COAL: 2001 Ford Focus – A Daily Dose Of Joy

Snow Head

It seems our family keeps vehicles until they are about 15 years old. Our 88 Ranger and our 96 Windstar both departed at 15, the 80 Concord and the 89 Topaz a bit sooner. Now that it’s 2016 our Focus is 15 years old, now what?

The MKI Focus was designed by Ford of Europe as a true world car to replace various Escort models, and was built in nine countries between 1999 and 2008. What set the Focus apart from it’s contemporary rivals was Ford’s decision to include a cleverly designed fully independent rear suspension (as opposed to a cheaper twist beam axle). This gave the Focus superior driving dynamics, and despite polarizing New Edge styling the car was a success. MKI (and derivative MKII) sold well throughout their run, and we Canadians particularly liked the wagon version. When the wagon was dropped after 2007 I remember my Father in Law (the Ford Sales Associate) bemoaning the cancellation, saying it was because Americans weren’t buying them although the Canadian dealers did good business with Focus wagons.  My Mother in Law even has one:

mil 1200 wagon

Back to our subject car, on the day in April 2003 that the Ranger finally refused to start we needed a new car RIGHT NOW. What Dad had on the lot was a 2001 Ford Focus ZTS in Sangria Red. As I recall he brought it to our house for a test drive, and we were amazed at how much faster it was than the Ranger (not hard) and how much better it handled than our former Topaz (also not hard). We were delighted with the car and bought it on the spot.
Being a ZTS it had the zippy twin cam Zetec engine with a 5-speed manual transmission, and 16 inch aluminum rims with 50 series tires.

Later we found out that the OEM Firestone tires were horrible in the snow, we felt like part of the ice capades. We soon sprang for some black steel rims with 15 inch winter tires, which transformed the Focus into a virtually unstoppable snowmobile.


We were warned to expect noise and harshness from the snowtires, but they turned out to be quieter and smoother than the FireHawks.


Over the years my maintenance philosophy on this car has been to do as much as I can myself, use Ford parts where possible, and replace more than I need to so I won’t have to mess with it again. For example when I did the rear brakes I replaced EVERYTHING – drums, cables, cylinders, hoses and wheel bearings. Yes I spent more on parts but I’ve not had it apart since and it still cost less than a basic brake job at a garage.


When the clutch started to chatter in 2012 the engine had to come out, so I had them do the water pump and timing belt at the same time. I only wish I’d had them replace the alternator too, when it expired the following winter it was impossible to wiggle out from behind the engine. I wound up disconnecting the motor mounts and prying the motor forward with two by fours to extract it.

Another maintenance point is that we have it Krown rustproofed yearly. It’s about $120 a year, and kind of messy but it sure works. Most older Focii have rusted out rocker panels but ours are solid.


This shot shows both the Krown oil on the inner fender, and an oil fouled serpentine belt. It started doing that soon after I had the power steering pump replaced a few years ago. I suspect a shaft leak, but the pulley is clean so I’m not sure where the oil is coming from. Any ideas?  Interior 1200

How many (older) people wish they could still get this interior in a new vehicle?  Three dial heater controls, and a finite number of large easy to read buttons on the steering wheel and dash.  Certainly my own parents wish their 2014 Escape was like this.  The thick leather wrapped steering wheel still feels great.  Fake wood trim is not my favorite, but I learned to un-see it after a few months.

So why is an Engineer and supposed car guy still driving a 15 year old economy car?  Because it’s fun to drive, that’s why!  Visibility is great, the engine pulls willingly, the car just seems eager to have a bit of fun while getting there.  It’s like a little daily dose of joy as I go about my mundane business.


Our Focus has accumulated about 250,000 km (155,000 miles). Since we use our minivan for long trips and family vacations, the Focus does mostly commuter and short haul duty. In fact the furthest it’s ever been from home was the Curbside Classic meetup at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum. Pounding across the expansion joints in America’s concrete highways for hours on end gave me lots of time to think about how far from home I was in a rather old car, but as always the Focus came through.CUV 1200

Many of my co workers drive German cars or CUVs, I now officially have the oldest car in the parking lot. I arrive at work every day just as happy as everyone else, or maybe happier since I haven’t had a car payment for 10 years. The child carseats we had in the back during 2003 are long gone, but the whole family still fits in the Focus with some folding and seat adjustment. Everything still works, the seats are still comfortable and if I need parts the local U-Pull lot has 20 Focii to choose from. Hands down this is the best vehicle I’ve ever owned.

So the Focus soldiers on into 2016, further into that uncertain realm where it’s only one major breakdown or a dozen nagging issues away from retirement. Likely we will replace it with another Focus, I’d buy a brand new 2001 if I could but a newer one will do, although they seem considerably wider than the old one. I like the Aston-esqe front end on the 2015 model, hopefully Ford is building enough joy into them that I’ll still be able to get a little daily dose.