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'94 Mercury Sable - A few issues/questions/problems/malfunctions

My parents gave me an old 94 Mercury Sable a few weeks ago so I’d finally be off of my bike in travelling around town.

This is my first ‘free’ car ever. So I’m looking to try and learn a bit about cars and try some repairs myself.

I guess I’ll start with some history on the car.
My mom is a rural mail carrier that used this car on long, bumpy dirt roads and stuff for a few years. Then the transmission went, they got it replaced and it still gave them problems. So it sat by their barn for about 2 years, though my dad would start it and let it run for a bit every few months.

Then after a while it wouldn’t start. So they had it looked at and repaired again. Now it starts, but I’m warned that if I hit the gas even once before I start the car, it’s not going to start.

Now comes the heap of problems.
*For one, the transmission seems a bit wonky still. Sometimes it shifts okay, but overall, it seems to put up a fight, though it seems to shift every time even if it’s a bit rough.

*Probably the most pressing issue to me right now is the squealing sound. When I accelerate, it starts or at least gets noticeably worse. Letting off the gas, it will lose volume or stop all together. It tapers. It tapers quickly, but it tapers. It’s also something I’m noticing in relation to the engine’s RPMs. When they’re high, the sound is louder and more intense. Right after the gears shift, it settles down for a second.
I tried (at the advise of a co-worker’s shadetree mechanic husband) a little dish soap with a little water on the serpentine belt and it seems to help the sound a tiny bit, but it’s definitely still there. I noticed that the belt didn’t look (to my untrained eyes) lined up just right. It isn’t centered on anything that the belt contacts. It’s slightly more to the driver’s side towards the engine. Could that be it? Either way, the edge of the belt on that side has some slightly marred areas. Nothing serious and maybe even acceptable, but I’m trying to be very thorough here.

*The steering wheel isn’t straight. When I’m driving straight ahead, the wheel is turned to the left I’d say near 40 degrees from norm. I can’t see my gas gauge due to this. Then when the car is running and I’m stopped, I can feel the wheel or power steering try to help it turn right then left. It’s subtle and I have to have my hand on the wheel with the slightest amount of tension to turning it to the left.

*It runs a little hotter than I’m used to too. After any distance of a few miles or more, the needle is about 3/4 the way up the ‘normal’ indicator. It’s never got into the ‘hot’ area yet though.

Also, every so often I get a Check Engine light to come on. It rarely stays on for more than a minute or two and is often on only long enough for me to see that it came on.

Any advice or thoughts you guys could give me would be greatly appreciated! I’ve always wanted to learn more about cars but didn’t want to tinker around with anything I had money in, but as of right now I’m into this about $12 for some coolant and fuel treatment so I can afford to tinker.

If the steering wheel is off center 40 degrees there’s a serious front end alignment problem. You need to find out why the steering wheel is so far off as this could be dangerous.

As far as the Check Engine light, I wouldn’t worry about it at this point. This vehicle has the old OBDI engine management system. But if you want to pull codes, here’s how http://www.extreme-check-engine-light-codes.com/check-engine-light-codes/FORD-1983-1995-OBD1-Decoder.html

As long as the temp gauge doesn’t go into the red zone the engine isn’t overheating. But you could try replacing the thermostat to see if this makes a difference with the temp gauge.

As far as the transmission, check the fuid level and the color of the transmission fluid.

The serpentine belt should line up with all the pulley’s. One thing to check for is a worn out belt tensioner.

Tester

The squealing sounds to me like the serpentine belt. Since it’s already ‘off track’ and frayed on one edge, I’d say just replace it. There MAY be a diagram for the routing of the new belt under the hood somewhere. If not, draw one before you put a 15MM box end wrench on the tensioner to relax it so that the old belt can be removed and the new one installed.

The bases are pretty well covered and the only thing I will add is that the temperature gauge may not be much of a problem.
Those gauges had a pretty wide swing on them anyway and while my memory is hazy on this; I seem to remember there was a service bulletin issued many years ago about gauge errors on these cars.
A net search might pull up the details.

I would try to verify that it’s not overheating though by making sure that it’s not boiling over, the radiator fan is operative, and so on.