“Never buy a grey car” is what my wise 90-year-old uncle said to me when I told him I purchased a grey Ford Escape, “they are nothing but problems.” Well, I should have listened to his advice.
2022 brought many changes for my wife and me. The biggest change was my wife and I both changed jobs two weeks apart from each other in February. This was totally unintended. She had been in the process of trying to find a different job, and during her searches, she happened to find the perfect job for me. I applied, and to my surprise, I ended up with a new job before she did. We were both nervous about bringing that much change to our household at once, but now almost a year later, the transition was smooth and the right move for both of us.
The change in employment meant that we both would be doing a lot more driving than we used to. Previously, we both worked within five minutes from home, with my commute being 2.2 miles round trip every day. Now she would be commuting 40 miles round trip every day, and I would be closer to 20 miles. Within a week of our new commutes, I was beginning to wonder if our car situation needed some addressing for all the additional miles and gas we would be consuming. My Ranger gets an earth-shattering 14 MPG, and my wife’s CX-5, our “good” car, was soon racking up mileage faster than I would have liked. Soon I found myself scouring the internet for the perfect “cheap work car” for us. Unfortunately, this happened to be the worst time to purchase a used car. Junk cars were going for stupid money. However, a trip to my parent’s house one late winter weekend sparked an idea. I found the perfect “cheap work car.”
My parents have lived in the same neighborhood since 1997. My parent’s next-door neighbors are great people who I have known almost my whole life. Since the beginning of Covid, every time I would go to Iowa City to visit my parents, I would see my parent’s neighbor’s 2011 Ford Escape parked alongside their garage, stationary, never showing signs of being driven. I asked my dad about the story of the Escape. It developed a problem where within a matter of hours, the battery would go dead after being parked. No mechanics could figure it out. The car was a spare car for them, so it just sat. Coming from a manufacturing background, there is “never one ant,” meaning, if one issue happens, it has bound to be repeated elsewhere. This convinced me that all those failed mechanic visits were really the results of mechanics who did not really know what they were doing. I had convinced myself that the depths of the internet had seen this issue and that I could have this car fixed in little time. Boy was I wrong.
Soon my parent’s neighbors and I were in talks about the Escape. I had convinced my wife that we could purchase it and share it as a “work” car for the two of us. This would put fewer miles on our “good car,” as well as save on our fuel bill. She trusted my judgment, so I discussed the price of the Escape with my parent’s neighbors. We discussed the battery issue, and they had another mechanic who looked at it. He concluded it was a bad battery. So, a day before the car changed ownership, a new battery was installed in the car. It did not fix the issue. They were apprehensive about the sale, but I was not concerned. A couple of days later, I was the proud owner of a 2011 Ford Escape that would go dead in a matter of hours.
The Escape was a 2011 XLT. It was equipped with the 2.5L MZR (Mazda engine) four-cylinder mated to the 6-speed Ford-designed 6F35 transmission driving the front wheels. It had 138,000 miles on it and was previously owned by my parent’s neighbor’s son, who lived in Northern Florida. The car made its way to Iowa just a couple of years ago. Up until the battery issue, they had no issues with the car. I had done a bunch of research and had concluded the Ford-Mazda 2.5L engines were very reliable. I also learned the 6F35 transmissions had a tendency to leak fluid from the output seals, which would ruin them. However, the internet seemed to prove these were decent used cars.
What you dear reader need to know, is I owned this Escape for five months and spent way too much time and money fixing each and every nagging issue on this car before I escaped from ownership. Shortly after I got the car, I made an appointment with my local mechanic who diagnosed the white Ranger’s failed PCM in a matter of an hour and is known in my area for being the best with electrical issues. After waiting two weeks to get an appointment, the Escape was dropped off. After four days, he called me to say in 30 years he had never seen an electrical issue on a car he could not figure out. He was determined to figure this out and was willing to do so without charging me for all of his time. He had gone through every module/computer on the vehicle and could not figure out why the battery would go dead. The issue with the car was after 2 to 3 hours of being parked, it would start to intermittently draw 5 to 15 amps and drain the battery. On day 16, the mechanic called me to say he figured out the issue. The alternator had a failed bridge rectifier and was intermittently drawing current. Being intermittent, the issue would not present itself every time. He happened to catch the issue when he was rechecking everything. True to his word, he only charged me for parts and four hours of labor. After a new alternator, the charging issue was completely fixed. I thought all would be well with my
grey headache Escape.
Shortly after I got the car back, I spent the summer slowly fixing this problem and that problem with the car. It felt like after one problem was fixed, another would pop up about a week later. Brakes and tires were the first items I addressed. I knew this at the time of purchase and the price reflected this. After that, the car needed a complete rebuild of the front suspension, ball joints, struts, and tie rod ends. $400 later and a weekend’s worth of my time, I had the suspension fixed. Shortly after that, the original spark plugs needed replacing. Easy, yeah? Nope. The spark plugs would not budge from the aluminum head. After much PB blaster, time, and much prayer, they came out without breaking anything. A couple of weeks later, I got a check engine light and transmission warning. Some diagnosing found a faulty throttle body. Had to wait a week for one to be shipped to me. It felt like the whole summer I spent working on this car in my free time. I am sure my neighbors thought I was crazy for constantly working on this thing in my driveway.
I spent a lot of time on the internet learning more about this generation of Escape than I wanted to. All the common problems on this generation of car seemed to prove themself true for me. One common problem on these cars is the key ignition tumbler failing. You go to turn the key to start the car and nothing happens. A small piece of plastic breaks inside the tumbler causing it to fail. Mine suffered from this issue as well. Youtube made this look to be an easy job. It was, minus me breaking the clock spring on the steering wheel when I removed it. An extra $100 later and that was fixed. Sigh…
By the end of September, the Escape had become a thorn in my side. It never left me stranded. It was not a bad car purse; it just was requiring more love than I expected. I left for a week-long work trip in Germany. When I got home, I went to go drive the car and found the carpet squishy. It turns out we had gotten a lot of rain while I was gone. The car had a sunroof, and investigation found the sunroof drains were plugged. I spent the weekend pulling the seats and carpet out (easier than you’d expect) and letting everything dry. I was not very happy about that. The interior did get a thorough detailing.
My birthday is in October. By the middle of September, I was beginning to question if I wanted to renew the registration on this. Between that, and having four cars in our driveway, I knew something had to be sold. I listed the car at the beginning of October and gave myself two weeks. Between all the work I had done on the car, and the new tires, it was the nicest used 2011 Escape for sale in west Michigan. When I sold the car, every issue I knew was wrong with it was fixed. Should I have kept it and just driven it, maybe, but I was ready to move on. Because it was FWD, no one was interested in it. I started to get worried, but two days before my birthday, the title was transferred, and money was deposited in my account. Not counting my time, I almost broke even on it.
As I said, the car was not a bad car, it just gave me too much grief. I did set the bar too high on expecting too much from it, but then again, I also did not expect to be nickeled and dimed on so many issues. So did we save on mileage and gas by buying this “work car?” Nope. Not one bit. With my mileage going up and the age of the Ranger, I still knew we needed something more fuel efficient…and I knew exactly what I wanted to replace the Ranger with.
On September 21st, I secured an order for a 2023 Ford Maverick XLT 2.0l EcoBoost FWD. I have always said, if they come out with a car that can haul a sheet of plywood, four adults, and get 40 mpg, I’ll buy one. Ford did, and since the Maverick’s introduction, I have been following the truck closely and decided I wanted one. I wanted to wait a couple of model years for all the quirks to be worked out, which is why I did not purchase one sooner. I really wanted a hybrid, but Ford stopped taking hybrid orders on 9/20 at 5:00 PM EST, which I learned at approximately 6:00 PM EST. This forced my decision to go with the EcoBoost. At first, I was not sure about the EcoBoost, but Ford has been having quality issues with the hybrid, so I am confident in my decision now. The EcoBoost makes allmost too much power for this truck, so it will be fun to have something that is quick. I still have not received a build confirmation, so it is anyone’s guess on when the truck will get built. My dealer tells me the truck should be an easy build, as it has no constraining features. I have sat in a Maverick at a couple of car events, but I have not even driven one yet. No dealer around me has had any to test drive. I really debated about ordering it, as I am partial to Mazdas, but Mazda does not sell a truck in the States. I am sure a small SUV would be sufficient, but there is something about having a truck. In addition, this fall my wife and I found out we are pregnant with our first child. This also made the decision for us that we will need a larger vehicle than the Ranger next year. There is a joke on the Maverick forums on what comes first, building a house, having a baby, or having your Maverick built. My guess is our child will be born before the Maverick is delivered.
This is not my last COAL chapter. Next week I will tell you about the “fun” car that has followed me around for many, many years.