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Traveling from Boston to CA


I have a 93 Mercury Sable and I am trying to figure out if it will make it across the country. I want to get it checked before I leave, but don’t know what usually breaks in this car. I have had two front wheel bearing ‘die’ in the last year, as well as as a control arm be replaced. I am worried about transmission going out on me. Any early signs?

In addition - I don’t know the millage. Got the car with 77,000 miles, but now its at 34,000 - it only a 5 number. Is there any way to find out what the 6th (and crucial!) number is?

What preventative fixes would you recommend for such a trip?

I’ve replaced the bearings myself, so I can do a bit on my own.


I would do a full 90K or 120K service on the car, including auto transmission filter change. Filters, spark plugs, beltand hoses, inspected/replaced, etc. I would also get a suspension check to confirm that area of roadworthiness.

Consider signing up for AAA or some other auto club in case the transmission does go. However, you haven’t told us any symptoms about it, so it is hard to assess whether the trans can make the full trip. However, highway miles are not that hard on a trans, so I suspect it may be OK unless it is displaying symptoms of not working correctly.

Thanks for the quick reply!

Quick answer re transmission - there are some problems- but not sure if this is normal

  1. If I don’t put the hand break down before parking sometimes it doesn’t come out of park easily (especially on a slight and even more on serious incline). Usually I remember.
  2. If I try to quickly accelerate (only in lower gears), and usually coming off turn, the transmission kicks in ‘late’.
  3. No noises from transmission and easy shifting on highway driving.

Regarding 120K -

  1. Spark plugs, oil filters, engine oil easy to change, as well as inspect / replace radiator hoses.
  2. What about belt-band on this car? Do you need special tension tool?

Regarding AAA
I have AAA - what do they offer if transmission goes?

What about rear wheel bearings - are they likely to fail soon since fronts failed?

AAA will pay for the hookup fees on the truck and tow you for how ever many miles specified in your plan for free. After that you pay whatever the tow truck company charges per mile. I have plus-RV, which gives me 100 miles for free. Most plans include considerably less. You can also get discounts at shops, part stores, etc.

to answer your transmission concerns:

  1. Totally normal.
  2. Also totally normal - this isn’t exactly a sport sedan. Slushboxes in family cars from the late 80’s/early 90’s are notorious for being phlegmatic about shifting. “They’ll shift when they’re damn good and ready.”
  3. Good. Your tranny is probably fine.

As to your mileage, if I had to make a bet, you have 134,000 miles on it. 234,000 is unlikely - I’d be pretty impressed if you managed to nurse an old Taurus to over 1/4 million miles.

The wheel bearings will wear out, so the fact that you had to replace them really isn’t a big deal. If the rears fail, it’s not going to be instant. They’ll just start getting louder and louder, slowly, over time. At worst, I would say you might have a bit of an annoying noise to deal with somewhere on your trip. I certainly don’t think they will strand you unless you have a very unlikely catastrophic failure.

  1. this is a sign of a worn “parking pawl”. As long as you use your parking brake religiously it’ll be fine.
  2. it’ll take longer coming off a turn because it’s stayong in gear to overcome the added resistance from turning. Perfectly normal.
  3. no noises is a good sign. No news is good news.

The belt-band? Do you mean the serpentine belt? Changing that is routine maintenance. Have it inspected or changed.

AAA will tow you to a AAA approved shop if the tranny goes. There’s not much else they can do.

Your front bearings are subjected to much more than your rear bearings. Unless you have reason to suspect your rear bearings, the fronts having gone are not reason to suspect that the rears are sure to follow.

You are now at 134,000 miles. Or 234,000 miles. There’s no way to know for sure.

Bottom line: the car has seen its best years. While it should be fine for daily use, getting stranded in a strange place can be extremely stressful. You might want to consider renting a vehicle. Or even flying and renting when you get there. If the trip is one-way, then just be aure to get the car checked over and the maintenance done before leaving.

Thanks for reply again!

Not too worried about getting stranded - I am taking that as a given with how old this car is - my outlook is it will be an adventure. Planning on donating / selling car when I get to CA - and if I don’t make it will fly from where I get to.

I am only trying to maximize changes I don’t get stranded by doing the right things. Since were traveling as a couple, have time, and will be stopping on the way to hit the national parks, it will be cheaper to drive then fly, and, were on a budget ;-).

One last and final question (I was going to post this separately, but will try here as well:)

I have a strange squeaking noise coming from front of car(I think). I can only hear it when I drive very slow and its intermittent (sometimes I hear it, then it can go away for a week). I’ve taken it to mechanic 3 times and wasn’t able to reproduce (it might only happen when car is warmed up- but not sure). It doesn’t happen when breaking (e…g you hear noise when going slow w/o applying breaks) and is not related to turning. Its not the bearings since they were both replaced. I’ve had the noise for a year- its really mystifying.

No more problems- I promise!

Make sure all the drive belts are in good condition. Replace the automatic transmission fluid and coolant also if old.

Make sure tires are in decent shape beyond the brakes.

Get a cell phone if not already and motor away. Have a credit card to buy fare from middle of no where. Many repairs are going are going to far exceed the value (~$1000) of this car.

Did Your Mechanic Check The Brakes While Investigating The Strange Squeaking Noise ? Brakes Pads Have Wear Indicators That Will Give An Audible Squeak Or Chirp That Can Be Heard At Low Speed, Foot Off Brake Pedal.


All mechanics said it was hard for them to investigate a non-existing noise so told me to come back when I reproduce the noise. I know its not the front breaks since I replaced those last year, but perhaps its the back - thanks for the tip!

The first thing you need to do with the squeaking is find out whether it’s the engine or the wheels. The next time it happens, try putting the tranny in neutral and see if it goes away. It’s slow speed, to the drivetrain is safe.

If it stops when you put the car in neutral, then it’ll likely be the engine. There are possibilities such as the serpentine tensioner, the alternator, or the AC compressor, but finding which one it is can take some playing around under the hood.

If it continues, then it’s drivetrain or rolling stock. The only prudent thing is to get it checked out. There are too many possibilities to guess.

I agree with changing the filters, fluids, spark plugs, and going over the suspension; especially the lower control arms/ball joints. Change the transmission fluid; it’s cheap to do well worth it.

You did not state which engine you have but if the car has the 3.0 you might keep the following in mind seeing as how this may be a hot weather drive across the country.
The 3.0 uses the TFI-IV ignition module and these are prone to heat related failures. The symptoms can vary a lot but often resemble running out of gas, etc. After sitting a bit it may start up and run fine until ???.
The module may not act up in Boston but the heat in this part of the country might be enough to push it over the edge.

You can proactively change it rather than take a chance with it or at least keep this possibility in mind. The module is easy to change (4 MM nutdriver or deep socket or 7/32 will do. Always use the special electrolytic grease that comes with the new module or it may be back to square one.)
I used to carry a spare TFI module in the glove box; just in case.

If possible, take the northern route. If you do not need suspension work now odds are you will after crossing OK if you take I-40.

Other than that I wouldn’t really worry too much about it if the car is running well now.
Some years back I took my family on an out of state vacation in my 300k miles plus Mercury Sable and left the SAAB at home. No problems and the car was still running/driving well when I sold it with approx. 420k miles on it.

For a car that age, the best way to cure that squeak is to turn up the radio!

Hi All,

  1. Thanks for all your details answers. I took the car to a mechanic to further check out the car. He said the only major thing that is loose is the Left Front Outer Tie Rod. Is this a fix which needs specialized tools? I’ve done bearings myself, but some of the nuts were really hard to get off.

  2. Other stuff on his list which he said isn’t as bad (and would cost much more than the cost of the car to fix):
    Muffler, Front Sway bar links, Shocks and Struts (all could use replacing, but aren’t ‘unsafe’).

  3. He checked belt, breaks, hoses etc. and didn’t find anything.

Does this change some of my answers? Do you think I will make it to CA? :slight_smile:



There are no guarantees, sounds like you are good enough to go, rationalization… Heck it only has to run for 24 hours and we’ll be there! but get the tie rod fixed.