1998 Ford Escort Need troubleshooting guidance

  • 1998 FORD ESCORT
  • 2.0L
  • 4 CYL
  • FWD
  • 180,000 MILES
Please 1998 Ford Escort SE ran fine then died and won't start. Need the car. Can't afford to buy a bunch of unnecessary parts. Looking for a troubleshooting list to run down what may be the cause. Have no Code Reader, repair know how or funds but don't trust a mechanic to tell me what's wrong. Would love a list of things that would cause a car to not start from electrical to mechanical and anything else. Thank you for any help.
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Monday, March 16th, 2015 AT 5:08 PM

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There's disreputable people in every occupation including the one you work in, and I will never defend them, but what you're asking for is the most expensive and least effective way to diagnose this problem. You don't want to waste money on unneeded parts, which is good, but you're asking for a list of parts so you can do exactly that, supposedly to "try". How would you feel if your mechanic approached this problem this way? Especially when electrical parts can't be returned. You'd have to pay for them either way.

A mechanic is going to diagnose this properly, then sell you only the parts needed to solve the problem, AND any additional parts that will prevent this from happening again. You may spend less this way.

Naturally-distrustful people are the ones who assume everyone is out to rip them off, before they even get through the door and meet them. If you assume that, nothing will change your mind, no matter how reputable the person is. In my tv repair career and my auto repair career, I worked for two people who were the most ethical people you'll ever meet, yet we all had to constantly battle your preconceived notion.

In my experience, when watching conversations from the side, and as an instructor when asked to interpret repair bills, it was apparent that 99 percent of unhappy customers were due to poor communications or unreasonable demands. Mechanics in particular have very poor communication skills. That's why you rarely get to speak with them. There's a service writer in between but they too were never mechanics. They have to listen to the mechanic's explanation, then try to interpret what they didn't understand into something they think you will understand. You know something is going to get lost in translation. That is not an attempt to defraud or rip you off, but that's what people assume.

The sad fact is we hold mechanics to WAY higher standards than we do doctors. If a doctor doesn't diagnose your illness correctly the first time, you keep going back for more tests, or you run to a different doctor. Have you ever heard of someone refusing to pay for a doctor's services or demanding a refund because they didn't like the results? If a mechanic doesn't diagnose your car's problem correctly the first time, which happens a lot with newer cars and all their unnecessary and complicated technology, you assume he is incompetent. If your car needs the more expensive part and not the inexpensive one, you assume you're being ripped off. If the mechanic insists your car needs an alignment to prevent the new tires from wearing out like the old ones just did, you assume he is trying to sell you an unneeded service. This is our daily routine, but boy, just wait until those new tires wear out in a hurry and listen to people whine and squeal because we should have known the car was out-of-alignment.

We used to have one shop in my city where the owner didn't know how to properly diagnose a lot of problems so he just threw a whole pile of parts at the car in hopes one was the one that was needed, ... Then he charged the customers for all of those parts. We all knew that was not in the customers' best interest, but you'll never believe what a great reputation he had. The common comment was, "sure, you'll pay a little more, but the car will be fixed right the first time!" Any moron can fix a car that way as long as you're willing to pay for all those parts. At some point you have to realize that when a problem develops, just like with your car, seven or eight parts didn't all fail at the same time.

The biggest problem to begin with is you haven't even listed the symptom or any usable observations or clues. "Ran fine then died" could be the description of every car on the road at some point in its life. "I was fine until I got sick"! That's also true of every person who ever lived, so you can see that isn't helpful.

"Won't start" is a common miscommunication. It's as descriptive as saying, "I'm in pain". That could mean I have a hang nail, I cut my foot off with a chainsaw, or my wife came back! I understand most people don't realize this, but "doesn't start can mean the starter doesn't crank the engine or not fast enough for it to start. That could be a battery / generator / wiring issue that includes dozens of parts. A few voltage measurements will get us started on diagnosing that.

"Doesn't start" can mean the starter cranks the engine just fine but it won't run. That is totally different than the previous story. We'd have to look at the ignition, fuel supply, and some engine mechanical suspects. Here again you'll find dozens of parts. I use the Rock Auto web site a lot for reference. Go there and look through their well-organized parts listings, then YOU figure out which ones to spend your money on.

What we have to do first is look at the exact symptom. Does the starter crank the engine normally? If not, do you hear a single, rather loud clunk from under the hood each time you turn the ignition switch to "crank"? Turn on the headlights and observe their brightness. What happens to them when you try to crank the engine? Do they dim a little? A lot? Do they go off completely? Do they stay exactly the same brightness?

Do you have a portable battery charger? Do you have a digital voltmeter and know how to use it? If not, Harbor Freight Tools has a perfectly fine one for less than ten bucks. I can tell you how to set it, where to touch the probes, and how to interpret the readings. This way we won't be guessing over a list of random parts. We might be able to get by with a simple test light too, but if this turns out to be a charging system problem, you will need to take some voltage readings eventually. Radio Shack, Sears, Walmart, and any hardware store and auto parts store will also have a voltmeter, but don't waste your money on unneeded options like auto-ranging. The least expensive digital meter will be fine.

Due to major house fire, I have to drive into town and sit in the library or their parking lot to use the wireless internet. I understand you need your car so I'll wait around in the parking lot for a couple of hours to read your reply. Otherwise, if we can't figure this out tonight, I'll be back tomorrow to see how you're doing.
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Monday, March 16th, 2015 AT 6:11 PM

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