Buying a vehicle

I am thinking of buying a 1998 Ford Escort. It has 111,800 miles. It has been sitting for a year or so. It seems that it only needs a battery, oil change, and I might add gas treatment if I get it. What else do I need to look for.

I don’t have any experience with Escorts, but my first thought is, does it have a timing belt? If so, when was it done last? Most cars that old were supposed to have their t-belt replaced at 60k or 90k miles. If no one knows when it was done last, I would priortise that.

Since you know very little about this vehicle, you should first ask if there are any maintenance records. That, and the owners manual will tell you what might need to be done.

In the absence of any records, you need somehow to get it going and have a competent mechanic check it out. If it checks out mechanically, I would still do the following:

  1. Change the transmission fluid % filter, if automatic
  2. Change the coolant in the radiator
  3. Change the spark plugs, check the wires (no need to do this immediately)
  4. Change oil & filter
  5. Change the timing belt if it has one
  6. give the battery a load test to see if it will make it through the winter.

When buying a car which checks out well, but with an unknown history, I usually advise the buyer to budget a minimum of $400 to bring the car up to the level where you can expect reliable service. This always comes as a surprise, but remember, long before the previous owner puts the car up for sale he stops doing necesary maintenance. Even my own boss once turned a company car over to me which had seen so little care that it left me stranded in a snow storm.

If it has sat for a year and it’s 10 years old besides, and it’s a ford…Look for leaky gaskets and leaky hoses. In my experience aging Fords have a tendancy to develop oil leaks. In fact I have never owned a Ford that didn’t eventually develop an oil leak. At ten years old look for coolant leaks, from the hoses and also the radiator itself. The obvious way to find most of these leaks is to get the engine nice and hot and look for smoke, steam or dripping underneath the car. Also, that Escort does have a timing belt to think about. My 2 cents.