1996 Ford Contour GL Sport Zetec 2.0L DOHC 16v I-4 from North America


Extremely fine driving POS


I purchased the car in Oct, 2002. What has gone wrong since:

Nov, 2002: Brake pad fell off on left front, causing metal to metal grindage... $75 new pads and both front rotors (had rust pits in them).

Nov-Dec, 2002: Drove the car to Oklahoma (I live in Iowa) had no problems on the way there (except once where the alternator light came on for a split second...), but coming back, a friend of mine drove from Kansas City to Des Moines with the overdrive off light flashing, caused rough shifts (squealed belt into 2nd...). I drove from Des Moines back to town and the alternator light kept blinking erratically, got back to town and 2 days later, alternator went out, purchased new one, and it still didn't work, traced wiring, and found a 175 Amp "Mega Fuse" blown in-line from battery to alternator. took alternator back, and replaced with $5 fuse.

Dec, 2002: Alternator had a meltdown, melted all wires going into it, had to get a new alternator ($225, installed myself), and wiring ($5 from local u-pull-it junk yard)... Bonus, my friend found a set of new brake pads in the trunk of the junked car, pocketed them and gave them to me, so I've got new pads (a $20 value), I'm friends with the junkyard people, so he would have probably gave them to my anyway. Also bought a new battery just for good measure ($60).

Dec, 2002: Accident due to slick roads, and ABS never worked on the car, something bad wrong with it, it won't communicate with scan tool. Cost me a driver fender, turn signal, headlight, and header panel (didn't fix until may 2003...). Nothing major happened...

Jan, 2003: Alternator went out again. Warranty replaced. #2.

Feb, 2003: Rear brake wheel cylinders have been leaking brake fluid since before I acquired car, finally ate the shoes, now rear brakes grind... can't afford to fix.

Mar, 2003: Alternator went out again. Warranty replaced. #3.

May, 2003: Alternator went out again. Warranty replaced. #4... One of reasons I was fired from my job, couldn't make it there. Got in another minor fender bender coming home from work, broke passenger turn signal and dented the passenger fender (it was dented when I got it, no big deal). Bought new fenders and header panel with lights from non u-pull-it junk yard, $300 for header panel w/lights; $75 driver fender; $95 passenger fender.

June, 2003: Alternator went out again. Warranty replaced. #5... O'Reilly's told me they will not honor their warranty on any more alternators, I totally understand, so no hard feelings...

July, 2003: Car currently sits dead due to major electrical problem. I was driving, and lights got dim like alternator was going out again, then saw white smoke from under hood, and bam, car died. Blew ignition switch fuse. It has a direct short, so no ignition related accessories work (couldn't roll up my windows until I rigged it from battery to window fuse.), but horn, interior lights, cigarette lighter, and hazards still work (good thing, I had to use my mom's Oldsmobile to push it home...)

All in all, this car is a major headache...

Things that have been wrong with the car since before I got it:

ABS... seems like a sensor is out, light comes on after about 5 feet of driving, but won't communicate with scan tool, so SOL there.

Rear Brakes... wheel cylinders leak.

Alignment... has to be dog tracking, because car drives straight as can be, but steering wheel is cocked to the right.

Ball Joint/Sway bar end link... both bad on driver side like previous owner hit a curb.

Struts... allow tires to basketball down road, so they get uneven wear, plus alignment makes it even worse.

If you are not mechanically inclined and don't have much money (especially if you are in high school/college), spend more and get a well maintained, low mile car. Otherwise, it'll probably end up like mine...

General Comments:

This car now sits with $500 left to pay on it. The dealer has sympathy, so he's letting me have a couple month break so I can get stuff straightened out.

Even though this car has so many problems, I love it. It rides excellent, yet handles very good too (but my Honda was the most stable car I've had at speed, and I've had 12 cars...).

Everyone that drives the car falls in love with it. For example, when you turn the wheel in this car, it's got just enough assist to where you are not working out at low speeds, but when you make a turn and let go of the wheel, it will instantly return back to center, no other car I've had did that. The driving position is very comfortable, as are the seats. My car (for some unexplained reason...) has no tilt steering, even though a friend of mine has a 95 contour with tilt, and she doesn't even have power windows or ABS, but the steering wheel was set at a very usable angle (even though it blocks the temp gauge...).

The back seat, on the other hand, is only for small people. If you are putting anyone taller than 5 foot back there, expect to move the seat up.

Trunk is huge for this size of car. I know for a fact I can put 4 15" subs with the recommended size box back there, but then I'd have no trunk...

The car has style to it, plus it's a unique color (even though there are 2 other exact duplicates of my car, and 3 others that are the same color, it still stands out). The color is a pearlescant tealish color (actually is called. Anyway, it's a very nice looking color, also applied to Mustangs, Windstars, and even trucks. It looks best on the Mustangs and Contours, though.

Plus, an added aspect of the car, it gets attention of chicks. Not that it's fast or looks cool or anything, it just has style, so chicks dig it. I think they like it because they want one, but everyone thinks it's a very high end Escort. Most haven't even heard of Contours/Mystiques before, not to mention the Mondeo, which they were derived from.

This 4 cylinder, 125 horsepower engine isn't a screamer, by far. A Cavalier with the base engine will eat this alive, but it seems to have the perfect gearing for what power it does have, because this car is excellent on the highway. I'm a little cautious about passing, but it'll go from 50mph to around 70-80mph on a flat road while passing, so it does move out of it's own way. Also, it cruises at 80-90mph like it was doing 55. Just watch out for flat, open roads, winds will toss this car around.

I love this car, but it's way too much of a hassle to me. I can't afford to buy another car right now or pay a shop to fix my car, so I'm stuck driving around a 1985 Olds 88 Royale, I wish my Contour was built like that tank, gets poor gas mileage, but doesn't break.

I think I'm going to purchase a reliable car, like maybe a Crown Vic/Grand Marquis, and then with extra cash, buy a Contour SVT (which is a different beast than my Contour...)

The saying "You get what you pay for..." is definitely relevant with this car. I know these are mixed cars too, one being the perfect car, while the next one off the line will be a total piece of junk.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 26th July, 2003

1st Feb 2004, 06:10

With your wiring problem. Do you know that is caused by the failed wiring harness. On all 95-97 models, it is under an extened warranty 10years, 150,000 miles. I think it is recall 99M03 or something similar to that. If your wiring in cracked, and or fraying it has to be replaced.

Go to your dealer talk to him about it. Tell him you want him to inspect it, and he find where it is cracking.

17th Sep 2004, 15:38

I am having the same problem with me 96 Contour. Where was the "Mega Fuse" located. Thanks a lot. You can email me at Rusamakal@cavtel.net,Or if anyone else knows where this is, I would really appreciate an email. Thanks a lot.

1st Oct 2004, 19:51

Thanks for the information regarding the recall. I just purchased a 1996 Ford Contour and the electrical system is dealing me a fit! I'm going to find out where to look up recall information and go straight to a Ford Dealer Monday morning. Thanks again, I'm so glad you shared this information and so thankful for this web site!!!


9th Jul 2007, 00:44

I am thinking of buying a 1999 Contour. Do you recommend it or think I should go with something else?

9th Jul 2007, 16:10

Go with something else. These are not durable cars.

23rd Jun 2008, 14:35

Take a good look at gas prices. If I can go from 120 dollars a week to 40 a week, I'll fix the car.

17th Dec 2008, 10:26

I have a 96 Contour. It's been one thing after another with this car. It runs like a champ, but most of the wiring is fried.

My dash lights don't work, the speedometer doesn't work, and the horn doesn't work.

One day I started it up and saw white smoke coming from the vents where the windshield wipers are. I put electrical tape on all wires that were bare.

1996 Ford Contour GL from North America


Well, at least I like the color


The engine consistently stalls while idling.

The wipers won't hold the blades.

The "Check Engine" light comes on about once a month.

Many interior accessories were poorly designed and cheaply built.

The gas tank lid won't open from inside the car.

I can't accelerate without fear of stalling if the air conditioner is on.

The seal around the doors freezes in the winter.

The cassette player gets so hot it melts tapes.

General Comments:

I purchased this used vehicle literally from a little old lady who only put 36,000 miles on it in almost 4 years. I like the response I get from it; however, it has become more and more undependable due to its threat of stalling, especially when the air conditioner is running. I have learned to turn the air off when I merge into traffic or back out of the driveway.

The stalling is a major problem that the mechanics have said they can't explain. It acts like a fuel injection problem, but they say nothing is wrong.

I can't find a set of wiper blades that won't get destroyed by the wipers, and consequently, I have run the wipers more than once when the blades weren't secured. Now I have swipe marks etched on my windshield. I am waiting for a large stone to hit so I can get the glass replaced.

The "Check Engine" light has become a regular feature of the interior. I have had it checked out and there is nothing wrong. I used to reset the computer to get it off, but it would invariable come back, so now I just ignore it.

Regarding the interior, I think overall it is a cheaply designed vehicle. So many things, including the cup holders, window knobs, air vent controls, shifter base (almost everything made of plastic) have just fallen off with regular use.

The access to the gas tank sticks regularly. There is an override in the trunk, and I have developed a technique of "jabbing" at the interior tank cap release which works about half of the time.

Something in the design of the rear doors allows a lot of moisture to get in the seal, and this creates a great deal of freezing.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Don't Know

Review Date: 20th July, 2003

4th Sep 2003, 15:19

I worked on a Contour with a similar problem. I put a new mass airflow sensor on it and it fixed it.

15th May 2004, 20:28

I have a 96 ford contour. the stalling issue turned out to mean that I needed a new sensor. I had to replace the transmission 3 months off warranty. My timing belt has always run fast and the engine light is permanently on. otherwise, I love driving this car when it is running well.