to a communication error between the transmission and the gear shifter, the transmission fails to determine which gear the vehicle is in. This is the reason why, instead of upshifting, the 10R80 can sometimes downshift, causing unpleasant and potentially dangerous shuddering and jerking.

Stuck in gear

The 10R80 automatic is also known to occasionally get stuck into one random lower gear, losing all forward momentum in the process. Even shifting into reverse and back into drive won’t change anything as the F-150 remains stuck in said gear. Restarting the car does the trick, although sometimes you’ll have to wait a while for the problem to go away. This, however, doesn’t resolve anything as the issue is likely to recur.

Twelfth-Generation Ford F-150 Transmission Problems

Common Ford F-150 transmission problems
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Produced between 2009 and 2014, the twelfth-generation F-150 relied heavily upon the 6R80 6-speed automatic transmission. Sadly, back then, the now-sound 6-speed automatic was still relatively problematic.

Random downshifts into 1st gear

Due to a communication error between the transmission output speed sensor and the power control module, the transmission might decide that the truck is pulling to a stop or is already stationary. In such an instance, it’ll downshift into first gear. However, the F-150 is typically anything but stationary, and such an abrupt downshift won’t do it any favors. Not to mention how dangerous it can be in traffic. Ford has since issued a recall, and most vehicles should have been fixed by now. However, that doesn’t mean that all of them are or that the problem won’t recur.

Hesitation when shifting

Hesitation in a twelfth-gen F-150 equipped with a 6-speed automatic transmission typically happens when trying to accelerate after decelerating beforehand. The truck will take its time shifting into gear, leaving you helpless for a few seconds. Being a safety issue alongside being an annoyance, such transmission behavior is unacceptable.

Jerking and shuddering

Extremely hard transmission jerking is no news for a Ford F-150 transmission, especially when downshifting. Vibrations can be so hard that you might think some part of the truck has broken down. Jerking and shuddering can develop at low or high speeds, on even ground or on hills, which further complicates the matter.

Eleventh-Generation Ford F-150 Transmission Problems

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The eleventh-gen Ford F-150s produced between 2004 and 2008 were paired with either a 4-speed automatic (4R75E or 4R70E) or a 5-speed manual gearbox as of 2005. Sadly, the automatic transmission is prone to complete failure, and the only upside is that you’ll probably experience another expensive failure or two before the tranny gives out. If you can call that an upside, that is.

Failed overdrive

It’s been a while since the term overdrive was used when talking about transmissions, but back in the days of 4-speeds, overdrives were common. The Ford 4-speed transmission used in 2004-2008 F-150s was troublesome as it often gave out. While the trucks were still able to carry on using the three lower gears, their fuel economy was severely hampered without the overdrive. The problem was the defective snap-ring which would break and cause more serious issues further down the line. Although it isn’t that expensive of a fix, most shops will insist on a complete transmission overhaul.

Transmission slippage, shuddering, jerking, hesitation, and hard shifts

Pretty much everything described as problems with the newer Ford F-150 transmissions is also present in older 4-speed units. Hard shifts, shuddering, jerking, slippage, and hesitation can develop at any time, and more often than not, they’ll do so at mileage lower than expected. Although the problems have been mitigated over the years and older eleventh-gen models tend to break down more often, transmission issues are still present in the latter-gen models.

Complete transmission failure

Sadly, the 4-speed automatics are notorious for catastrophic failures even at low mileage. The worst part is that the transmission tends to give out without any prior warning signs whatsoever. One moment you’re cruising down the highway, and the next thing you know, you’re collecting chunks of shattered gears from the pan. In the case of actually getting some warning signs like shuddering, jerking, or slipping, it’s best to take the truck straight to the certified mechanic to try and salvage what can be saved. Otherwise, at the very least, you’re looking at $3,000 worth of parts and labor.

Tenth-Generation Ford F-150 Transmission Problems

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Photo by: Envato Elements

The tenth-generation F-150 spans the years on both sides of the millennium. Produced between 1997 and 2004, it features a few different iterations of the 4-speed automatic gearbox and an optional 5-speed manual transmission. These trucks come with similar transmission issues as the eleventh generation. After all, they share a very similar transmission design.

Failure to shift into gear

Early tenth-generation F-150 models are subject to numerous transmission problems and failure to shift into a specific gear is only one of them. It typically happens once the clamp that locks the main drive in the transmission gets loose. Driving with this problem will only cause further damage as the clamp might destroy the gears, leading to catastrophic transmission failure.

Refusal to shift into park

The older F-150 with a 4-speed automatic transmission tends to have issues shifting into Park due to defective transmission shift cable. The cable itself is separated from the exhaust manifold by an inadequate heatshield or clip, depending on the model. The protection tends to corrode or fall off over time, leaving the cable exposed to heat coming from the manifold. Needless to say, the transmission shift cable isn’t capable of withstanding such high temperatures for long and will fail soon after the protection has worn off.

Transmission slippage, shuddering, jerking, hesitation, and hard shifts

Again, much like is the case with the newer 4R75E and 4R70E automatics, the tenth-gen F-150’s 4R70W, E4OD, and 4R100 4-speed automatics also exhibit all the symptoms of going bad before their time. Hard shifts, slippage, jerking, shuddering, hesitation, shifter locking into gear, you name it. If any of these symptoms should develop, and there’s a high chance they will, it’s time to take the truck to a mechanic.

Complete transmission failure

Countless tenth-gen Ford F-150 transmissions had blown before their time and needed to be rebuilt or replaced. There are plenty of testimonies from previous owners out there of finding broken gears in the transmission pan and having to rebuild the entire thing at a cost higher than $2,000. Mind you, those are 15 to 20-year-old prices, and the costs of rebuilding the Ford 4-speed are even higher nowadays.

Ford F-150
Photo by: Unsplash

Final Words

The Ford F-150 is still regarded as one of the best full-size pickup trucks on the market regardless of its shortcomings over the years. If you’re in the market for one, however, you might be forced into opting for a faulty or unreliable transmission, since there haven’t been too many – if any- alternatives throughout the past three generations.

Ford F-150 transmission problems are well documented, and we’ve compiled the list of potential issues each one might face down the line. Of course, not every model will be affected, but the chances of buying a dud aren’t at all insignificant. Exercise caution and have someone knowledgeable at your side when shopping for one, and you should be fine. Not to mention that a test drive is mandatory.

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