The PowerShift DPS6 transmission that is used in the Focus and Fiesta body models is almost a modern marvel. There have been a few other manufacturers to try out a similar approach, but none on large of a scale in the United States as the market that Ford controls with the Focus and Fiesta. One of the major problems with this transmission is the customer expectation and a lack of communication from selling dealers. Of course, there were a number of other common problems, failures, and hiccups that are haunting the DPS6 PowerShift.
Customers have grown accustomed to the smooth shifting nature of the electronically controlled hydraulic automatic transmissions used in newer cars these days. Consumers even have it programmed in our minds that weird vibrations and noises is a cause for alarm. The DPS6 is no such normal transmission. In a country ruled and governed by the EPA, two things are the sole reason for innovation; emission output and fuel mileage.
Overview of the DPS6 Transmission
Everyone knows that a manual transmission can mechanically outperform a automatic transmission in efficiency of moving energy from the engine to the wheels leading to increased fuel mileage. A sad fact - Only a few of us can manage to drive one these days. The biggest reasons for the difference in efficiency has always been how many gears are available and because of the mechanical link between the engine and transmission, the clutch. Newer automatic transmissions have just as many or more gears than most manual transmissions of the past, so that issue has been solved.
The clutch being the great divider. Torque converters on automatic transmissions are amazing. They even multiple torque output from the engine. The loss of efficiency is because the torque converter uses fluid to push the transmission input shaft, whereas a clutch just uses friction material to force the input shaft to turn with the engine. I won't get into the details of this, but it's widely available for searching Google.
The DPS6, used in the newer Focus and Fiesta, is a dual-clutch automatically shifted manual transmission. Man, that is a mouth full. When you hear dual-clutch try not to associate it with some performance application. There is a lot of misinformation going around about this feature: The dual-clutch has zero to do with efficiency or power handling ability. The DPS6 has two completely separate dry clutches that spline onto two completely separate input shafts. One clutch controls gears 1, 3, 5 and the other R, 2, 4, 6.
I actually went to Ford's automatic transmission class. Many students asked the instructor about the DPS6 and we were told that it would not be discussed since it is not an automatic. I decided to take the manual transmission and drivetrain class and was told we weren't going to be talking about it. What a bummer. Note that this was in 2014.
DPS6 Shuddering Causes
The biggest complaint I have seen is about the annoying shuddering. Oh man do some cars shudder horribly. Most noticeable on light acceleration after it shifts into 2nd gear. Sometimes the shuddering is so bad that you can't hardly accelerate when pulling out into traffic.
Shuddering happens for a few reasons. On the earlier model Fiesta and Focus, the DPS6 had a design flaw with both input shaft seals. These seals would allow transmission fluid to leak out and soak the dry clutch's. Like an manual transmissions, this would cause slippage and clutch failure. This issue is also covered by Ford's extended warranty. In some cases, the point of leak turns out to be the rear main oil seal which leaks engine oil all over the clutch unit.
The other reason for shuddering is because of excessive clutch dust build up. This is the result of normal wear but can also be because of consumers driving the vehicle wrong. Yes, I blame you. Excessive clutch wear is caused by creep. Creep on a manual transmission is when you are, for example, sitting in a drive through or traffic and you allow the car to "creep" forward just by letting off the brake pedal without apply throttle. On the DPS6, once you release the brake pedal, the car will start to release the clutch after a second or two. Just like you would be letting your foot off the clutch pedal.
On an automatic transmission, creep is fine. But on a manual, the only way to keep the engine running is to purposely slip the clutch. Clutch slippage leads to clutch friction material wear, which leads to excessive clutch dust. Owners need to be aware that they need to drive this car as if it was a manual. It is really hard to explain, as many young drivers have never experienced a manual and older drivers have long forgot.
Fixing the Shuddering on the DPS6
Fixing the shuddering is not a straight forward task. Let me be absolutely clear - some shuddering is expected and not fixable. If you believe you have excessive shuddering, Ford will pay for it under an extended warranty field action. The official repair process is to remove the transmission, remove the clutch, and inspect for clutch contamination by oil. If oil or transmission fluid contamination is found, replace the clutch, replace the seals, and send you on your way. If no oil contamination is found, we clean the clutch, reinstall, and retest for the shudder.
The biggest hurdle for clutch replacement WAS parts availability. The clutchs were back-ordered with emergency dealer orders taking precedence on cars that are undriveable. New clutch material design was integrated into the replacement discs that we hope will offer better wear.
Transmission Control Module Failure
TCM failures are happening at an astonishing rate. Not sure what is wrong with those TCM's, almost has to be a manufacturing defect from whoever supplies them in China. Either way, Ford is offering free replacements under another extended warranty as well as a recall reprogramming so that the TCM can self diagnose itself as bad. The TCM houses the control module for the transmission and the motors that run the shift forks. Let's just say at the dealer we have stacks of them.
Some of the common symptoms with TCM failure are a code P0606, a vehicle no start, erratic hunting shifting, missing gears, wrench light, and "Service Transmission Now" message on the instrument cluster. All these symptoms are intermittent and therefore may present themselves at the most inopportune times, like after you just bought groceries and your ice crème is melting in the heat.
Other failures can include the shift forks breaking, other transmission oil leaks, or internal gear damage. Thankfully, those kinds of failures are more uncommon.
In review: You may notice excessive clutch slippage and shuttering, with most starting around 15K-20K miles. This slippage is normal expected due to clutch dust buildup. Some of the 2011-2014's were suffering oil soaked clutches due to transmission input shaft seal failure. There was a mid production change in 2014 using newer improved seals that are unlikely to leak. Just be sure to drive the car as if it was manual. Take advantage of Ford's extension the warranty on the clutch, seals, and TCM if your car is one of the 2011- early 2014. If your car is newer like mine, I guess the 5yr-60K warranty is all we got.
*UPDATE* 19M08 - Newly released extended coverage effecting 2014-2016 Ford Focus allowing the replacement of the clutch for shuddering under warranty until 7yrs/100k miles. If exceeding these miles, clutch replacement still covered until Feb 2020
Communicate with your dealer for a path to repair the issue. Try not to get upset when we tell you we can't fix it.
For what it is worth, there is/was a class action lawsuit on these transmissions.