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Serviceability Report: Ford Focus

Posted 9/08/2006
By Craig Van Batenburg, AAM

Has the Ford Focus improved in serviceability over the past six years?

In 1999 the Ford Focus - model year (MY) 2000 - went on sale and sold 286,166 units the first year, making it the eighth most popular vehicle its first year out. It was sold as a three-door hatchback, sedan and wagon and was the successor to the Escort. It had great styling for its time, a fairly fast Zetec engine, good road manners and a spacious interior for a small car.

The sedans came in three trim levels - LX, SE and ZTS - while wagons and hatchbacks each came in only one. A 2.0-liter, 110-horsepower engine and five-speed manual transmission was the standard power train in the LX and SE sedans. It used a timing belt and a coil pack with wires from it to the spark plugs. The positive crankcase ventilation (PCV) valve was not a major problem to access as this is a typical small Ford layout. Optional for the SE sedan and standard in the ZTS sedan, ZX3 hatchback and SE wagon was the 130-horsepower Zetec power plant. Both engines provide adequate power, though the Zetec engine was the clear choice for enthusiasts.

A great beginning for sure, but has it been a great time for the technicians who see a steady stream of 2000 to 2006 Focus vehicles? How good was the original Focus? After logging onto the Identifix Web site and looking at technical service bulletins (TSBs) for MY 2000, it shows 105 TSBs and 13 safety recalls. The recalls were latches, lights, seats, lug nuts, electrical, steering and fuel system-related. This was one problematic car, but did it make a technician's life miserable?

As it was a four cylinder, the room needed to access most under-hood items was adequate. A fully independent multi-link suspension was adopted for the rear, but it had a price for those who worked on them. The rear drums are not easily removed so a simple brake inspection (not just lining thickness) is an ordeal. The flange/ bearing/drum is one assembly so when the drum is removed for a proper brake inspection, four bolts behind the backing plate must be removed. This is easy to design out so it seems to me that the brake and suspension engineers need to get a part-time job at a brake shop and see how they like it.

In 2000, options like a telescoping steering wheel and the AdvanceTrac stability control system (ZX3 and ZTS models only) were available. In MY 2001, the ZX5, a five-door Focus hatchback, arrived in the States.

Most problems with the early models were failures of the fuel pump, differential pressure feedback exhaust gas recirculation (DPFE) sensor and throttle position (TP) sensor. Failure of the fuel pump may cause the vehicle to not start. The fuel pump is currently covered by Recall 03N01. Another common problem on this vehicle is the failure of the heater blower motor and resistor.

In 2003, an all-new, 2.3-liter, 145-horsepower PZEV engine powered the Focus ZTS. What is a PZEV? It stands for partial zero emissions vehicle, and in the case of the 2003 ZTS, it means the car doesn't emit any evaporative emissions from the fuel system. It also received a perfect EPA antipollution score of 10, which classifies it as an SULEV. With an EPA rating (standard shift) of 25/33 mpg city/highway, it is pretty economical.

The primary components that separate the 2.3-liter Duratec 23E from the standard 2.3 Duratec include a 12-hole fuel injector designed to reduce fuel droplet sizes (the standard Duratec uses a four-hole design). Other items - like a computer-designed intake manifold, advanced engine controller, lightweight pistons and connecting rods and a new cylinder head design - increase engine efficiency. In 2003, the Focus ZTS 2.3L had 66 TSBs issued and two recalls.

The 23E's exhaust system uses two high-density catalysts mounted near the engine block to reduce start-up emissions, while another two catalysts further along in the system catch any remaining pollutants. That is one catalytic converter per cylinder. The cleaner 23E engine is standard in California, Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Vermont. They are commonly called the Green States and where I live I am surrounded by them, which is OK by me. It is about clean air, you know.

Speaking of air, when did checking an air filter become so technical that we need an engineer to help us? I know the trucking industry has used a flow meter of sorts to tell us when an air filter is dirty, but at more than $350 bucks for an assembly on an economy car, it seems to me that the old air filter for under $15 was just fine. I know it keeps those careless people away from important parts but it's at a high cost. This system can also fool you if there is an air leak downstream, such as when a small critter makes a home in there.

What has happened in the last couple years? The Ford Focus is still an inexpensive car, practical and can be fun to drive. It appears Ford has fixed the quality problems that plagued the 2000 and 2001 models, but in doing so the new engine has gone to a timing chain.

For the tech who is unaware, this new engine can really mess up your day. The lower pulley bolt can no longer be removed the old way. With no keyway on the crankshaft, removing the lower pulley bolt and then tightening it again can cause a world full of hurt. Not only will the cam timing be off, but also, if the cam moves too far, the interference engine will break the heads off the valves when you try to start it up. Of course, there is a factory procedure and if you follow it, all will be fine. One must ask the question: Is this progress?

One more item to use caution on is knowing what oxygen sensor you are trying to locate as a pre-catalytic converter is used. Three 02 sensors are fitted and mixing them up is not uncommon. The Focus boasts an extra-long powertrain warranty of five years or 100,000 miles, and the improvements have boosted its quality ratings as well. Seventeen TSBs on the 2006 model is not high at all compared to other cars. One odd TSB, No. 06-3-15, requires a technician to whack the 2005 and 2006 four-doors with a hammer. We are always up for that! Using a wooden two-by-four, whack the rear bumper cover so it stops hitting the trunk lid but please be sure to use a rag so you don't leave any marks. Sounds like fun after doing a rear brake job or replacing a fuel filter.

My thanks to Rusty Savinac and Bob Beanard for their time in answering my questions and offering tips. Is there ever going to be a car that is designed with service in mind? Seems like that is the $64,000 dollar question. If you find one, drop me a line as I would love to report on it. Until that time, remember it is still harder to fix them than it is to design them.

Craig Van Batenburg

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