(This latest COAL comes to us by way of CC reader Leon Eckell, aka eckell3)
This past April, while returning to my car after a visit to the notary, I caught a glimpse of a small “Buy Here, Pay Here” used car lot across the street from my bank. There was a very attractive 1999 Firebird for sale which I decided to investigate and ultimately ended up buying. I’d always liked the fourth-generation Firebird and I figured that I could rely on my then-current car, a 1990 Volvo 240 DL, as a winter daily. A month later, when I returned to exchange my temporary tags for permanent license plates, I noticed a 2006 Taurus in SE trim sitting on the lot. As it had a number of things my Volvo did not–like cloth, A/C and solid bodywork–I decided to take it for a spin; I was growing tired of fighting the tin worm and Old Red was truly beginning to fall apart. Having grown up with Tauruses, I also knew how to work on them quite easily, so I bought it, using the Volvo as a trade-in.
The fourth generation 2000-2007 Taurus came about after a good amount of customers found themselves turned off by the famously ovoid third generation model. Though the doors were the same, Ford managed to cobble together more conservative front and rear clips and a traditional dashboard. While often derided as a rental car special, the fourth-gen Taurus offered compelling value–both used and when new–for anyone looking for a solid mid-sized family car.
By the time my 2006 model had rolled off the line, the Taurus was relegated to fleet sales, with the Fusion more or less taking its place. Fleet buyers could snag a fourth-generation Taurus for another year before the car was finally discontinued, but only with the 3.0 Vulcan V6, making 153 horsepower in its final transverse configuration. My Taurus was a former fleet car originally sold to a business in Alexandria, VA and was picked up from an auction by the car lot. It had 119,812 miles on it and was in good condition, barring a few dents at the bottom of the passenger side front door and some scrapes on the right rear wheel arch.
Though the Taurus ran nicely and drove well enough, I had to personalize it a bit for my comfort. The Taurus came with the factory CD player radio and since I use an iPod for music, don’t listen to the radio much and never use CDs, I was faced with the choice of either spending several hundred dollars on replacing the radio with an aftermarket unit (the radio is in the trunk and the panel with the CD player is a control head, meaning a replacement would require running a large harness from the rear to the front) or just listening to CDs. A look at an a online forum offered a third way, though: with $10 worth of Radioshack parts, screw drivers and a soldering iron, I could bypass the CD player and play my iPod. It requires a CD to always be playing, but cuts off sound from the CD player and re-routes the input to the iPod. I chose this option, using an old Keith Sweat CD to keep the radio switched off.
I also swapped the folding clamshell center front seat for a full console out of a 1998 Taurus that bolted up perfectly with the brackets to which the flip console had been attached.
The car mostly ran well for the brief time I had it, though I came across some issues including a misfire under load, fixed by replacing the plugs and wires, and a bad vehicle speed sensor. The latter manifested itself as transmission slippage and banging into gear once the car was warmed up, but luckily a $40 part and twenty minutes of my time solved the issue. Apparently, most of the time this VSS goes bad on the Taurus/Sable, the speedometer works fine.
As I mentioned, the Taurus was otherwise good to me, and I netted pretty good gas mileage to boot. I was looking forward to a long-term relationship with the car but once again found myself with a wandering eye. By September, I was again at my bank and again looking at the used car lot across the street. This time, a mint 1997 Buick LeSabre with low mileage was being let go for cheap. Having also grown up with those cars and liking them quite a bit, I jumped at the chance to make a deal and promptly went home to grab the Ford’s title, soon driving off as the owner of an older and nicer Buick (which can be seen above, to the left of the Taurus).