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Leaf-carrying capacity of an Escort's ventilation system

We have a 1998 Ford Escort that lately has been dripping water into the passenger footwell. The evaporator plenum would fill up when running the A/C, or if it rained. A mechanic cleaned out the evaporator and blew a bushel of leaves out of the intake plenum, which had also trapped a couple gallons of water under the car. Given that the Escort has practically no protection on the intake to prevent more leaves being sucked in, I duct-taped some fine screens over the inlets. (This is a serious design flaw – we looked into replacing the trim that defines the intake, and the replacement was no different – there are just gaping holes!)

Two days later, it was clogged again. Thus, on two successive weekends, we’ve had to get this cleared and this isn’t cheap (I don’t have the mechanical inclination, time, or tools to do this repair myself). I do have a Chilton’s manual for the car, but they refuse to describe anything relating to the A/C system.

This last time around, the mechanic said that they got to all they could, but that they would need to remove the dash ($1000) to get to the rest of the ventilation system.

So, my question: assuming that the new intake screens keep MORE leaves from getting into the system, and given that the ducts have been blown out as well as they can be from the intake side and around the blower/evaporator (twice!), would it be cheaper to (A) clean out the evaporator ($200) each time it clogs again until the leaves in the system have worked their way out, or (B) drop $1000 to have the thing purged once and for all?

In other words, just how much debris can be backed up into the ventilation system that would be inaccessible short of removing the dash?

Air flow is fine when running the ventilation system. I’m trying to squeeze another 2-3 years out of this car, but with Florida summers, A/C is not optional. I’m tempted to install a bigger drain/cleanout under the evaporator…

Before anyone responds that I should just shove a wire up the drain line, I think that would be at best a temporary solution. Before taking this to the mechanic, I took out the blower and it was half-full of leaves and an acorn. Shoving a wire up the drain isn’t going to fix having acorns in there and would risk damaging the evaporator. Perhaps if I shoved a squirrel up there instead…


Once you get it cleaned out. How about putting a cut piece normal window screen over the intake. If you can not get screws to hold it, you can use glue or sealant to hold it in place.

Are You Absolutely Certain That The Water Is Coming Through The HVAC System ?

A Ford Technical Service Bulletin includes a “laundry list” of Ford, Mercuy and Lincoln vehicles from the 95 through the 99 Model-year era that suffer from windshield water leaks caused by " a skip or void in the production sealer somewhere around the periphery of the windshield ." Included are 1995 - 1999 Escorts.

Their technicians are advised to fix the problem by applying abead of liquid butyl sealer under the weatherstrip around the periphery of the windshield.

My experience tells me that HVAC drain leaks usually occur when running the A-C or defroster, especially in humid weather, but the fact that your’s leaks when it rains leads me to believe it could be the windshield.


If you put screens over the plenum then how did it clog again in 2 days? This is annoying - true. But not complicated. Clean it out regularly. If you had it cleaned out and then put screens over the intake and it was clogged up or whatever within 2 days then something didn’t go right the first time around.

Already did this (as mentioned in the original post). Window screen cut to fit and held in place with all-weather duct tape. Clogged again two days later. Thanks though.

Agreed. But this is a case of fool-me-twice…how many times am I likely to have to clean this out after cutting off the supply of new leaves on the intake side? Cleaning out regularly at $200 a pop is what I’m trying to avoid. I’ve had it done three times so far (only twice recently, but once at the start of the hot season this year).

Not trying to be argumentative, but I’m really curious how long a line of leaves could still be tucked away somewhere, and how long I’m likely to need to keep clearing the evaporator drain.

Note absolutely certain that the origin is the HVAC system, but that’s where it ends up. I have seen water drip off the blower and blower resistor, and when taking the blower out found water in there. Whether the water came from there is another question.

My understanding of the HVAC intake is as follows: there are gaping holes on either side of the center windshield wiper arm (with a trivial hood over them that doesn’t really do the job), and a small checkered grating immediately next to the wiper arm that they should have extended six inches to either side. I’ve felt air pulled in there when I have turned on the blower. I also observed a lot of leaves in there, only some of which I managed to clean out before taking it to the mechanic. It would be necessary to take off the windshield trim to get better access, and that’s not something I am comfortable with.

Since rainwater must also flow into the same channel (e.g. either side of the wiper arm), I am guessing that there is something in the part of the plenum that I could not access that allows fresh air to be drawn in while letting rainwater run by, for the most part – and I realize that a little bit of rainwater could still be drawn in and would flow out through the evaporator drain. At least one time that this happened, we are pretty sure that rainwater did not bypass the air intake, and instead ran straight to the evaporator, but this was before we had the whole system blown out.

This last time, however, when it seemed to immediately clog back up, I do not believe there was any rain. Florida is very humid, so I believe that two days of normal condensation would be enough to start dripping again.

We will keep an eye on it and see if it starts clogging again without it raining. I think the weather should stay clear for a good part of this coming week. If this could be a windshield seal problem, that at least is something that can be fixed once and for all. Thank you for the suggestion.

I suppose you’ll have to keep doing it until it’s clean, or suffer taking it completely apart and thoroughly clean it.

I’ve had a lot of cars and never had this happen, even when I was a rambunctious teenager and liked to drive through piles of leaves. How did so many leaves get in there, even with no screen? Was it parked on a pile of leaves with the fan on high and sucked them in?

That’s more or less what we’ve resigned ourselves to do – clean it out until there’s nothing left to clean out. At least the weather here should turn cool in a few weeks, so perhaps the A/C can be used more sparingly.

I think that it got parked under a lot of trees, and over the course of twelve years, enough of them found their way in to start clogging things. I just don’t know how long a twelve-year supply of leaves takes to work its way out on its own.

Next time it backs up, maybe I need to get a leaf blower in there – that’s what they are for, right? :slight_smile:

Or I may just install a one inch plug in the bottom of the evaporator catch basin, both to drain it and to get a finger in there to try to pull some of the debris back out. It’s not like the car has resale value.