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Buying Used Ford Focus

In Click and Clack’s review of the 2001 Ford Focus (Actual Car Info > Test Drive Library), they said “The Focus is a great car to drive, but will it stay that way as the odometer rolls over? Our hope is yes; our experience with the Escort leads us to be wary.”

Does anyone have an update on the reliability of the Ford Focus? Are there any model years that are more reliable than others? My husband and I are thinking about buying one as our first family car.


Are you buying new? If so, what other cars have you considered that can be compared to the Focus?

No, definitely buying used. Looking for a reliable car with plenty of space, and the ability to tow, so other options are the Toyota Matrix, Suzuki Esteem Wagon or Volkswagon Passat Wagon. Something like the old, reliable Toyota Corolla would be ideal.

Just looked at CR auto issue and here are the wagons in our price range that are recommended. Any comments?

CR Best Used Cars 2001-2010 $4000 - $6000

Ford Focus '05
Hyundai Elantra '06
Pontiac Vibe '03-04
Subaru Impreza '03
Toyota Corolla '03
Toyota Matrix '03

The CR recommendations are all pretty good cars. The Suzuki Esteem is somewhat an unknown since there aren’t very many of them around. The Volkswagen Passat is nice but will be expensive to repair and maintain, and they don’t usually age well in that regard. One item of note: the Pontiac Vibe and Toyota Matrix are the same car, and the Vibe is usually cheaper because of the domestic nameplate, so there are deals to be had.

One thing I have to ask about: you mentioned that you need a vehicle with the ability to tow. What do you plan on towing? None of the cars you list will be able to reliably tow more than 1500-2000 pounds, and none of them should realistically be towing anything because they aren’t meant to do things like that. Anything larger or heavier than a lightly loaded 4x8 utility trailer or small bass boat will be out.

As far as the Ford Focus, in general the newer the model year the better. They had a lot of issues in the beginning, but the vast majority of these issues were cleared up by the '03-'04 model year, leaving behind a pretty nice little car. The newer ones are actually very nice.

Get the latest issue of Consumer Reports Magazine. It has all sorts of valuable information about buying used cars, including lists of most and least reliable cars. This is a valuable resource for anyone in the used car market.

My son and dauthter-in-law have a 2003 Focus, bought new, that has been exceptionally reliable.

I’m considering buying a used Focus station wagon to replace my aging Subaru Legacy wagon.

How much weight are you planning to tow? None of the vehicles you mentioned have much towing capacity.

I think the focus is the best option overall because you can get the newest model. Neighbor is quite happy with his 05, and I would trust it over later model. My second would be the Vibe for the same reason. I had lower priced GM branded Corollas for years, 3 of them with two bought used. Two prisms. Like the Vibe the too were inexpensive corollas. They have proven to be one of the most reliable platforms ever made. Vibe and Focus !

What are you towing? None of these cars could tow more than about 1000 lbs., and even that is asking a lot and putting unnecessary wear on the transmission.

Only fools buy used VWs or Suzukis.

I never trust / agree much with Click & Clack’s assessment of cars. They have one of those over the top attachments to Hondas & Toyotas - they’re like little wind up dolls where no matter what the question is these brands come out of their mouths.

So I am perplexed by this: “our experience with the Escort leads us to be wary.” Escorts are certainly not luxury mobiles or anything. But they have always been very affordable and reliable little cars. I have now owned 3 since 1985 and each one has caused me little to no trouble, was cheap to buy and cheap/easy to maintain. The Focus is basically the new Escort.

That said, I think that the first couple of years of Foci set some kind of record for Technical Service Bulletins. I believe these were the '00-01 model years and I probably wouldn’t get one. But after that they should be fine. Your best bet is to have your own mechanic just check out whatever you are going to buy.

I think C and C were kind to those Escorts. Under the word “crude” in the dictionary was a picture of an early model Escort. I wanted to buy one years ago for my daughter but couldn’t put up with auto shifting like a drunk shifts a manual. Affordable yes, but for good reason; you get what you pay for. I have renewed respect for the Focus. There is a reason companies change the names of their models…often because it says “please forget what it used to be”.

You know how owning the same kind of car can be one of those things people have in common so its something they talk about? Well, having owned Escorts all these years the only people I know who talk badly about them are people who don’t actually own them. Every actual Escort owner I’ve talked to has nothing but good things to say. I’m not sure about the shifting like a drunk thing. I’ve had 2 with manual, 2 with autos. The autos are fine. I did test drive one once with a terrible transmission - but that was just an old used car with a transmission on its way out.

The dropping of the Escort for the Focus had mostly to do with global production consolidation (bringing Euro & US market production models closer together) and this long term attempt by Ford to get all of its models to start with “F” (Focus, Fusion, Flex, Freestar…I wish them luck with the Mustang b/c that just won’t work).

Several years ago, the Escort made Consumer Report’s list of used car “best bets”, an honor normally reserved only for Hondas and Toyotas. I have seen and worked on a lot of Escorts, and I don’t think there’s much to complain about there. The 2.0L SOHC engine does have a gritty sound to it, but you can change out the timing belt in a half hour (if you’ve done it before. First time takes about an hour. Plus it’s a non-interference engine). They also have a higher than usual incidence of coil spring breakage and ball joints/tie rod ends wearing out, but these are cheap repairs on a good, reliable car that gets great gas mileage. I have never spoken with an Escort owner who badmouthed their car. They all love them.

I agree, compact cars are not meant to tow anything. If you need to tow, you need to look at something like a Crown Victoria.

Without knowing about what you tow, I’d go for the Elantra or Focus. Newer cars will likely have lower mileage and more expensive repairs or maintenance is pushed farther off. If dropping $1000 or so for a timing belt at around 100,000 miles puts you off, then stick with the Focus. Either the 2L or 2.3L engines use timing chains, which will not need replacement every 100,000 miles. The Elantra uses a timing belt.

You are right, I never owned one but had to live with one as a loaner for a week. Couldn’t wait for the other car back. Does that qualify? Also, refereed for 25 years and we traveled long distances in each other’s cars. The Escorts, didn’t change much till they changed the name. Still doesn’t qualify? Bro. Owned one for several years, we took my car on trips…let me know when the non owner opinion qualifies. Oh, first cousin was service manager for franchise who sold Fords and his opinion I value and on and on …It’s still a crude car compared to many others, but cheap and fairly reliable for those vintage fords. Remember, Ford still makes the Ranger and IMO it’s the truck version of the escort concept. Probably the best bang for the buck in ownership cost, buT doesn’t compare with most models they compete with that may cost more to own. IMO, a great"college"car. That’s the best you’ll get out of me.

The last generation of Escorts were designed by Mazda, and were light years better than their predecessors. The Mercury Tracer was also an excellent car, built in Hermosillo, Mexico under Mazda management. It had little Ford design input.

The Focus started out badly, since there was little or no direct Mazda input in the design manufacture. After 4 years the bugs were worked out and it became quite a good car. Since the Escort over its life did not have a good reputation, Ford changed the name, for the same reason there are no more Tempos produced.

The new Fiesta is having similar teething problems, but since it has been in production several years overseas, expect these problems to only last a couple of years.

"a great"college"car

Well, that probably explains it all - I entered college in 1985 - driving a 1985-1/2 Mercury Lynx (Ford Escort). My folks helped me buy it & cosigned as my way to get back and forth & begin my life with an actual credit rating. Its now 2011 and I’m still in college, now driving a '97 Escort - although I did make it to the other side of the college desk by now. I was poor and broke as a student. I’m now poor and broke as a professor. So that makes the Escort perfect. It is basic transportation. It gets me from here to there for almost no money whatsoever and causing almost no trouble whatsoever. To me that’s the perfect car - no frills. Reliable. Cheap to own & operate. Easy to maintain and fix. It does have good A/C & a decent sound system. Those are really all I need for “frills”.

So, dagosa, I’m not so sure why you felt a need to lay it on thick to begin with or again in this last post. The Escort simply and cheaply meets meets people’s needs. It just sounds to me like you don’t like little econoboxes or whatever. Ok - so you don’t like little econoboxes. But as far as econoboxes go the Escort has always been a great choice.

Your talking to the ultimate cheapo in car ownership, chevy Novas then geo prisms lined our driveway, two at a time. I just have to say how I feel about the Escort. I could live with the Toyota clones with much smoother trans, motors and chassis, but not the competing Escorts at that time. They are reliable but compared to offerings, crude. They were not the most difficult to live with in my opinion. My daughter’s new husband almost lost my blessing when I was forced to drive his new Tercel on an extended trip. I lost respect for Toyota on that car. It was one of the most tiring cars I have eVer driven. That “cig” in my opinion was one of Toyota’s big name changer. I would take an Escort over one of those, any time. I’m a big Ford supporter for many of their models and have always recommend people consider the Focus. I encouraged my son’s recent purchase of a Fusion over a Camry for his intended use.
But, Ford has A history of building cars for a segment of the public that needs cheap, reliable transportation that IMO, remain unrefined to be cost effective profit makers. Three that come to mind are the Ranger, Tempo and Escort. All rank above a tercel, but still, all are crude relative to the competition. Crude isn’t bad, if it’s reliable, which many of these products are; and I recommend their purchase, for some.

Ford did build some great, easy to maintain econoboxes. I once owned a Ford Maverick. It was a great simple car. Its only real problem was that it rode like a wheelbarrow. I was doing a lot of traveling when I owned this car. I got rid of it when I found I was spending more on Preparation H (due to the hard ride of the car) than I was on upkeep of the car.

BTW, just to perhaps start a run on cars that we have bought because they were cheap, crude but filled a need we could afford , let me list my Junkers:
college-55Desoto, Rambler Classic
Later-2stroke SAAB, assorted Novas And Prisms
and the ultimate of crude, Suzuki Sidekick,great off road, that’s all you could say positive, but my road turned to mud and I needed a wife car for two years to save her Subaru till we could afford to fix it.
I know crude !
I respect your choice of cars.