Update August 07:
Our Contour has now 79000 miles on the odometer and continues to do well. We only had minor issues with it: the right headlight was a replacement not from Ford (non OEM). One of the adjusters broke. I replaced it with a “Ford” headlight from the junk yard for $25.00.
A couple of mice made home on top of the transmission housing and used the insulation material from the fire wall for bedding. I checked, there is no recall on this ;-).
One tire kept loosing air faster than the others. I replaced the valve core: $0.50.
The horn does not work. A replacement costs about $10.00.
The volume control on the radio mysteriously repaired itself!
The inner fenders (plastic parts) are not fastened correctly and may contribute to noise. It looks like someone did a few short cuts during a repair.
A thing about maintenance schedules: The Haynes Manual and Ford don’t always match. Haynes says the timing belt must be “replaced” every 60000 miles. That’s roughly a $400.00 job. So you might as well replace the water pump ($70.00) while everything is apart. Ford, however, says the belt must be “inspected” for cracks and missing teeth. Our belt checked out fine. Haynes also says that the valve clearance should be adjusted if there is valve chatter, even though the engine has hydraulic self adjusting valve lifters. Go figure!
Update: July ’09:
The odometer reads now 89 000 miles and the car worked just fine until recently.
I tried to track down a popping noise from the front end and found the sway bar links were worn out. Replacing them ($ 60, DIY) improved it but it did not go away completely. The mechanic could not find the cause either. I also injected grease into the lower ball joints and tie rod ends. It steers a little smoother now.
The engine made noises at low RPMs and went quieter at higher rotational speed. It was the timing belt. Also, a bolt that serves as an axle for a timing belt pulley broke. Getting this fixed cost us $610 at our favorite independent mechanic. That’s more than I expected, but it is very labor intensive with this engine. Now it runs with less vibration than it ever did.
Update, 94000 miles
New battery: $100. 1 or 2 oil changes.
I replaced the license plate light bulbs for $5 and gave the inside of the lenses a really nice cleaning. Then I found one of the reverse lights to be off. I replaced both bulbs and then the other one was off. Upon closer inspection, I found that you have to place the bulb holder in a certain way to ensure contact to ground. The holders are not keyed so you can do it wrong.
A mouse chewed up an ignition wire. $30 for the set.
What’s that smell? I found maple tree seeds in the engine compartment. Some of them were on top of the exhaust header and got roasted. I definitely prefer the 100% Columbian beans!
Long ago I taped up the gap above the tail lights in the trunk’s rain gutter: there is no water in our trunk, and you can’t even see the tape when the lid is down. Caulking should work too.
The brake warning light came on and stayed on. The rear brakes were worn. R&R drums, shoes and wheel cylinders: $355.00. The new drums were warping right away. That is unusual for Wagner products. The shop turned the new drums for free and now they are braking evenly. You can save $100 if you do this job yourself. Make sure the parts store you buy from is able to turn drums. I did this job on a Windstar, and needed the new drums turned as well.
The driver’s door outer latch was getting balky, and there was a rattle coming from the door. I removed the inside door cover, and found a plastic fastener coming loose at the outer door latch. I reattached it, the rattle is gone, and the outer handle works normal again.
This is still a fun car to drive. I think I will take it to an Autocross (Solo-race, Auto-Slalom) one day.
At 94000 miles the blower switch shorted out and melted. I bought a climate control panel at a local yard: $16.
I opened the hood to check the oil, and there is no dipstick anymore! Instead there is a plastic cap on the dip stick tube. The shop says that dip sticks break because of a plastic piece at the puller ($26.00, dealer item).
Then I noticed that the PCV hose was deteriorating. I replaced it with hose from the reel for $1.59. The nice thing was that I caught it before developing rough idling and a CEL warning.
One turning signal bulb burnt out, I replaced both rear turning signal bulbs for about $5.00.
One of the center brake light bulbs is out.
Oil, tranny fluid and engine coolant changed at 100,000 miles, $185.
By the way, there is no filter in this tranny, only a mesh to catch larger chunks. Therein could be a reason for the frequently reported tranny failures. You really have to flush the fluid on time!