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Used Car, Ford Focus 2003 ZX3 (Manual), what basic things can I do to maintain / improve?

I just bought a used Ford Focus (2003 ZX3 Manual). There is some problems with the car and I am looking for short term or cheap fixes, improvements and general maintenance. I do not have a Haynes manual or similar for the car, just the basic ford booklets about when maintenance should be done.

The car is making some knocking noises. Also not sure if there is a slight grinding noise with the drive train or not. The transmission, gear box, seems to be working perfectly. I know little to nothing about cars, and also have little to no money. I am asking for anything that I can do to improve wear, and life of the car.

I am more than happy to buy lots of grease and oils, just so long as I know whether they will work well and where to put them. I do have a lot of free time to mess around with the car, but not to do anything serious such as stripping down the engine.

I have tried searching the internet but that is overwhelming and I am more scared of making things worse.

First of all . . .

Is the engine making the “knocking noises” . . . ?!

If so, is it a low pitched noise, or high pitched?

Or is the suspension making a knocking noise, such as when you go over bumps?

As far as buying grease, forget it . . . your car has no grease fittings

As for that oil, you definitely want to keep your fluids topped off. I would be checking the engine oil level every week for now. Make sure the coolant level is correct. I suspect there’s a fill plug on the side of the transmission. Remove it and check the level of the fluid. Should be even with the bottom of the fill hole. You have a dipstick for checking power steering fluid level. The brake fluid and clutch reservoirs have markings on them.

You do have the owner’s manual, yes?

You’ll definitely want to use the correct type of oil, coolant, transmission fluid, etc.

I think what you’re looking for is stuff you can do to keep your car on the road and reliable as possible, right? Major jobs like taking the engine apart don’t fit the bill for a diy’er b/c they’d require the car be taken off the road for weeks or months. And you need to drive it, not look at it sitting there smug-looking on jack stands in your the driveway every day.

hmmm … and you’ve got some time available for doing routine maintenance and want to optimize the use of that time towards your goal? … OK, first off, change the oil & filter every 3000 miles. Either buy your filter from a Ford dealership, or at least use a name brand oil filter. Just doing that will go a long way towards what you seek. Beyond that, replace the coolant every two years. And the engine air filter at the same time.

You can look at the user’s manual to see other scheduled maintenance items Ford recommends for this car, and when they are supposed to be done. Some of those you can do yourself, some not. But most motivated folks can change the oil and coolant themselves.

If you’ve never done something like this before, suggest to ask someone who knows to show you how to do it correctly and safely the first time. And don’t skimp on safety equipment. You need a good reliable jack and jack stands for example. You don’t need the pro-version of tools in most cases. The diy’er versions you can buy at Sears or Harbor Freight will usually do what you need.

One last bit of advice. It’s a fool’s errand to go about this kind of enterprise without taking advantage of the knowledge of experts who’ve done it many times already. No need to re-invent the wheel. Suggest to buy a Chiltons or equivalent repair manual for your make/model/year, and read through the entire procedure step by step before attempting it. If you’d like a more general book about car maintenance for modern cars, more about how it works and the why it’s needed to be done rather than the how to do it, Popular Mechanics publishes a good one, Popular Mechanics Complete Car Care Manual . Your local public library might have one.

And of course there’s always Car Talk, a place you can ask for help. Suggest to read Tom and Ray’s list of objectives for diy’ers, use the search tool above, it’s somewhere on this site. Gives some perspective where you need to focus your time and att’n.

Best of luck.

Get a good independent mechanic to inspect the car and diagnose the issues.
This would have been an even better move before you bought it.

A manual from Haynes or anywhere else would go a looong way to helping you understand the car and any problems it might have. Is is a VERY cheap education even IF you don’t DIY the services. If you DO, then its indispensable! I suggest you buy one right away, read it and if you have more questions your posts here will be much easier for us to understand and help.

These are all very good suggestions. I would also consider changing all the fluids like brake fluid and transmission fluid for example. This way you know when it is changed and can start routine maintenance. It might also be a good idea to change wires, spark plugs, ignition coils/distributor caps, wipers, hoses, air filter and anything else that can be considered routine. Another thing that can help is a fuel injector cleaner. I have had some car gurus tell me that they are rubbish and other car guys swear to me by them. They do not hurt and might help the running of the car. Good luck and hopefully you will be able to keep car running for many decades.

All very good places to start! Several here like Seafoam for cleaning injectors and the intake tract. There are YouTube videos that show you how to clean the intake tract with it. To clean injectors Seafoam, or other quality products, can go in the tank. I have no experience with the product, but injector cleaners that connect to the fuel line to actually run the car with the injector cleaner (like BG products) can clean up very dirty injectors.

Combine with fluid changes and you remove deposits left behind by spotty maintenance from previous owners. I just bought a 2013 Mustang and am in the process of doing exactly that.

How many miles on the Focus?

in regards to that fuel injector cleaner, here are my opinions

The only ones worth a spit are the ones where the engine is designed to run on the fuel injector cleaner, which is in a canister. Those cleaners are extremely potent and are designed ONLY to be used with the canister

The ones which I feel are worthless are the ones which you dump into the tank at every fill up

Using cleaner, whether it’s the good stuff or the junk, won’t hurt, in any case. But I wouldn’t bother using either, if there are no indications of problems

“no indication of problems” is debatable, actually

@Jack Hammered
When you get the knocking and grinding checked out and if they aren’t anything too serious, I’d recommend inquiring about a timing belt replacement. That’s not likely going to be a DIY project for you. I believe the ZX3 is a DOHC, but even if it’s got a single (overhead) cam, I believe it utilizes a timing belt.

Can you verify if/when the timing belt has been replaced? If not then it could be the original and should be replaced.

Get estimates for replacement prior to having it done.

When I get a used car the first thing I do is get all the fluids changed; coolant, transmission, differential, brake, power steering, etc. After that in this case you need to diagnose the grinding and knocking noises. Hopefully the grinding is coming from the brakes, and that is a relatively easy fix. Knocking can be serious, but it can be normal - some cars have fuel injectors you can hear clicking at idle rpm.

Start by having the knocking and grinding noises diagnosed. If it’s something serious, like an engine or transmission on the way out, that would be good to know before you decide what else to spend money on.

It’s a 2L DOHC interference engine. The mileage interval for timing belt replacement is 120,000 miles.