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:
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?
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.
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.
Yeah great little cars my BIL had several as rep cars when he worked at a Ford dealer usually with the Peugeot Ford turbo diesel engines, I just saw another similarity the lower control arms in you repair shot bear a remarkable resemblance to the arms in my Citroen, I may end up with a Focus at a later date or another PSA product depends on whats available when I need to change but I kinda like the Focus.
In the US, the Focus saved Ford’s reputation regarding small cars and, as you’ve found out, they’re still quite competitive today. Proof of that being the 2009 (Focus v1.5) we got in America while the Europeans got v2.0. Whine, whine, whine on the part of the auto pundits, every review was overshadowed by the grumping of “Europe got a new car, we got restyled”.
Until the current (v3.0) model came out. Suddenly that constantly trashed American version was at the top of the charts for a desirable USED car, turns out it drove even better than the original. But nobody was willing to see that because we didn’t get as good as Europe.
I’d happily consider one for a commuter car now.
Yeah, I’ve read similar comments on here, complaining about the “rehashed” US market Focus, and I admit they look a bit crap, but it brought to mind something Jeremy Clarkson said on Top Gear years ago.
Admittedly he rarely says anything sensible, but on reporting the imminent launch of the second generation European Focus, he said something like “The Focus is pound for pound the best car money can buy, so get one before Ford ruins it”.
Those were great cars. I bought a brand new Focus “Turnier” (that ist what they call the station wagon in Germany) in 2002 and drove it for six years, always reliable and fun to drive. It was the perfect car for my young familiy.
I replaced it with the then new 2008 Ford Mondeo Turnier MK IV, as I thought I needed more interior space for the family.
Now I drive a 2014 Focus MKIII ST, which is a great car with lots of power.
But I recently snapped up a 2000 Ford Puma, that little Fiesta MK IV based coupe.
One owner, every service done at the local Ford-dealership, always garaged, only 19.000 miles on the clock.
I originally bought it as a first car for my daughter, who will make her driving-license in a few month, but my wife and I fell in love with that little coupe, which handles like a go-kart, so for short drives I tend to leave the Focus ST parked and take the Puma, enjoying the much simpler controls on the dashboard compared to the Focus ST.
It will be hard for me to part with the Puma when my daughter will have her license.
My grandparents, who couldn’t drive anymore, gave me their 1996 Mk IV Fiesta with the 1.25 Zetec engine and 5-speed manual trans.
This is the best small engine I’ve ever known. Despite its 75 HP rating, it made the car really nervous (very easy to burn rubber from a standing start, even on dry soil), and quite fast (top speed somewhere around 175 km/h – 108 mph).
Moreover, that engine loved nothing than revving and shooting the tacho needle till it hit the redline. This was the only car I hit the engine ruptor with.
Icing on the cake, it was less thirsty than a desert camel. Even when driving pedal to the metal, I never got less than 36 MPG (6,5 liters/100).
After almost 3 years of ownership, it was finally ruined by an internal fire, due – I suspect – to an aftermarket entry alarm that never worked.
Yep – I recall working for Avis in 2001-2002, and loved flinging these 1.25 Fiestas around. Probably the most “fun” car in a diverse fleet.
They felt very dated compared to the competition, but were so well sorted and well balanced – much better than the early 90s Fiestas.
These are remarkably fun cars to drive. For a basic car, they handle very well and have gobs of power. I have an ’09 (like the front end better after the restyle, but not the dash) and it’s at 115,000 miles. I had a spate of unreliability a couple years ago at which time I discovered, like you, that the alternator requires tipping the engine up out of the car a little to replace, and that once you replace the power steering pump you should be prepared for a permanent slow leak. (Apparently there’s this O ring that is about impossible to seat right.) But at this point my car is so old and worth so little that it’s a perfect car for driving to work and the store — super cheap to run, lots of smiles per mile. And mine has leather and a sunroof, the only one I’ve ever seen so equipped.
ps. I compared my Focus to my other still-extant COAL, a Toyota Matrix, here: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/cars-of-a-lifetime/coal-smackdown-2003-toyota-matrix-xrs-vs-2006-ford-focus-zx5-ses/
The Ford golden alternator. My wife-to-be’s 13 year old 1980 Mercury Zephyr, suffering with much body damage from several college era mishaps, finally bit the dust when the alternator failed and my cost effective independent mechanic quoted me something like $300! In the case of the Fox body, it was a part issue vs. a labor issue. I can only imagine a shop quote to upend the engine and replace it. On the plus side, it did give us an excuse to call the junkman and move on from college era beaters – a shiny MN-12 Thunderbird was quite an upgrade.
Having taken my 2005 Ford Freestyle over 100,000 miles, I recently discovered that the recommended spark plug replacement is over $600 bucks thanks to having to move some stuff to get to all of them. A full V-8 tune-up on my Oldsmobile 350’s used to run me around $50.00. Probably about $150 today adjusted.
It’s irritants like that with Ford products that make me wonder what the grass is like on the other side of the hill where the Toyotas and Hondas are parked.
My 07 Honda Fit has been a wonderful car, but at 104K had its first real repair – an alternator bit the dust. About $600. Owch. Right about the same cost as the timing belt, water pump and drive belts job on the 98 Civic my daughter just got. This was dealer service, so it probably could have been cheaper elsewhere.
I am starting to think that $600 is the new presumptive price for any mildly significant car repair. Just like $300 was the number in the 90s and $100 was the number in the 70s.
I’ve been suspicious that between Honda and Toyota that Honda and Ford are the most similar in terms of “OUCH” at the repair shop.
I just don’t understand why Ford used their big frame alternator on those Fairmonts and Zephyrs. It is not like they were loaded up with lots of power equipment. On more than a couple I put the basic small frame alternator to save the customer a huge chunk of money because the low volume makes it such an expensive alternator. My van has one of the large frame units but it needs they high output due to dual AC. So when it gave up the ghost I just put new brushes rather than pay the outrageous price for a crappy reman.
I’ve still got an ’03 SE, former Alamo rental car. Great little car. The old 8 valve split-port engine isn’t the greatest, and I’ve never been crazy about the automatic with that engine. But, the ride and handling combo probably made it the best little car for the money. There is still plenty that impresses me about the dash controls and interior design compared to my new Honda Fit, which mostly trades on its interior versatility. Much less stupid. Very under-rated little car. And, relatively little trouble over the years
I will confess that I was put off by the looks of these when they were new, and figured them for trouble down the road, given Ford’s cost cutting ways in those years. I am happy to have been proved wrong.
I agree that there is something liberating about an older car that is both fun to drive and paid for. This is the role that my Honda Fit plays in my own life.
You face a tough choice: replace it or let it ride. If you are likely to buy new or lightly used, replacements should not be tough to find, so you might as well drive it until it becomes unreliable. And there are people who keep maintaining a beloved car and rack up crazy high miles with it.
I intend to do this w/ my current ’05 Park Avenue. I will continue to service it and have it repaired until I no longer care to drive. I love this car that much!!
I bought a 1.6L Focus wagon in 2000 and kept it for 4 years. It was our 1st family car and a great little wagon, definitely – dependable, cheap to run, perfect as a daily driver and roomy and comfortable enough for these long vacation trips with 2 small children in the back. And it still had a glasshouse worth that fine name. Later generation Focuses seemed to… well… shrink inside, somehow, as most cars have, sadly (I hate these high beltlines and thick pillars, I want to be riding in a car, not in a submarine. Oh well the 1970s and 1980s are over, I guess I was seriously spoiled by my father’s CX wagon).
“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!”
I haven’t read the whole piece yet but I’m an engineer as well,and I concur on this. I had a 1.6 litre petrol hatchback for 120,000 miles, and always had a grin on my face. What a driver’s car.
Richard Parry-Jones is the Briton said to be responsible for Ford’s handling renaissance in cars like the Focus.
I came very close to buying a Focus wagon in ’04. I found (almost) THE exact car I wanted after about 2 months of searching the online inventories of the 5 local Ford dealers. It was a ZWS wagon with a manual transmission and ABS…apparently a very rare combination. So why didn’t I buy? I felt I was being “jerked around” by the dealership’s sales manager.
I too, like the very characterful dash layout of the 1st generation Focus, though it sort of looks like the original design was for a wider car and they “scrunched up” the design to make it fit a narrower car. The design was somewhat reminiscent of the Ford Contour’s dash layout in that it was sort of organic meets geometric?
Excellent philosophy about car repairs on your part, too. When I can, I try do the same thing so that the car I’m driving is repaired when it’s convenient for me….timewise and financial-wise.
“Jerking people around” seems descriptive of the whole industry, at least in the Euro-American sphere: manufacturers vs. suppliers, dealers, & even themselves, suppliers vs. manufacturers (e.g. lowball bids), dealers & mechanics vs. customers.
This is why we buy cars very infrequently, not wanting to play stupid mind games with such predators. Typical line: “I need to talk to the Finance Manager.” (Translation: I want you to feel guilty making such a low offer). And useless dealer add-ons like undercoating, esp. absurd in the Southwest.
In my instance I e-mailed the dealership, was put in touch with the sales manager who was a daughter or daughter-in-law of the owner. I laid out my qualifications for the rebate programs (I qualified for 2 combined rebates and as per Edmunds.com added in a reasonably generous amount for profit) and told her I would pay $XX,XX and I would be financing through my credit union.
She mailed back that she wasn’t acquainted with all the rebate programs and wasn’t sure if I qualified and would I come in for a test drive?
I wasn’t going to come in until the price was VERY close to my offer. After A LOT of back and forth she got close to my offer….and then they wanted to add $500 for “documentation fees”.
Someone was lacking in initiative, for while ignorance in itself may be excusable, failing to remedy it by investigation is not.
I’ve also encountered salesmen ignorant of technical features as well (anything one can’t see readily). That was noted by writers characterizing American car marketing; in this country, selling is more about ●how● than what.
“Documentation fees.” Yeah right, I had that listed on a deal for a used CTS a few years ago. When the sales person asked me to look over the contract those fees were stroked off right away. I told him I don’t pay for such “fees.”
Didn’t buy the CTS as I came across a sweet deal on a pampered two-owner 530i.
Agreed. If the decision is putting up with some hassle from an old car vs. putting up with hassle from a dealer, I can put up with a LOT of hassle from the old car and end up dollars ahead for my trouble.
Wow – I’ve actually seen this car. What a rarity to have seen a car featured here without having written anything!
This generation Focus has grown on me. We had a loaner one back in ’03 or ’04 when the Taurus was sick. My wife, having always driven Escorts, loved the handling on that silver four-door hatch.
Don’t worry about being an engineer driving an older economy car. There is a quirk in our engineer DNA that requires us to keep cars for a long time. Another quirk is that many of us are tightwads and spending money is painful.
I’d say being frugal (not cheap – that costs more money in the long run) is definitely very much the norm in my civil engineering circles as well. Some guys are legendary for their ability to squeeze a dollar.
I do waste money on cars. I’ve never owned one for more than 4 years. I love cars (the new ones are just as interesting as the old ones to me), roads, and driving – that’s my passion and favorite pastime. I can afford this due to frugality elsewhere in my life. If the toilets aren’t frozen over it’s warm enough in the house, put a sweater on!
During the last five or so years of my career I have earned a far-flung reputation for my ability to acquire needed items for little to nothing. A couple months ago I found a 2006 Caterpillar rubber-tired roller, stored inside, 25.4 hours (that’s not a typo), over $90k new, and out the door for $15,500.
Really, one doesn’t need a toilet anyway. That’s what coffee cans and backyards are for. 🙂
One thing that helped me with the womenfolk who live in my house complaining about the cold temperatures is a heated toilet seat. No joke, they love it and it cuts down on the whining. It does use 40 watts of electricity though dammit.
Harold you are my hero. (But DougD is a nice guy too!)
We may be kindred automotive spirits. I’m already itching to replace my 2014 Honda CRV and the article on your new Highlander piqued my interest.
If I stay with a CUV the Highlander is my favorite by far. The Camry (particularly with hybrid or V6 powertrains) and Avalon are very attractive to me as well. I had a Maxima before the CRV and liked it, so I’ll have to check out the new generation as well.
There is a definite charm to a midsize car with a powerful V6 engine!
That fits my doctorate holding EE brother-in-law to a tee. His F-150 Supercrew and his Sienna minivan are in the 10-15 year of age range.
Sounds about right; my vehicles are two, nine, sixteen, and fifty-three years old. They’re just getting broken in.
I’m glad that you’re enjoying your Focus!
I’m also in Ontario. I drove a Ford and last Summer switched to a “fancy Ford”. I did some research regarding rustproofing and decided to go with Corrosion Free. As long as you go with an independent dealer (not Canadian Tire) you should be okay. And you reapply it every 18 month. I got a full package last Fall for $100.
Here’s the article that persuaded me: http://www.howtosavemoney.ca/which-rust-proofing-service-is-best
It’s a good thing you got the Ztec, my wife has an ’02 with the base model single cam and it’s a bit of a turd. I’m changing the alternator today, as coincidence would have it. The frequency of needed repairs has been quite high.
My mom had a hatchback version of the same car and even year I think. It was a great driver and served her well for many years, I know I always enjoyed taking it for a spin when visiting. Glad you are enjoying yours, it certainly looks in good condition, that Krown seems to do its job.
My parents bought a new Focus wagon in ’00 along with a number of others in the community, and it seemed that anyone who bought a wagon or hatchback ended up despising them, but anyone who bought a sedan was fine. Ours went through four ignition switches in the first two years (beat that GM… no wait, please dont!), it leaked a lot underneath, and the interior fell apart in the first three years. It was problematic enough for my parents to not even notice the good handling. The fact they’ve bought any Fords since, let alone 3, is a testament to how much Ford has improved quality wise since 15 years ago.
I currently own a problem-free ’12 Focus and can say that if you have to replace yours with a new one, you won’t be disappointed. Still, it would be nice if we got the wagon version.
“I currently own a problem-free ’12 Focus…”
Manual transmission? The teething problems with the Powershift DCT…
As the owner of European Mk 1 and than a European Mk 2, I can easily concur with you when you write “Hands down this is the best vehicle I’ve ever owned.”.
My Mk1 had a new engine starter under warranty, a water leak into the front footwell (a common issue apparently) that Ford also fixed and the coil went at 90,000+ miles. There than that, nothing unscheduled, not even a bulb.
The mark 2 did even better, with even the wiper blades going to 110,000 miles.
I’ve got a piece in the skunk works for the mk 1 Euro Focus hatch, maybe to be titled the most influential car of the 1990s.
Can’t recommend them highly enough.
Well, the 1998 Ford Focus was certainly the best and most influential Euro-Ford of the nineties. At the end of a decade with very mediocre (cost savings !!) Ford products.
Ironically, of the “Big Three” hatchbacks, Golf, Focus and Astra, early Foci are by far the most often seen in a very sorry shape here in Germany. Dented, dirty, abused, with body panels in a different colour etc. Golfs of the same era are mostly still in “nice used car” territory, where the first Focus firmly falls in the “beater” zone (the Astra hovering somewhere in between). Besides poor rust-proofing, they aren’t intrinsically worse than the Golf though. The same thing happened to first-gen Mondeos vs. equivalent Passats. Why would that be?
Same here – my 2000 Focus wagon remains to this day the most dependable car I ever had.
But Ford service was patchy at best. I had a Mark 1 as well, which also leaked into the footwell, and the Ford dealer refused to fix it under warranty, and Ford backed them up, saying it was ‘trim’! Spoilt a fun car.
Oh yes! Just one short ride and you know it handles great. I also liked the looks right away. Definitely this is a car to put on the short list for a daily commuter.
When looking for used ones I found there was one issue with the drivers seat. On many high mileage focus’ there seemed to be a steel tube protruding from the bolster on the left edge of the seat. Still, a very likeable car.
Winter tires are a must for me. I have General Altimax Arctic, they are grippy and noisy. My son has Michelin X-Ice 2 that are equally grippy and incredibly quiet. Do I see it right, you have Goodyear?
If I remember correctly, whenever Car&Driver magazine tested a Mk I Focus they commented on the driver’s seat….or maybe I’ve read the comment so often on the internet?
I am, as most regular responders may know, 6’5″ tall and have a 38″ inseam. I drove a first year Focus sedan as a rental car. It was way to small inside, but great fun to drive!
I like this generation of Focus a lot. I’ve driven the European 07 and 10 models and found them enjoyable too. My first company car was an 08 SE. A half shaft was replaced under warranty but that was the only mechanical issue under my care. There was regular highway driving and every two weeks my little Focus went up and down a mountain to call on a mining company. Not a problem. The longest road trip was to central BC with a loop through the northeast and back down to Edmonton.
I turned the Focus in at 80,000 kms plus still in very good mechanical condition. It would have been a good car to buy off the company for a second car, but that was not to be. The SE was replaced with a 2012 Focus, another very good car.
I have a 2004 Focus ZXW wagon bought in summer 2013 to replace my 1996 Escort wagon. The Escort was the best car I’ve ever owned, and the Focus has proven to be just as reliable. It’s a little bigger, heavier and more “substantial” feeling than the Escort, and can carry 10-ft lengths of wood for my custom rocking chair business – sweet! It also rides and handles well and is fun to drive, even with an auto. I too lamented Ford’s decision to drop the wagon after the ’07 model year.
My partner has a 2006 Focus hatchback and it’s been good too. His parents bought a 2015 Focus hatchback last year brand new and I sat in it – didn’t like it at all, the roofline slopes too much and I didn’t like the layout of the dash or how the seats felt. I think the newer models aren’t as good. Would like to find a rust-free ’07 wagon to replace my current ride, but they’re getting thin on the ground up here in southern Ontario.
It’s still in great condition, good job. These were a very common sight in the Toronto area.
I have to admit I never really warmed up the the millennium era ‘new edge’ styling with those fender creases, but the interior still looks modern and is much better then the neutered dashboard revision it received later in the model run.
Seven character Ontario licence plates starting with A, don’t see those much anymore!
My licence plates start with A and have seven characters! Had these 25 years now.
Your only halfway there. 30 years and 300+k miles and the ’86 Jetta engine and trans still holding up well. If the yearly Krown rust treatments can keep rust away for another 15 years, drive her till something major fails. Good call on replacing everything you can when torn apart and have easy access. Well worth it for reliability and in the long run it’s cheaper as well.
If the car is not using power steering fluid, assuming the Krown oil spray did not soak the belt possibly the front crank seal may be leaking, soaking the serp belt. Although if that’s the case I would make sure the timing belt is not oil soaked as well. Also check cam seals as well.
Usually see hatchbacks or estates (wagons) in the UK.The 4 door is a rare sight over here.
I helped son Ed buy a new ’03 red htachback XX3 (DOHC, stick), and oh what a joy that car was to drive. A revelation, and once again proving that a well-engineered suspension doesn’t have to be hard or harsh in order to handle well (I’m looking at you, Scion xB).
He only kept it a year. I sold it, and had the last drive in it. I was quite tempted to keep it for myself.
Like so many new cars from the Big Three, the first year (’00) developed a rep for lots of problems. My understanding is that the quality improved each year (typical Detroit). And yes, I really loved the wagon. I often regret not buying one instead of the Forester back then.
In the fall of 2004, my wife was looking for a car to replace her 1999 Chevrolet Cavalier that had given up the ghost. She was considering a used Focus, but I told her she should consider a new one, as the first few years were problematic. The salesman at the Ford store admitted that he would avoid any Focus built before the 2003 model year.
She bought a brand-new 2005 SE sedan, and it now has over 222,000 miles on the odometer. It didn’t have a major problem until 190,000 miles (alternator failed, followed by a rear wheel bearing about 10,000 miles later). Otherwise, the car has been quite sound.
I know my parents and a lot of others in their town being able to vouch for the first year Focii having a lot of problems. Didn’t know of many people with later ones having the same problems.
We purchased a 2005 ZX5 STS with every option available except the automatic. I spent considerable time researching our car purchase, and eventually settled on the Focus as being the best car available that no one knew was such a good car. By 2004/2005 Ford had all the initial bugs sorted out, and the car was starting to earn raves, yet resale values were still bad. I swooped in on a short term lease return (6 month lease!) that had the exact specifications requested by my wife (silver 5 door with stick and leather).
That car turned out to be the best buy I ever made. In just over 7 years of ownership it went in for two warranty repairs (hatchback wiring harness was replaced and rear shoes replaced)) and one repair not under warranty (heater fan switch replacement). Other than that it got regular oil changes and regular scheduled manufacturers recommended service interval stuff. I replaced the original tires with Michelin’s (oh what a difference) and bought a set of used OEM wheels for Michelin winter tires for all four wheels.
150,000 kilometres on the original clutch, front discs and pads and nothing else ever went wrong. The shifter and clutch were the equal of much more expensive cars, and that little Zetec had serious get up and go.
I paid 15 grand for it, and sold it seven and a half years later for 6800, and now regret not keeping it for myself as that was a fun car to drive and never failed to put a smile on my face.
Here is a humorous description of the wiring problem:
Once the initial problems with the Nasser-Era cheapening were ironed these were solid cars.
Especially if you protected for the rocker rust (like this owner did).
I drive motor pool vehicles at work and my usual pick is an 07 Focus sedan. I can choose this, a Prius, or any of three 08 to 11 Focus sedans. I just like the 07 better than the newer ones or the Prius. The seats are better and the door panel doesn’t dig into my side like the newer ones. It drives pretty nice for a compact as well and would be a pleasant car to own.
There was a feature on PBS’ Nightly Business Report with Paul Kangas many years ago that made a point that a person could retire 10 years earlier just by keeping cars longer and automotive expenses down.
Making the point, Kangas, the anchor, was shown in the parking lot with his 10-15 year old Chevrolet Caprice. For a guy that presumably made decent money to be driving a moderately priced decade old car, he was certainly walking the walk. Perhaps better, driving the car.
There is more to life than MB and BMW.
With average car prices approaching the cost of my first home purchased 26 years ago, you can definitely see where a 10 year replacement schedule vs. a 5 year would give you substantial capital to invest.
Count me in the camp that liked the early U.S. Focus. Our neighbors had one and it sure seemed like a practical and spacious car – one of the first real efforts at a tall and space efficient U.S. domestic Ford compact. Way better space wise than the old U.S. Escort.
Nice find. That was 16 years ago? I’m getting old but at least my memory isn’t failing. Yet.
I really hope I get a new Focus as a rental. I was upgraded to an Escape last year (which is just a Focus on stilts) and I loved the handling. It had to go through mud and snow and it was so sure-footed. The only bad part was the entertainment system, but life goes on.
I have my beefs with Ford – most of them stem from my “01 Sable having the same problems as my ’02 Taurus – but the company has improved it cars and year after year things seem to get better. Even one of my most snobby picky friends loves the Fusion he was given as a company car. He’s in sales and spends most of his time in the car.
My sister is on her 2nd Mk1. I have driven both a fair amount of distance. Fine car, for sure, though her first wasn’t in great shape.
Opel-Ford-VW, the three main C-segment characters from the late nineties in one picture. Fierce competitors, just like in the decades before.
I recall a friend who owned a new 2000 focus and had one problem after another until he sold it at a great monetary loss. Things must have improved since then. As an owner of a 2001 Mazda Tribute (also a Ford) I have to say that I have had less problems with the drive train than those depicted in this article. Btw, I also Krown the vehicle. Keeping it until it disintegrates….
Pry the engine forward to remove the alternator? I’ve changed several of these. You have to remove several items, (including a small bracket that you won’t think matters) and turn the alternator in the *exact* position the manual shows, but it comes out easily.
It’s shown in my manual, remove these items, turn it this way and it comes out. I tried for a solid of hour to get that thing out. It was -20C and I was doing it in a dark garage and running out of time, so I broke out the 2X4’s. Not my finest moment as a mechanic but it worked…
So, am I to understand the engine must come out to replace the clutch? I have never encountered such a car…at least not a mass market model, that could not have its clutch renewed via transaxle removal, which while not exactly easy, is far less intensive than engine removal.
My moms long time friend has owned a total of 3 Focus sedans including a first year 1998 which was a lemon, a 2001 that replaced the trouble prone 1998 and currently has a 2012. The 1998 was a disaster. Intermittent stalling, a defective alternator, a failed trans axle, air bag lights going off, numerous electrical issues, oil leaks, a faulty power train control module and I seem to remember her having to bring it in for recalls but don’t remember how many. She traded this car in for a 2001 which was better but still suffered from several of the issues her 1998 model did. Luckily it didn’t strand her like the 1998 did and over time it ended up being a decent car. She replaced that with a 2012 which suffered from a herky jerky transmission that has been in several times for a re-program and then a recall. It also needed it’s fuel pump replaced under another recall with an intermittent stalling problem which is very disconcerting to an 80 year old elderly woman stuck in traffic. She is currently in the process of filing yet another complaint with Ford with the transmission that is currently very rough and jerky again. It currently has but 12k miles on it. It’s her last Ford!
Unlike many of you with positive experiences, the relationship I had with my Focus was not a positive one. The first new car I ever bought was a 2001 ZX3 hatchback in May of 2001. I chose every option available except for ABS. As others have pointed out, these cars had good power and drove amazingly well relative to other small cars of the era. Other than maybe a 2.0 Protege, these really seemed to be top of their class.
Things I didn’t love were the so-so 27 mpg I was averaging, and as Doug pointed out, the OEM Firestone tires were downright scary in the winter. Then there were all the problems… Almost immediately the interior sunroof trim refused to stay in place. After a couple months, the rear washer pump refused to operate. Warranty claims for both issues never fully resolved these problems. The self-canceling signal stalk had a design flaw that would eventually shear the internal gear off, so you would have to manually deactivate the signal. This was replaced three separate times under warranty while I had the car. By far the worst problem I encountered was fuel pump failure, which left me stranded on the side of the road twice (first at about 11,000 miles, and the second time around 26,000.) I decided I was not going to be keeping the car after the initial 3/36,000 warranty period, and planned accordingly. There were also several recalls I had to take the car in for during my ownership on top of these separate problems. I won’t even get into the poor dealership experiences, thanks large in part I believe to the constant warranty claims.
I dumped that car like a hot bag of shit in August 2003. I took a huge hit in depreciation, because by now, word was out about how unreliable these were. I’d like to say i’ve tried to keep an open mind towards Ford products since then, but i’d be lying if I told you that lemon didn’t leave a sour taste in my mouth.
We avoid 1998-2002 Focus’s at the auctions and dealer trade ins like the plague. Ditto 2012’s and 13’s with the DCT automatic. It gets tiresome and expensive having these cars come back a few months after being sold with so many issues and failures and upset customers.
The more complicated automakers make cars to greater the likelihood of problems. Part of the reason I’m in no hurry to buy a newer vehicle. Both cars in the garage are 03 vintage. The rusty Mazda in the driveway is an 02. Its no wonder people these days trade in their cars after the warranty expires or have a short term lease.
Its interesting to read comments about issues with the automatic transmissions with the 2012 Focus. My 2012 Focus company car was an early build and I didn’t experience any issues while it was in my possession. When I helped buy an 05 ZX5 for my older daughter and her husband I made sure the tranny fluid was flushed and filter replaced. I wonder how many problems arise from lack of tranny maintenance.
A little tip for you all, particularly those of you in California. Forget about looking for any Focus 2002 or older. Try to find a 2003 – 2004 Focus with the 2.3 liter P-ZEV engine. It has A LOT more power than even the Zetec engine – over 150 IIRC. (You could get them in NY, too I think)
You want to look for a ‘Z’ in the 8th VIN digit position. (Most Foci will have a ‘3’ here….)
That would be NY and most of New England (New Hampshire hasn’t adopted CA emissions but mostly gets them since that’s what’s in the pipeline to the northeast states anyway) and I think NJ and Pennsylvania.
I had a 2005 Focus which was very well loaded. I had a choice between that 2005 and a 2007 with a sunroof and I decided on the 2005 because it had the full gauge cluster. It was good car and I kept it for a few years.
I liked the 05-07 dash over the 00-04 dash.
I was able to get DRLs on my car by just plugging in a relay. It seemed the car was already wired for it and all it needed was a $5 relay from ford. Plug and play.
DougD does your car have the tilt/ telescopic steering wheel option? Mine did but I did not know until a year later when I read up on it on the Focus forum. To check to see if your steering wheel telescopes, pull the tilt lever down and pull the steering wheel towards you, if it moves then you have that option. Not every Foci had that option in those years.
I would just keep it until it falls apart. The junk yards are plenty full of Focus so parts are cheap.
My 2005 the day I bought it from the dealer
My Focus the day of the big brush fire near the Inter County Connector (ICC) (a big boondoggle)
“I was able to get DRLs on my car by just plugging in a relay. It seemed the car was already wired for it and all it needed was a $5 relay from ford. Plug and play”
What are DRLs?
Daytime Running Lights.
I’ve had similar luck as the author with my ’02 wagon/5-speed. Very comfy and reliable, and have put 4 fatties on board with no issues. Bought 4.5yrs ago, and oiled every Winter (Ontario). Good little car
Um, you do realize that this is Curbside Classic and most of us are a little curious about the very nice ’75-’76 Sedan DeVille parked behind the Focus.
Granted the camera angle has something to do with it, but that Focus still looks strangely large compared to the Caddy.
The annual oiling you refer to has me curious. We have nasty road salt where I live with lots of thaws that keep cars salty and wet. We have nothing like that available as a service where I live.
You made me curious, and I looked up Krown’s website. They have at least one location each in eastern Michigan, northern Ohio and in St. Louis.
It seems to me that Krown or Ziebart (more common in the US) require an up-front commitment to keeping a new car for the long haul. I wonder if we Americans are less likely to make this leap. The time and money to treat a new car would be wasted if the plan is to turn it in at the end of a 3 year lease or trade in 3 to 5 years.
When my mother bought her Crown Vic in 1985, they had been around long enough to display some tendencies to rust. She got a Ziebart treatment when new and kept it up for several years. The car looked perfect when I traded it in at 10 years old. But the real test would be between years 10-15, when the car would not have been worth much anyway. This is one of those services that I like the idea of, but have never actually purchased on my own.
I liked that shot as well, as the Caddy looks about the same size. Attached is the opposite view, restoring proportion to the mix. The Focus is actually taller than the Caddy, and with the boxy dimensions, can actually sit four adults in some comfort. The sight lines are also great, which is unusual for a newer car.
As to the rustproofing. I use an independent that I have been going to for 30 years to oil up all the cars in the fleet. There are two options, an oil based “drippy” solution, which will drip all over the ground for the next week, and a “non-drip” solution which is similar to the products advertised such as Krown, Waxoyl, Ziebart, etc. Opinions vary as to effectiveness, but it is a must in Southern Ontario if you want to keep the body and underneath in reasonable condition. I use the oil based drip oil for all of the old cars that have some corrosion present as I believe it penetrates better, and the cars are parked in the Winter, so no washing off of the oil occurs. If the car is newer and not affected yet, the dripless/synthetic is the way to go for neatness. We have cars in the 2007 range starting to show rust through, and the degree of rust seems to be getting worse with the addition of sound proofing mastics that absorb and hold moisture.
The Focus was my only car to show a reaction to the oil by warping the rubber door seals, but thankfully, as mentioned above, there are plenty of Foci in the wrecking yards and parts are cheap. These cars are known for rockers and rear hatch rust- through, and some funky paint fade/cracking/delamination. The Oil based is usually around the $100/application mark, but the synthetic stuff can run to $150+, depending on coverage and size of the car. I usually overdo it by removing sun visors and spraying inside A-posts, frame rails, and any other crevice that can be found, as you tend to have a good base after several (yearly) applications.
Have a look inside the garage at the other object of my desire.
The Caddy is a ’75 SDV that followed me home a couple of years ago. It is a local Ontario cart that was in pretty decent shape, needing only a little TLC to make a presentable driver. It has 86k on the clock, with a clean interior.
Comfy Interior shot
Graf Zeppelin and Hindenburg in the hanger…
Yup, my lower doorseals are weirdly swelled, and the third brakelight gasket is extruding itself out the gap. Some parts don’t like that stuff. Also the rear bumper step plate on the Caravan swells & warps. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s better than not doing it…
We bought an 03 Focus ZX5 new. It was a great car. The hatch would swallow huge amounts of stuff, it was comfortable and fun to drive, and it got 36 mpg. With snow tires it would go through anything and it was fun to drive. Much to love. A lean economic period forced it’s sale and I still miss it.
In 2004 I looked at the Mazda 3 and a Focus ZTS. Decided to take a chance and bought the Focus with the 2.3L engine and 5 speed and a great cash back offer. All I can say is what a great car. Quick, agile and great handling. The car now has 145,000 freeway miles on it as I use it for my 25 mile round trip office commute. The only issue is the radio and speakers are showing their age and are about to be replaced. I will say I wouldn’t by the newer Focus of today as the handling isn’t as tight for one.
Very nice article and great job with your comprehensive maintenance program. Sounds like with preventative maintenance you had great luck with yours – I’ve been hesitant to try a Ford small car again after a terrible experience with a brand new ’86 Escort GT – even though I followed the service intervals to a tee. Blocked A/C lines, continual brake problems, wiring problems that left me stranded….all in just two years of ownership and less than 24K miles.
Mom’s last car was an 02 Focus. Base SPI, the one known for dropping valve seats. Owned for 10 years. The estate sold it to my brother with 46,000 miles on it. Reliable.
The best seats ever. Much better than my ION, though I prefer the ride on it than the Focus. It feels more connected to the road. Seems the IRS vehicles I have driven feel like riding in a bathtub for some reason. Not a knock on the Focus, I just prefer the ION in that respect.
The interior in the ION seems quieter as well. Fuel economy on long trips and in town were lower on Mom’s Focus than the ION, but the workmanship and interior are better in every way, though both are overwrought in design.
I wouldn’t have one of the new ones on a bet with that Power Shift automated manual and tiny back seat. Too many problems. Too much style over substance. Too much tech over-reach on a mainstream car where reliability is so important.
Way to go Ford, to take a reliable offering and turn it into a dubious proposition if one doesn’t want a manual.
I’ve never driven one, but these have always struck me as a cut above other domestic compacts, and on par with the likes of Civic/Corolla/3. It’s a shame the wagon was axed in the US after the first generation though. I might consider a late 1st-gen wagon as a replacement for my current daily driver if I decide to go the “buy cheap for cash” route as opposed to actually financing a newer vehicle when the time comes. Sounds like everything was ironed out and dead reliable by ’03-’04, which is one good side to long generations.
My oldest son and his wife bought her grandmothers 2005 Focus about 6 months ago, a classic little old lady car with only 29000 miles on it, so he could use it as a daily driver from Sandusky, OH to Strongsville, OH. Paid 1500 dollars for it. Runs great, only flaw is that the instrument panel goes dead intermittently, but comes back on, usually right away. Also, he hit a deer up the road from my house back in November, fortunately it was a small doe, so he got a road kill tag for the deer and harvested the meat. Car damage was limited to the passenger front quarter panel, hood, headlight assembly and grill. Body shops wanted $2000 plus to fix it, most of that, understandably was for labor and paint, so that was out of the question so we pulled all the affected sheet metal off and found that none of the underlying framework or radiator support had been bent or damaged. Hard to believe, but it was not damaged. He has an old school buddy that has a local junkyard who happened to have an identical year, same color Focus. Sold him all the parts (hood, fender, headlight assembly, grill and side marker) for $100. Put them on and the only way to tell is the replacement fender has a pale blue pinstripe. Its a fine running little car.
I love my 2007 Focus wagon which I bought in April 2016. It’s in near-mint condition and I have had it rust-checked. Lost of salt-rusted cars here in southern Ontario so hopefully this will help. The rocker panels are still solid and rust-free.