1995 Ford Escort gettin' crotchety with me

My girlfriend and I have an automatic Escort with an attitude problem. Most of the time, she’s sweet as can be, and we take good care of her, keeping up with all her fluids on a weekly basis, if not more often, and checking her out thoroughly on a monthly basis to make sure she’s in working order.

She’s got 154,000 miles on her, so I can understand her being pretty tired. Especially since my gf takes her out for a twelve-hour shift driving all over town delivering pizzas once a week. We rarely take her out of town and keep her on relatively flat streets when we can because we don’t want to work her too hard.

She’s got a number of issues that, on the surface, look like they stand on their own, but my gut feeling is that they’re all related.

One - we’ve been watching her transmission pretty closely. She doesn’t like to go over 55mph, and will rarely do it. Fine by us, we don’t usually fly down the city streets that fast anyway. She hates hills. If we’re not already going 35mph before we start a steep hill, we’re lucky if we’re at 20mph once we get to the top. We can hear her chug-a-lugging along, and feel her engine working, but she just can’t do it. So we just avoid those hills. Every now and then, she has a hard time shifting gears. Usually between 30-35 mph on a slight incline is when I notice this. However, if we’re between 35-40 before we start the incline, she’s good as gold.

Her idle is a bit rough. Hasn’t caused any major problems, just an irritating rattle from the glove compartment being shaken up, quickly remedied by shifting into neutral. The timing belt looks fine.

Last night, my gf took her to work and the coolant light came on for a little bit, though she has plenty of fluid. The radiator cap is on tight and there are no leaks. It went off, and then the engine began to run hot - too hot. My gf turned on the heater and didn’t leave the car running while stationary at all. She made it through the night.

My suspicion is that the radiator fan may not be working optimally, but I haven’t left the car on long enough to know for sure.

Other work that’s been done on the car in the last 6 months: the thermostat has been replaced (oh boy, did she need it) and the radiator cap was replaced after we noticed it had gone missing somehow. We’re not really sure how long it had been missing, but there was still plenty of coolant in the reservoir, and we topped it off and everything was just fine.

Thought I’d put it all out there for someone else to look at from an outside perspective, someone who maybe knows cars a little better than me, even. I’m sure I left some things out. Any questions or ideas are welcome!


Update: The fan is definitely not running. I got the car pretty hot and it never kicked in. From what I can tell, the fuses look fine, though the fuse box is not something I’m terribly familiar with. After looking at the manual, I decided it couldn’t hurt to check the transaxle fluid as well, but I’ll be durned if I can find the dipstick!! The manual says it’s hidden under a hose, and it’s hidden a little too well, if you ask me!

A faulty coolant temperature sender may be the cause of the inoperable fan. Or the fan relay could be bad, or the fan motor itself. You can test the motor by running jumper wires from the battery directly to the fan wiring connector.

If you’ve never had the transmission fluid replaced now would be a good time. Old, worn out fluid could be the cause of your transmission problems.

You really should consider replacing the timing belt, too. They look perfect right up until the moment they break.

How would I know if it was the coolant temp sender? I’m thinking tranny fluid would be a good thing to check and/or replace, but I can’t figure out where it is. I know I’m looking for a short black dipstick somewhere towards the back, near the firewall, near the transmission itself, but I still can’t see it for the life of me.

And you’re probably right about the timing belt. I forget sometimes how they like to surprise me with their poor… well… timing.

If the Escort starts to balk at 55mph you might have cat convertor which is clogged. Does your car burn oil, and if so how much.

Escorts are rated very highly in my 2004 Consumers Guide buying guide, and my experience confirms that information. My 1995 escort hatchback automatic has 162,000. Looks and runs perfectly. I’ve owned it for 8 years. Problems and repairs during those 8 years:

Roaming Idle: change ALL of the vacuum lines. The short line leading to the PVC may look ok but will leak when it gets brittle. There are two modules on the firewall are near the EGR valve. Make certain you change the lines going to them.

Stalling at Low Rpm: This was the most elusive problem to cure. After checking, cleaning and replacing many parts (MAF, Engine Coolant Temp, Idle Air Control, Throttle Position Sensor) I ended up cutting up a credit card and putting a piece under the (non adjustable) idle screw. The 400 RPM boost now prevents the car from stalling at low RPM.

Engine Fan Motor: The motor will typically start to growl when it is going out. If you ever suspect the electric motor is going bad just move the blade back and forth when the car is off. If there is any noise or resistance change it out. It is a two person job. Soak the shaft with penetrating oil before trying to tug the blade off the motor.

Coil: the ignition coil has required replacement twice in 8 yrs.

Head: In 2006 a lifter started to make noise so i replace the entire head. The 1.9 has been rumored to drop valve seats so the one I got online, for $275, had stainless steel valve seats.

The exhaust or AC have never been serviced. The paint has less orange peel than most of the newer cars. The tranny runs like new due to the fact I suck out 2 quarts of fluid through the fill tube several times each year. It doesn’t burn a drop of oil. Before the new head 4 yrs ago it would use about 1 quart every 1,500 miles. Some of that was due to a minor leak.