You picked another winner. :) I can't honestly say about a 2001, but the older ones had a lot of trouble with lower ball joints and anti-sway bar links. Those links develop a rattle but that is not a safety issue. Since they came out with that design, other manufacturers have copied it and have much more problems than Ford does.
I would rather see you in a Taurus than a Tempo or Escort. The Tempo / Topaz, and the 1980s Ford-built Escort / Lynx are "killer cars". Those cars are famous for tie rod ends that check good during an inspection, but only a few hundred miles later they separate leading to loss of control and a crash. They also can not be aligned. You'll see the front tires tipped WAY out on top and the rear tires tipped way in. That makes them ride much smoother than other brands of cars so they sold a pile of them. What they didn't want you to know is you had to be real lucky to get 15,000 miles out of a set of tires. That doesn't apply to the 1990s Mazda-built Escort, and the Taurus isn't nearly as bad a design.
One thing you might want to check is to look for the presence of grease fittings hanging down from the outer tie rod ends. If you don't know what tie rod ends are, I'll try to find a link or photo to send you to. The older Tauruses used what they called a "rubber bonded socket". This was an extremely poor design that involved dropping the ball into the socket, then filling it in with molten rubber to glue the two parts together. No thought was given to what happens to that critical part when the bond breaks loose. To make matters worse, Ford is famous for building cars that can't be aligned to correct tire wear or pulling to one side. A trick that many Ford alignment mechanics used to correct a customer's complaint of a pull was to disconnect one or both outer tie rod ends, turn the steering system the other direction, then reconnect the tie rods. When you straightened out the steering wheel to drive on a straight road, the rubber in the tie rod ends was put into a permanent twist that counteracted the pull. That's like attaching a rubber bungee strap to tug on the steering linkage. The car would go straight down the road, but when you turned fully one way, that rubber was put under more stress than was intended and that would greatly reduce its life. When the bond broke, it wasn't long before the ball and socket separated and that tire turned out fully leading to driving into a tree or an oncoming truck. Of course, then the separated steering part was blamed on the crash rather than the other way around. If you see grease fittings on the outer tie rods, those are aftermarket replacements and are much higher quality than the original parts. If the car has more than 50,000 miles, it is likely they have already been replaced once, but if the repairs were done at a Ford dealership, they might have used the same design. If you don't see grease fittings, expect to need replacements and an alignment soon. Factor that into the price you offer for the car. Worn front end parts are so common on Fords that they will likely be inspected every time you take it in for routine service such as oil changes and tire rotations.
I am really down on all newer cars because of all of the insane, unnecessary, unreliable, complicated, and expensive computers. I get very frustrated explaining to people why it will cost $800.00 to repair the horn on their Ford when that same repair involved ten minutes of diagnostic time in the past and ten to thirty dollars worth of parts. Ford needs two computers to be involved in blowing the horn. Everyone uses computers now to run the heater controls. If you search through these forums, you'll see how many problems people have posted related to "blowing hot over there but only cold over here" type of complaints, all related to computer controls.
I've written five-page articles on why many of us hate the newer cars, why common sense has gone out of the industry, and how manufacturers have tied you to the dealer and the expensive factory-supplied parts they are required to sell you. If I were to recommend a good, basic, reliable car, I would be looking for a Dodge Shadow / Plymouth Sundance. They are so unbelievably tough in a crash and they only have one very reliable Engine Computer. They aren't very expensive but they are getting harder to find because you have to go back to the '94 model year. The next step up in size is the Dodge Spirit / Plymouth Acclaim. They are also very reliable but I don't know their crash history. A '92 Acclaim just sold at a farmer's auction last Saturday for $1000.00, three times what I was expecting.
If you want something newer, here is one tidbit to keep in mind. Most cars newer than 2002 models have over a dozen computers. Some GMs can have up to 47 computers. Many of them, when replaced, must have the software installed before they will work. That means you can't buy a good used one from the salvage yard; you must get a new one from the dealer and have it programmed to your car. Chrysler and Toyota allow any independent repair shop to do that over the internet for a low cost annual subscription to their web site and a $40.00 charge per download. The independents can do any computer on the car except the Security system which must go back to the dealer so they know it's not a stolen car. Hyundai allows any repair shop to download any software for any computer on any of their cars, ... For free! Who do you think is putting the interests of their customers before profits? GM only allows independent shops to install downloads for three of their computers because the government has mandated they do so. For everything else you must go back to the dealer. This is just one example of dozens of their business practices that has resulted in a huge drop in repeat customers. Too many people have said, "never again" about GM when talking about buying a new car.
To add to this miserable need to periodically update the software in various computers, independent shops must have two laptop computers if they want to work on Ford products. Each one must have different programs installed. One program only works on Ford products, and the other program works on everything else. Those two "platforms" can't coexist on the same computer. Ford has always done things differently than everyone else.
Rather than listen to me ramble on, what you might consider is visiting some new car dealerships and talking with the mechanics to find out what kind of car they drive and why. Don't waste your time with the salesmen. Their job is to convince you to buy the car that has been sitting on the lot the longest, (meaning it was rejected by the most potential buyers), or the car with the biggest profit margin. When I ran service calls to repair tvs, and people asked me which brand was best, I told them to ask which brand tv repairmen had in their house and why, not which brand they sold. Once you hear a dozen opinions, you'll start to develop a feel for what kinds of things to look for. For some people, they're willing to pay more for a car that doesn't need many repairs but when they do, they are expensive. That pertains to Japanese imports. People like me drive cars that might need more little repairs but they don't have to take out a loan to be able to afford the parts. I like Chrysler stuff because almost any part you need was used on many of their models. That makes finding good used ones real easy and repairs are relatively inexpensive. I have also found Chrysler products, at least older ones, to be the easiest for do-it-yourselfers to repair. German-built cars, Volkswagens in particular, are by far the hardest and costliest to repair. You have to decide which is most important to you.
Regardless of which car you find, consider having it inspected by a different shop. You might pay up to a hundred dollars for a thorough inspection but that might weed out a big future headache. Look for used car lots that don't have their own repair facilities and are not part of a new car dealership. Every state I'm aware of requires used cars to be inspected before they are offered for sale by a licensed dealer. If an independent sales lot doesn't have their own repair facilities, they have to hire out the inspections and the repairs. You can ask who does their work then go there yourself with a car from a different sales lot. No sense going back to the same place that did the original inspection.
Every larger city has places that perform inspections, either for individuals or under contract for independent sales lots. Be aware that those who are contracted with one sales lot might be biased against a car from a competitors lot, but that can be a good thing. On one hand they will tend to be very thorough and pick at it a little harder to try to find things wrong with it, but on the other hand, since it could be from a competitor, they might get over zealous in nitpicking trivial things that aren't important.
I don't have an opinion on buying a Carfax report. That will list things known to the DMV such as crashes that were reported and recalls that applied to that car. Safety recalls means a problem was known and was fixed; that's a good thing. Not all crashes are reported, especially if no other cars were involved and the owner didn't have insurance. Some body shops do a fantastic job of rebuilding cars, some do just enough to entice someone to buy the pile. Good inspectors can usually find evidence of repairs. That doesn't mean the repairs were done poorly, just that they were done.
As a last thought, you might ask if you can rent a car for a week with that money going toward the sales price if you decide to buy it. Too often I hear about problems showing up a day or two after someone bought a car. Even the really good dealers typically only offer a 50/50 warranty for 30 days. What that means is you pay half of any needed repairs and the dealer is out nothing. Well, sort of. Let's say the car develops a serious engine problem that is going to cost you $2000.00 to repair. If the sales lot has to farm the repairs out to another shop, they will likely get a discounted bill for $1000.00. You pay half the estimate, $1000.00, which the dealer gives the repair shop, and your car is fixed. You pay half of normal, the repair shop charges half of normal as their standard business to business rate, and the dealer's reputation is intact.
If the same thing takes place at a dealership that has their own repair shop, that $2000.00 repair might actually cost them $1000.00 so again, they aren't out anything but they haven't earned a profit either. What they have lost is the ability to schedule other, profitable work so they can get to your car. What they have gained is reputation points and word-of-mouth advertising.
Remember too that the dealer likely didn't know about a problem that was about to develop, especially one that doesn't show up for a few days. The problem could be intermittent and the person who traded the car in didn't say anything about it thinking they would get more for the car. It could have come from a car auction where the history is not known or shared. One dealer might send a "problem" car to auction because they don't know how to solve it or they don't have the special tools or training. A different dealer might grab that car because they are familiar with it and all of the common problems, or because they have mechanics who they know can handle any problems with that model. Sometimes problems just develop, well, every problem "develops", but the issue is WHEN it develops. If the dealer knows there's a problem, he's going to fix it before he tries to sell it because he doesn't want to listen to customers complain after the sale. If someone spots a problem during a test drive and mentions it to the salesman, it will likely get fixed, but not until they have the time to get it into the shop. If you come along and buy it through a different salesman, he might not be aware of the problem or that it's on the schedule to be looked at. Some high-pressure salespeople, (commonly found at GM dealerships), will sell a car with a known problem, fully expecting you to return. They will gladly try to solve the problem, but their main goal of selling you the car has been met.
Most mechanics are not a fan of service contracts. They are often called extended warranties but really they are insurance contracts. Some of them are so hard to collect on that repair shops make you pay the bill then let you try to get reimbursed later from the insurance company. The shops know these companies are more responsive to customers than to shop owners. For the most part you're better off putting the money for a service contract into a savings account, then spending it on the repair IF it necessary. It's very rare to need more in repairs than what you would pay for the contract. That's what these companies are counting on to make their huge profits. Also, too often while at the dealership I worked for, I overheard, "what you need isn't covered". Another trick is the $100.00 deductible. It is possible to come in with five different problems for a total repair bill of $500.00, and each problem is treated individually. That means you pay five $100.00 deductibles and the insurance company pays nothing.
One trick they won't tell you is you can request a pro-rated refund on the remaining part of the contract. Explain that you will put that money toward the repairs.
There's a few ideas that might help you select a car. As for me, I have three cars newer than my '88 Grand Caravan, but that's my daily driver that I take all over the country. When it finally falls apart I'm heading south to find a nice rust-free one just like it. It's loaded with features that are useful. I don't need a computer to lock my doors or dim my mirror. I'm pretty good at doing that myself.
Monday, April 11th, 2011 AT 9:31 PM