Update: July 2010, odometer at 129000 miles.
At the last tranny service they did not fill the fluid to the top. I could feel a brief slip after hard cornering or going up a steep incline. I went to my trusty shop for a top off. That mechanic grabbed some bottles of tranny fluid. Only it was not Mercon V as specified for this tranny. I sent him searching. “Trust is good, control is better!”
Once I had a CEL with a code referring to the crankshaft position sensor. It is located on the passenger side near the wheel and accessible from below the car. I removed it, cleaned it and put it back. That was a cheap fix.
I replaced the windshield wipers with Anco brand wipers. One piece kept coming off at a joint. I used my Dremel tool to drill a hole through the link and secured it with a piece of an old bicycle spoke. These spokes are great for rigging stuff like this. They are rust free and strong. Shame on Anco cheapening their products like that!
May 31, 2010, odometer at 129,000: the alternator failed. The van limping, I rolled into a parking lot and called a friend. We were able to diagnose the problem, remove the alternator and get it checked at O’Reilley’s. It failed the tests for the alternator and the regulator. O’Reilley’s had a re-manufactured alternator in stock for about $195. We put it in. All of that took about 1 hour and 30 minutes, and the van runs beautifully again. The problem with the dimming information center is solved as well.
Maybe I got my money’s worth out of the old battery, but it killed the alternator. Here are some signs the battery may go weak:
1. It is past the warranty period.
2. Headlights with the engine off are dim and get bright as soon as the engine runs.
3. Headlights brighten and dim with the engine RPM.
4. Battery needs recharge after 2 to 3 weeks of not using the car.
5. Your mechanic tells you it’s weak.
Since more than a year, the engine makes a gargling noise when idling (like marbles tumbling in a plastic cup) that I can’t track down. I hear it seemingly coming from the vents. I cannot hear it from the outside or under the hood. Maybe someone out there knows what it is? I would appreciate a comment.
My youngster has learned how to drive and took over the Mazda Protégé. Consequently the van gets more use again.
The front end is noisy and spoiling the ride.
Surf the internet and the list of things to keep an eye on is getting longer:
1. Brake pressure sensor switch. There is a Ford recall to put a fuse into the line. That won’t fix the problems but prevent fires.
2. Sub frame corrosion near the passenger side rear mounting bolt: Possibly, A/C condensate is dripping there and promoting rust.
3. Rear axle beam corrosion: Apparently it rusts from the inside and the weakened beam may brake into two pieces. Look for hairline cracks.
You have two unusual problems.
First the power steering fluid leak. What your mechanic says seems plausible. I would have them flush the power steering fluid. That shouldn't cost much, and if you are lucky, it removes whatever causes your "boil-overs". The gasket on the reservoir is not designed to hold pressure; it just prevents spills and dirt getting into the fluid.
Now the rear wiper arm: You can remove the wiper arm and look at the attachment to the axle. The hole that fits on the axle should be fluted and mesh with the flutes of the axle. If the flutes are stripped on either the axle or the arm, the motor can't move the arm.
Most arms are secured to the axle with a nut or a bolt. Maybe you just have to tighten that nut or bolt.
Update (133000 miles)
I had noise from the rear brakes and brake warning lights. Drums, shoes, hardware kit, wheel cylinders, fluid and cleaner came to $173 at O’Reilly’s. That beats Firestone’s quote by $327. Since I did that job on the Protégé a few weeks ago, I am getting the hang of it. The "Brakebest" drums went out of round after a few heat cycles. The guys at O’Reilly’s turned them for me, and they are fine ever since.
I was digging around in the engine compartment, and found that a spark plug wire was not seated correctly at the distributor. Upon seating it, the idle was quieter. Here we go again: "trust is good, control is better."
131000 miles, Aug. 2010
The red brake warning and the yellow ABS warning light come on frequently. Reportedly there are 2 separate common problems with the Windstar ABS systems: Nr. 1 is a leak. Nr. 2 is crap of electrical nature. Mine apparently does a Nr.2. The ABS module contains a printed circuit board that has a large heat sink of aluminum bonded to it. The aluminum expands a lot more than the circuit board when it gets hot. Over time, the circuit board cracks and causes controller malfunction. So I could replace my controller and drive until the new one too will crack, but I wait for a recall. I reported the problem to "safercar.gov".
There is a way to reduce the rattling of the dash mounted drink holder: pop out the ash tray. That’s a rather heavy piece of plastic that amplifies the vibration.
133000 miles, Oct. 2010
I received a recall letter regarding the rear axle corrosion. The dealer’s service department inspected the axle and covered the areas with an anti-corrosive stuff. No problems were found.
The check engine light came on. I let the K&N air filter go too long without cleaning. It was so clogged, it caused a lean condition in both cylinder banks. The MAF sensor was covered with a film of dirt. I think the K&N filter oil was sucked in and covered the sensor. After cleaning both filter and MAF sensor, the idle speed went down a little bit and there is less hesitation. However there is still rough idling on cold mornings, as the engine temperature reaches for the "C" on the dial. The roughness goes away once the temperature is in the normal range. I am suspecting a vacuum leak, possibly caused by the dreaded isolator bolt problems.
All tires needed balancing. My mechanic did it for free, since I bought lifetime balancing when I got new tires.
The CEL came on again after a few days: P 0174. It’s the isolator bolt issue and I fixed it.
The original rubber isolator grommets are supposed to reduce the transfer of engine vibration to the upper intake manifold. However, the PCV system sucks oil fumes into the manifold, and the rubber is affected by it. First it becomes hard and that increases the engine noise. Second, it causes the upper intake manifold to leak air, and that causes rough idling in particular in cold weather.
The job is easy but time consuming. The grommets and the upper intake manifold seal kit cost $45 at Advance Auto Parts. It took me 4 hours, but I am a slow poke. I disconnected the battery negative cable. Then I removed the plastic cowl between the hood and the windshield, and the plastic part that carries the wiper motor assembly. Then I removed the upper intake manifold (the upper plastic shell) while keeping track of the bolt locations.
Next, I took off the snorkel together with the MAF sensor housing. Then I loosened the isolator bolts, and lifted the spacer (lower plastic shell) off and moved it to the side. The throttle body and throttle cables are still attached. I used a socket and extension rod to push the isolator bolts out of the spacer. The old grommets (black) can be split with diagonal cutters to remove them from the sleeves. The new grommets (green and hopefully oil resistant) can be pushed over the sleeves by hand. I warmed them in my hand to make them more flexible. I cleaned the seal seats on the lower intake manifold with solvents and scraped the EGR ports open. Reassembly goes in reverse order.
Obviously I had to disconnect and reconnect a lot of electrical harnesses and vacuum lines.
Some people reported that their shops ran up bills of $800 to solve this issue. They charge around $100 per hour labor and possibly replace parts that don’t need to be replaced. There are no special tools required, and the Haynes manual lists the torque and tightening sequence to be used. You also can find good information and pictures here: http://leckemby.net/windstar/windstar01.html
I am very satisfied with the results, and I actually enjoyed the activity. A lot of the mechanical engine noises are now muffled, the idle is stable at any condition, and power delivery is seamless from idle to redline.