2003 Ford Thunderbird

I am considering the purchase of the 2003 Ford Thunderbird. I’ve driven it and still want to own it. I understand the limitations of a two seater with no storage space. I know its not a sports car. I just like the way it looks!

I just want to make sure I can forsee other issues I may not be aware of. That is, How reliable is it? Are there any questions that are specific to the T-bird that I should be asking? Other than the obvious impracticality, is this a good idea?

It’s grey. Black interior. Reputable dealer.

I share your feelings about this car…They like to be kept garaged, that’s for sure. Since they share the running gear with the Crown Vic, the drive-train is bullet-proof and easy to work on…Mustang go-fast stuff will just bolt on if you feel the need…

I’ve got an '04 T’bird. In '03 and later birds the motor got a boost of power by using variable valve timing, some stiffer suspension changes, and a few other items like a V8 logo on the sides. The '02’s are good, but the '03 and on’s are a bit better. So, you’ve got the variable valve motor.

The T’birds aren’t perfect, but they are great cars. The trunk isn’t too bad and there is a space behind the seats so you can pack enough gear for 2. I’ve got a “walking” golf bag and my clubs fit in the trunk.

Mechanically the most significant issue is the “coil on plug” ignition set up or, COP’s. The coils are sitting on top of the plugs and they are covered which means no air gets to the coils to keep them cool. Some birds also allowed some water to get in the plug holes due to bad gaskets on the covers. There is a 100K and 10 year extended factory warranty on the COP’s as a result.

Many T’bird owner’s were getting misfires and rough bucking on light to moderate acceleration due to bad coils. It would start anywhere from 24K miles and up. The coils would fail one by one meaning multiple trips back to Ford dealers for poor running motors. The motors wouldn’t quit on you, but going up hills was a jerky experience and when 2 or 3 coils were missing you had little power.

After several coils were replaced on my bird from 24 to 48K miles and I was back to the dealer for a 4th time, Ford authorized replacing all 8 coils and I’ve been fine ever since. I have learned how to replace them myself and the coils are available on ebay for about $25 each, Ford gets $80 if you go to Ford parts. I plan to replace all 8 coils when I get one that fails. I expect to get about 30K miles on the current ones before it starts missing again.

Take the VIN # to a Ford dealer service dept and they should have records of how many COP’s if any have been replaced on the car you are considering. Or call Ford Customer Service to checking with Ford on the status of their extended warranty on COP’s for your particular car.

Parts are repair experience will be harder and harder to find as that chassis and drive train were used only on the Thunderbird and the Lincoln LS. Neither car sold in very great numbers. It’s a great car to drive, and pretty reliable, but repair costs will be higher than most Fords.
The comment about the COPs is very true. You will also likely have to replace the DCCV now and then (part that controls the temperature of the climate control air output.)

They do not. The 3.9L V8 is nothing like the 4.6L V8. Your thinking of the 90’s T-birds.

Right you are…THAT powertrain IS problematic. Shared with Jag and Lincoln LS cars. Not only is the car an orphan, so is the drivetrain. Some parts are hard to get now…That will only get worse…

I suppose the purchase depends on your automotive needs. What kind of driving will you be doing with the car? If you are single or this is to be the car you drive and there is another car in the household, why not?

If you take care of the car and then want to sell it,there is probably some poor sap around like me that would buy it. I personally would like a Mazda Miata, but unfortunately my needs dictate a minivan. My wife thinks I should buy the Miata, but I’m sure she would start driving it and I would still be driving the minivan.

Wait… not sure I’m understanding. I know the 2003 T-bird shares the LS platform. Are you saying that there are a lot of hard-to-get parts? How concerned should I be about that? Thanks for your input. All the comments here are very valuable.

Uncle Turbo! Nice looking car! The one I’m looking at is called Mountain Shadow Grey … low key and ladylike … but I’m liking the red one too. I saw one with a two toned red and black interior that looked very very cool.

The info about the COP’s was really the sort of thing I need to know. I read on another blog abut the 10 yr/100K mile warranty from Ford…so does that mean they cover the problem no matter how often it occurs? Or do they just fix it once and then you are on your own?

My parents own a Lincoln LS and they really like the car. I’m thinking that even if parts are difficult to find, I should be able to get it worked on as long as there is access to the internet to locate parts. But it sounds like your expericence overall is that its a pretty reliable car.

Thanks for your response.

This will be mostly a way for me to get to work, 7 miles away … and maybe a weekend getaway car. There is another immensely practical car in the household. And we are replacing a boring, practical car that was damaged in an accident.

There is no denying that its a car out there that doesn’t cost a mint but still looks like fun. I too like the Mazda Miata… but am concerned that its size may make you a wet spot on the pavement if anybody ever hits you real hard. I’m thinking that the T-bird is at least heavy enough to stand up to another car. thanks for your comments.

There is a good Thunderbird forum for owners of this most recent edition of the T’bird. I’ll post the link later, I have to look it up. Perhaps you can google it and find it. Currently I’ve got the heater problem mentioned by tardis so that is a common problem too.

Despite the flaws, I’m very happy with my car. It may not be a race car, but believe me it’s got plenty of go when you get on the gas.

The answers I get about the COP extended warranty aren’t consistent. When the dealer did all 8 the service mgr said that was it and I’d be on my own after that. Yet I get different answers from other Ford people, so some doubt about the true story. I think Ford wants to keep customers happy and make decisions on a case by case basis.

The new bird feels very solid on the highway, it might not be all that heavy but it feels well planted on the road. In corners it handles well too, not much roll and good grip. The suspension soaks up bumps well without jarring the passengers and top down wind noise is not a problem at all. Its a very nice ride with the top down.

Here is a very good Thunderbird forum.


LS production stopped with the 2006 model year. Parts aren’t really hard to find yet, but they will get harder and harder to find. There’s very little aftermarket support.

There is another thread running about a guy with a Lincoln LS that’s been in the shop for 6 weeks waiting for “cooling system parts” which apparently are mostly plastic.

Is the 3.9L DOHC engine a Ford design or is it made by another supplier?

I believe that it was a joint venture between Jaguar (which Ford owned at the time) and Ford. You can see many design similarities inside the engine with the 4.6L. The Ford/Lincoln version gets a very different top end than the Jaguar version, so you can’t use Jag parts as a source for repair parts.