I originally posted this as a comment on another review. However, I noticed, after reading several other comments, that there were many with questions related to repairs that might benefit from what experience I've gained as the original owner of this car. In several cases, there were 2nd or 3rd owners who had no reference as to problems that happened with previous owners of their car. Hopefully, the full history I've included here will help fill some of the gaps, and give you a heads up of what to look out for.
I've also provided a bit of detail regarding the head gasket issue, since I've seen quite a few who have had the same problem. In most cases, given the car's current book value, the cost of having the repair done will be more than the car is worth. However, it is not difficult to do the repair yourself, even if you are not an experienced mechanic.
I bought my 1993 Cougar XR-7 almost 16 years ago. As far as general mechanical function, the car has been solid. The ride is very nice and the interior, given the car's cost, is also very nice. My ride still gets me where I want to go. But, it hasn't been a journey without a few bumps in the road. Despite its age, most major parts are still original.
Starter (went out after 60,000 miles). Passive restraint on driver side no longer working (belt broke at approx. 80,000 miles). More trouble and expense to fix it than to just leave it in retracted position and flip harness over head. If bell chime and/or panel light drive won't shut off, you can disconnect the module, which is located behind glove box. You need to remove glove box to get to it. Takes about five minutes.
I'm surprised that there hasn't been mention of water collecting in the evaporator and spilling out near driver foot area. After driving my new car off the lot, I got less than 2 miles down the road before my foot got soaked with ice cold water making a right turn. I drove it immediately back to the dealership, where I was informed there was already a "Fix" that needed to be installed, so the factory already knew about the problem. Perhaps, they caught this before too many rolled off the line.
By no surprise, I have seen many blown head gaskets mentioned. I blew my first head gasket at 38,000 miles and about one month past warranty. Ford was KIND enough to split the cost, if the dealership did the job. It still cost me $800.00! Heads were milled, as well.
Head gaskets blew, again, at 88,000 miles! To make matters worse, by using a can of gasket sealer to attempt a temporary fix, the blown gasket allowed too much fluid in the cylinder and created a hydraulic lock, causing the piston to jam, and rod to pretzel. Warning, do not use head gasket sealer out of a can. There is only one way to truly fix this problem. Taking this shortcut only opens the door for more extensive damage and repairs. I found this out the hard way.
My car, at that point, sat in the driveway for over a year. With nothing to lose, and more time than money, a good friend decided to mentor me and helped me tear her down, replace the piston, head gaskets and freeze plugs (several were rusted clean through).
One thing I learned early on... If you notice that your engine temp does not heat up in normal time (also will experience engine wanting to hiccup or stall on acceleration) and that your heat gauge stays on cold seemingly forever, until it rapidly rises, then settles back... you are in line for a head gasket job.
There is always a chance that it could be a thermostat, water pump, low coolant level or radiator. These are all very easy to check. Replacing the thermostat is about a 10 minute job with the part costing $7.00 to $10.00. A new radiator cap might run around $6 to $8. However, after ruling these out, don't delay checking for the head gasket. You might have some doubt, at first, but when you have antifreeze in your oil or white, sweet smelling smoke coming from your tail pipe, you better hope you are close to home. Even if you get to this point, you still have a good chance to catch and fix the problem. At first sign, though, stop running the engine to avoid damage to the bearings.
Important note... once you experience the inevitable head gasket blowing, it is worth your while to check the fuel injector in the cylinder or cylinders that were affected or near the area where the gasket gave out. My injector was sticking (tell tale sign of carbon all over the spark plug electrode) from the contaminants that were back getting back on the pintle (tip of injector where fuel sprays out). Dealership will want $100.00 for new injector. Got one out of the auto boneyard for $6.00. Works fine!
For what it's worth, from a do it yourself standpoint, prior to this episode, I had only performed an oil change, wiper blade change, air filter (real basic stuff). If the head gasket is the only problem, the engine does not need to be removed, and doing the job is not that difficult. Quite frankly, the hardest part of the job was getting rusted bolts to come loose off of units that have to be removed to get to the heads. Once you get to the heads, it's pretty easy.
Once the heads are removed, you can have them reconditioned, or swap them for rebuilt ones. I paid about $250.00 to have mine reconditioned and milled, to eliminate any warpage. Also, check the mating surface on the engine block to see if there is any warpage or gouging. Gasket set and bolts cost around $150.00. Make sure you have detailed instructions for the procedure and sequence for installing the head bolts, because they are torque to yield bolts. I used a Haynes manual ($20.00 at local auto parts store), a torque wrench (can be purchased for as low as $12.00 to $20.00) and a pivot head 3/8 or 1/2" drive ratchet (this has become my favorite tool in the entire universe!). You'll need a cheater bar or breaker bar for rusted bolts. A can of Kroil, or other high concentrated lubricant, will help too when it comes to bolts that are rusted solid.
One HUGE piece of advice to a newbie (like me) trying to fix this yourself... have a video camera rolling while you start removing and disconnecting everything, making comments about what you are doing with some detail. Mark both ends of any connection with colored tape, paint, tape flags with numbers, whatever works for you. This way, when it comes time to reconnect everything, you will know what goes back together with what. Get close ups of the area you are working on. Digital camera pictures help too.
Unless you are an experienced mechanic, and know your way under the hood, you may run into some serious reconnection issues. That's when the video and pix become VERY helpful, especially when trying to figure out how to route wire harnesses through the fuel rail assembly, as well as, threading the coolant hoses back into place. When you have something to refer back to, it's a piece of cake.
Also, if you hear a sputtering coming from underneath, and you have ruled out a muffler or pipe leak, check the exhaust mounting flange brackets right where your cat. converter connects to your exhaust manifold. These have been known to rust apart.
If you hear sputtering from the cat. converter itself, you can remove just the section (unbolt at exhaust manifold and hacksaw pipe approx 1 foot behind the converter. The area you need to work on will drop down quite nicely, and you can take it wherever you need to work on it. By sawing the two weld areas (only 1" each) on the bottom side of the converter's heat shield, you can peel back the heat shield to expose the converter case. In my case, the outer shell of the converter was rusted through where the thin metal part tag had been spot welded onto the converter. The ID tag is about the size of a standard business card, and pulls off very easily if it doesn't fall off all by itself.
Now, with a thin metal sheet (or take it to any muffler or welding shop) weld in a patch. Swing the heat shield back to the closed position, weld back where you had to cut it in the first place.
Now all you have to do is reconnect the front part back to the exhaust manifold (two bolts), and reconnect with pipe behind the converter where you had to hacksaw. This can be done by taking it to a muffler shop, and for about $20.00 they'll weld it back together. You can also buy the muffler/pipe sealing tape (not recommended), or buy a 3" length of pipe with an inner diameter slightly larger than the outer diameter of your pipe. My pipe was 2" OD, so I got section of pipe 2 1/8" ID that slid over where I cut pipe. Add a couple of clamps and you are back in business.
There is a good chance that you will have a small exhaust leak unless you are able to get a real tight fit. Welding is the best way, although this is a good temporary fix to get you around until getting it welded.
Another little tendency of this car is that it EATS front disc pads. Save yourself some time and money on rotor replacement... just get yourself a set of lifetime pads and replace them every 12 to 14,000 miles. They are VERY easy to replace. Takes about 20 minutes to get them both done, once you know what you are doing.
I've also noted rust problems from other posts. Mine started on driver side kick panel, just in front of rear wheel well. Passenger side followed soon after. Apparently, these vehicles were known for this. Also, paint peels off on hood and trunk, curiously enough, in line with windshield fluid jets. Apparently, this was a problem, too. Over-spray from the wiper fluid jets, with a little help from the wind, would leave wiper fluid on paint finish and, over time, would eat right through it. Learning how to do bodywork is my next project.
While it may have started out as only a means of transportation, it now has turned out to be my first REAL experience in learning do it yourself car repair. It's actually been a fun experience and, perhaps, a blessing in disguise. I've saved a TON of money, not just on repairing this car, but also on my other vehicles, now that I can do more than just change wiper blades. This car is very easy to work on for many repairs, which makes it a great place to try your hand as a do-it-yourselfer.
Now she's back on the road, again, and purring like a kitten. I've always liked the performance of this engine. The mileage is decent and it has a surprising amount of pep, given the weight of the car. I've decided, much to my wife's dismay, that, as long as I can keep my ride running and looking good, I'm keeping it. I just had to remind her that we've only been married 15 years, and that my red chariot has seniority by one year.