COAL: 1986 Ford Taurus LX – Getting To Know Ms. Cougar

When I last discussed my adventures with my 1986 Ford Taurus LX, aka “Ms. Cougar,” I detailed the experience of getting covered in transmission fluid, among other things. Since then, I’ve been a bit more hands off with the car, although not because of any recurring trauma or anything, it’s just been too cold to do any sort of work in the garage. Plus, her ailments require a more seasoned professional. That being said, she’s doing quite well, although I suspect the recent California transplant isn’t too thrilled with living in New York during the winter.

I have also learned a little bit more about her past, thanks to a service that provides production information on vintage Ford Motor Company vehicles.

Before the cold set in, I decided to drop off the Taurus at my long time mechanic’s shop so he could fix a few issues I felt needed to be addressed. The four year old battery got swapped out for a slightly bigger unit from Interstate which so far has not needed to be hooked up to a battery tender. That’s a welcome change of pace from the old one, which would run out of juice every two weeks or so if the car sat still. Additionally, he repaired a chafed wire that was causing the #8 fuse to short out anytime the power mirrors were activated.

He also diagnosed two issues for me. The fuel gauge, which has never worked, is dead because of a bad fuel sending unit. And the driver’s side door could not be opened from the inside because the inner door handle is broken. He was able to jury rig the handle to a point where it can now open the door, but it will need to be replaced at some point. These aren’t crucial problem areas, but I am a bit dismayed that I cannot find a fuel sending unit for the Taurus. More on that later.

Although the car still had several issues going into winter, I was content with its overall condition, as it faced (and continues to face) prolonged periods of staying put in the garage, due to road salt. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case for all of November, so I was still able to take the car out for a spin every weekend or two. But after taking the Taurus out on a long drive in early December, the bull seemingly developed three new coolant leaks. The most noticeable leak came out of that line pictured above, which is a cooler line for the transmission, according to my mechanic. I also noticed some coolant pooled below the reservoir.

The other leak came from a heater hose connected to the thermostat. It’s the bottom hose on the left hand side of the above picture. Combined with a new power steering leak, it was time to take the Taurus right back to the shop. In addition to addressing the aforementioned leaks, I wanted him to find out why the car stutters at various speeds. He was able to tighten up a clamp to stop the heater hose leak and replicate the stuttering enough to the point where he determined the car needs a new throttle position sensor. Unfortunately, the Taurus is also going to need a new power steering pump and a new line that comes out of the pump, as they’re both responsible for the leaks. That’s in addition to the oil cooler line that needs replacing.

But none of those issues actually got fixed, because an incoming blizzard prompted me to pick the Taurus up before he could complete those tasks. That was the right move, as the Hudson Valley got pummeled with about 15 inches of snow, the most the region had seen in several years. That amount of snow does not faze us, as we’re used to such events, but it did result in quite a bit of salt being dumped onto the pavement. A subsequent threat of snow resulted in more salt being deposited onto the roads two weeks later, so the Taurus sat for about a month, before I determined the roads were clear enough for the car to experience daylight again. My policy is to wait for at least one rain storm before taking the Taurus back out for another drive.

With some cabin fever setting in, plus a desire to take the Taurus out to get the fluids pumping, I planned a trip to check out a used car I thought might be a good deal. As readers may recall, I sold my daily driver 2013 Ford Focus to Carvana back in October for a decent amount of coin. I want to get another daily driver soon, for various reasons. I decided to head out on January 17th to see if a 2019 Ford Fusion SE hybrid I spotted online was worth pursuing.

Checking out the late model Fusion was the second “stop” on the trip, as I wanted to first cross the Mario Cuomo Bridge, the replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge, which I had not seen or experienced for myself since it opened to traffic several years ago. For those unfamiliar with the area, the bridge lies across one of the widest stretches of the Hudson River, and the original bridge was put there for a very specific reason. As a result, drivers are treated to a very long cruise over the river, with a view of the NYC skyline to the south (on clear enough days) and a great view of the water to the north, if drivers are going westbound, like I was that day. Fortunately, the journey was totally worth it, as the cable-stayed bridge – like pretty much all spans featuring that style of construction – is beautiful.

Naturally, I was a bit apprehensive about the trip. Aside from the leaks, I hadn’t really taken the Taurus on a sustained highway trip before, especially on roads I hadn’t driven on recently. Fortunately, the Taurus seems to have gotten used to the cold weather, or my increased use of the heater, as there were seemingly no leaks during the trip. And the power steering fluid only leaks out in substantial quantities when the car sits for several days. The car did stutter a bit, but that’s probably due to the bad throttle position sensor. The Fusion turned out to be a bust, as it had some undisclosed damage on its front end, but the trip was far from a waste. Ms. Cougar got the workout she deserved, and I’m glad we’re both getting better acquainted with one other.

However, Ms. Cougar had at least one secret I didn’t know about until recently. See that “S” to the left of the odometer? That signifies an odometer/speedometer replacement module was installed at some point.

To be fair, the car didn’t exactly hide this from me, as I noticed this sticker on the driver’s door jamb pretty much as soon as I got it. Previously, I thought this sticker was just something that all Fords from this era had on them from the factory, with the information being written on them after the fact, if needed. But that clearly wasn’t the case. Does this mean that Ms. Cougar has been lying about her age? It’s possible, although my guess is that this was simply a warranty replacement early on in her life, hence the sticker.

And the Marti Report reminded me why that is probably the likeliest scenario. For those not aware of what a Marti Report is, it’s a service spearheaded by Kevin Marti that outlines all the production data of a chosen vehicle, straight from Ford’s system, as he has access to the database for 1967-2017 model year vehicles. Anyway, my opinion is that a Taurus built eight days before Top Gun was released in theaters qualifies as a relatively early build, as the Chicago Assembly plant had only started building them four months prior to that date. It would make sense if the first examples to roll of the line had issues with their digital odometers, as I assume that was fairly sophisticated tech for that time.

But the most important information divulged by the Marti Report relates to the gas tank. Ms. Cougar is equipped with the 18.6 gallon tank, as opposed to the standard 16 gallon one. That makes finding a replacement sending unit far less likely, as the specific unit I need also has additional parts for the digital instrument cluster. So it appears as if a functional fuel gauge is not in the cards for now – or ever, apparently.

And I may have mentioned this already, but I find it incredibly amusing that Ms. Cougar’s birth date makes her a…Taurus. Good stuff.

Kevin Marti also offers a separate production statistics report, which I obviously purchased. The intention of this separate report is to try and get the car as close to a 1 of 1 as much as possible. Of course, a grey on grey Taurus sedan isn’t exactly exotic, so Ms. Cougar had some contemporaries, although I think we can all agree that she has most likely outlived them all.

As for useful information we can glean from the report…about 51,000 Taurus sedans had the 2.5 liter four in 1986. And reading somewhat between the lines, a Taurus buyer could apparently opt for an LX-trimmed example with 15 inch wheels with either steel rims or some set of wheels covers instead of the alloys, which would be an odd decision, although I could be missing some piece of the puzzle here.

Anyway, that about sums up my adventures with Ms. Cougar since my last update in July 2020. She is a fine lady and I’m happy to have her around.

2020 Expenses, Maintenance, and Travel Report

Shipping: $1300

2 new front tires and an alignment: $300

4 new struts plus installation ($325 + $440): $725

Early winter service visit (power steering drain and fill, wire fix, battery replacement, door latch diagnosis, sending unit diagnosis): $600

Second early winter service: $0

Insurance: $240

  • Fluids, tools, miscellaneous items, and parts purchased for DIY work also purchased in 2020, but not counted in list due to laziness

Total expenses for vehicle transportation and non-DIY work in 2020: $3,165

Miles traveled: 750