Over the last several weeks, there have been a number of reports on web forums of frame damage incidents involving the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor. Thanks to a number of reader tips, Autoblog was the first news outlet to inquire with Ford about the matter. After launching its own investigation into the claims centering around one particular organized Raptor Run in Nevada with 14 participating vehicles and 10 bent frames, Jamal Hameedi, a 20-year Ford veteran and SVT's Chief Nameplate Engineer, agreed to talk exclusively with Autoblog.
AB: When did you first become aware of these Raptor frame claims?
Hameedi: We monitor all the blogs – I think there are three or four different versions of Raptor online forums. We saw that there was one particular run where several Raptors bent their frames on the same obstacle.
AB: How many Raptors have been reported with frame damage?
Hameedi: We have four nationwide since the beginning of production.
AB: It sounded like there were more than four vehicles damaged in this individual run alone – are these not included in that total?
Hameedi: I think we've been reading that there are ten trucks in question [in that run].
AB: So the four trucks you mentioned – those are just the ones that have been directly reported to Ford dealers?
AB: Have they all been bent in more-or-less in the same way?
Hameedi: The ones on the run, I think there are varying degrees of how [badly] they are tweaked, but generally we have a pretty firm understanding of what's going on.
AB: Can you expound on that?
Hameedi: Basically, the core – the root cause – is that the vehicle is traveling too fast for the obstacle, and the truck is running out of travel. By a large margin. They're going too fast for the obstacle by a large margin. The frame is not the first item to yield in that condition – despite what's been theorized, the first thing when you do exceed the vehicle's travel capability [is that] you have a certain safety zone where you will hit the bump stop and nothing will happen. If you hit that same obstacle at an even faster speed, then you will yield the jounce bumper cup – that's the little piece of steel that holds the jounce bumper. If you hit that same obstacle at an even greater speed, then the next thing to go is the frame.
That energy has to be absorbed somehow, and we actually went through a fairly detailed FMEA [Failure Mode and Effects Analysis], so if you do happen to far exceed the suspension's capability, the safest thing for that vehicle is for the frame to yield. If you had an infinitely stiff frame, then what that would do is, the rear of that vehicle – the suspension – when that axle is going up so hard, so fast, it would 'donkey kick' the rear of that truck really high into the air. That's a very undesirable condition."
AB: Is SVT looking at making any suspension or frame changes – adjusting the cups or introducing progressive rate bump stops or deformable mounts, say – or are you happy with the way the truck performs?
Hameedi: If you look at the video [above], in our opinion, the truck performed flawlessly through there – it didn't do anything crazy from a vehicle dynamics standpoint. It didn't put the truck into an unsafe condition and it didn't strand the driver. If you hear their voices [on the video], you can hear them go 'Argh!!' when they went over that. That's not a good thing for any vehicle when you hit that hard, that fast. The other thing is that we run microcellular jounce bumpers that are progressive rate – this is why we run that kind of jounce bumper.
AB: In your opinion, it doesn't sound like any changes are necessary – this is just a clear-cut case of vehicle abuse?
Hameedi: I don't know if I'd call it vehicle abuse – I think there's a certain learning curve going out there. The cool thing about the Raptor is that it's something new that has never been done before. So it's bringing a lot of new enthusiasts into this realm of high-speed off-roading. There's a learning curve with these new enthusiasts and the organizers – of how to properly run an off-road, high-speed event like this. This is part of that learning curve. One of the things that we state in our owner's manual is that you need to do a low-speed reconnaissance run – you can't just find an off-road trail and barrel down it at 100 miles an hour.
AB: Do you have any idea how fast they were traveling?
Hameedi: This is just our guess, we don't know for sure, but judging by the video, they look like they were going 60 to 80 miles per hour. We've heard sound bites from other people on that run that they were going 110-125 mph in certain parts. From the factory, the truck is speed-limited to 100 miles per hour, so all of these guys would need to be removing the speed limiters on their trucks [in order to achieve those kind of speeds].
The other thing that's going on... we've had some reports that there's an aftermarket company offering aftermarket springs, and instead of the two or three-leaf of the production truck, they offer a multiple stack leaf, and what that does is, it actually deletes the jounce bumper landing pad, which is kind of critical.
AB: So were any of those vehicles on the run equipped with that setup?
Hameedi: Yes. We don't know how many – if it's all of them or if it's a fraction of them – but we know some of them were running those multiple leaf springs with the jounce bumper landing pad deleted. Obviously, the suspension was designed to work with all of its parts intact.
AB: So how has the process been – we understand that at least a couple of trucks with frame damage have been reported to dealers with the hope of filing a warranty claim. Our understanding is that none of these warranty claims have been granted thus far, but that maybe some more communication needs to be done with the dealers about how to communicate with these special types of vehicles and special types of buyers. Can you talk about that?
Hameedi: Yes, some of the marketing is working on that, but really, our owner's manual is really good at outlining all the precautions and safety steps you need to take for safe, high-speed off-roading.
The three key points in high-speed off-roading that we mention in the owner's manual are... number one, you have to do a reconnaissance run – a prerun. Every desert racer, they'll go and prerun a trail and they will mark all of the ditches and obstacles on their GPS, so that when they're coming upon an obstacle like that, they will know to slow down. Also, a race organizer would probably mark that ditch with a big red X or something like that, so that people know what they're driving. You can get yourself into trouble very easily if you don't know what you're doing or if you're driving above your ability or those of the vehicle. It's not very different than a very capable, very fast sports car on a road course.
AB: You previously mentioned an aftermarket 'solution' that's hit the market – have you had a chance to play around with it?
Hameedi: We have not. We know those multiple leaf spring stacks are out there, but we have not played with them ourselves.
The other thing we say is, 'build speed slowly.' When we go and put media in a high-speed off-road course, or when we do our own off-road durability, we will run a course several times and build speed slowly – usually in increments of 10 mph – so that if we do get to a speed where we max-out the vehicle's capabilities, it's not way, way beyond the vehicle's capabilities.
The last thing we say is, 'Drive what you can see.' Only go fast enough so that if you see an obstacle that wasn't marked or it's new, so that you have time to slow down for it.
AB: This is probably more of a marketing question. You've got videos and ads that show this vehicle bombing through the deserts at very high rates of speed, and obviously you've pre-run under those conditions...
Hameedi: I know we've done videos on the Raptors with people like Rob Maccachren, and we've explicitly said that it's a vehicle that's highly capable, but you can break anything – you can even break a trophy truck – so you have to be responsible and sensible about the way what you're doing to the vehicle and the way you're driving it.
AB: Is there an easy way for owners to inspect their Raptor frame for damage?
Hameedi: It's very easy to inspect the jounce bumper cup – that's really easy to look at and see if it's yielded in any way, shape or form. The easiest way to tell if you've gone far beyond the capability of the vehicle's suspension is if there's the V-margin on the cab to bed.
AB: Do you have any idea what the cost of fixing or replacing a frame is?
Hameedi: Well, most people, you can straighten the frame – that's what off-roaders typically do. It depends on the shop, but I've seen numbers anywhere from $500 bucks to $800 bucks.
AB: Is there anything that you guys have learned from this experience about dealing with this sort of product and buyer that you (SVT and Ford) can apply going forward?
Hameedi: Well, I think one of the things that we're starting to really look at is starting to step up our communications with the organizers of these trail runs and how to conduct them safely and responsibly – things we would do internally at Ford or with the media. Maybe teach or communicate with some of these new organizers on how to conduct these events safely so the vehicles don't get damaged or people don't get damaged.
AB: Driver education is a big deal – and to that end, it seems like there's a real opportunity here for SVT to do some sort of school with this vehicle. You recently announced the driving academy with some of the extreme sports stars like Tanner Foust and Ken Block. It seems like a Raptor Camp would help get the message out – is that something you're considering?
Hameedi: I think really more what we want to do first and foremost is... for example, there's a Raptor Roundup in Albuquerque and we're sending our sales and marketing group and we're also sending an engineer as well. What they're doing is really emphasizing how to safely off-road – even if you want to go high speed, how to recognize obstacles, how to pre-run, stay in communication.
That's the other thing that was kind of surprising about this run – after one guy went over it [the obstacle], versus calling back and saying 'There's a mambo ditch there, slow down at Mile Marker Whatever.'
AB: Is there anything else you would like to discuss?
Hameedi: We were anxious to have our side of the story told because our impression of what happened is that the vehicle performed very well in that kind of extreme maneuver.
They didn't lose control – the vehicle was very stable. Some other things that could have broken – like shock mounts or spring perches or axles – those have grave, grave consequences when they fail at 80 mph off-road. [They can] potentially cause a lot of damage to the vehicle. These guys could still drive their vehicles – they weren't stranded with a busted suspension out in the middle of the desert. As you can imagine, if your suspension breaks out in the desert, it is not a trivial matter to get that vehicle extracted.
AB: Thank you very much for choosing to speak with us.
Hameedi: Thanks a lot.
On the flip side of the coin, at least one forum member, Outlaw Raptor, one of the event's organizers, sees things differently:
Outlaw Raptor also argues that the course for this event was both prerun and well-organized. He notes that he has personally driven the course for years and says that emails were sent to participants recommending that they download the course on GPS with all of the obstacles marked. It is not clear how many participants took this step, nor is it known if the cattle crossing that is being blamed for bending frames was included in this data. He also says that CB radios were provided (noting that "reception was horrible") and cites the presence of support vehicles and paid mechanics – this was a organized event in which Raptor owners paid money to participate.
"The bent frame issue is happening all across the US, not just on the Raptors on the run. All 10 trucks did not bend their frames on the run but there were a few that did. I know my 2 Raptors had bent frames before the run. Four of the Raptors already had bent frames and 3 had no problems at all."
(In the interest of full disclosure, Outlaw Raptor freely admits that he runs a business that goes by the same name that builds performance parts specifically for this SVT vehicle, and his team is presently among those developing an aftermarket solution to avoid the sort of frame damage that's being reported.)
Clearly, there remains a lot of debate about who or what is culpable for the Raptor frame issue. Even within the pages of RaptorForumz.com itself, ground zero for this discussion, there are members who participated in the event blaming SVT for a product weakness, while others are blaming themselves (or each other) for the manner in which they drove. And while there's still a cloud of uncertainty surrounding the issue, SVT's position now seems to be clear – Hameedi and his team believe their truck performed admirably well under the circumstances.