This is not actually my car in the image. It is the same year, trim, and color though. Here is the story: So let’s talk about the Escort. The Ford Escort, one of the best family cars ever made. And let’s talk about how my ’93 example, was probably the worst purchasing decision my father ever made. Some groundwork. It was 2005. I was in my frosh year of college and had been looking for a car. My parents had just gotten rid of a janky as all hell 1990 model (mostly due to my dad and I not having gotten the shifter linkage quite right when we put it back together after a serious front end collision) that had been in our family since new. It was a revenant. Not quite a zombie, not really a living car. And they offered to match my money that I’d made. Being the sort of shit wage hourly teenwolf I was (I promise my hygiene habits got better) they were comfortable with this. What they didn’t know until later was, I’d sold an instrument I’d picked up cheap and made a decent amount of money on it (details kept vague because, well it’s the internet). I hadn’t gotten away with murder on the deal, but negligent homicide was in the cards. So I had more than they were expecting. I was looking to spend about 3000 on a car. Which was perfectly reasonable given the time and the sort of cars I was looking at. I wanted something a little faster than a typical starter car. Well I believe, even though they’ve never admitted it, that my parents started to panic a bit. They didn’t have a lot of money. It was always tight growing up. I won’t say how much but they’re very generous in their charitable giving and as their kid I was expected to understand that even though I grew up in hand me downs I was lucky. I resented that a bit as a kid, but as I’ve gotten older, I also really recognize and hurt for the level of suffering out there, but I digress.
At some point my dad goes on this mission trip, to rebuild from the latest hurricane in Haiti or something, with a few people and learns that one of them is a used car dealer. How could that possibly go wrong… They get to talking and my Dad tells him about the old Escort. How they just got rid of it, how we’d worked on it together, and how I loved that car (I did, but mostly because it was a wagon, and again…how could it possibly go wrong). So the guy tells my dad about this ’93. “It’s solid” the man says. My dad agrees to purchase it with a handshake because that’s who my dad is. I’m away at college and my dad emails me a picture of this car (I wish I still had them, but I deleted my Hotmail years ago). And says “Hey I got you a car, and it was only 1600. We’ll pay for repairs for the first year because it was so cheap.” Oh…how he would regret that and I would be still pissed off freezing in the damn snow 4 years later.
He takes delivery of the car. He doesn’t even drive it after they get it off the truck. It sits under a tarp for a month until winter break. I live in the US so I’m already calculating how I’m going to afford the grand it’s going to take me to pay for books for the upcoming school year. I mean why not pay to jerk off a professor by reading the single word he’s changed in his new textbook edition. Of course if he was paid more than a poverty wage he wouldn’t have to stoop to gouging students to eat. But the Admin would rather pay for “Student activity supervisors” than just paying the people who teach us, but well here we are. My dad says it sounded a little rough but he’s sure it’s nothing major.
I get home for break. The first thing I notice is the incredible smell of smoke and the tar staining, that would take me literally more than 60 hours in one three day weekend to mostly get out with a steam cleaner that I was able to use for free because I was working for a tool rental company at that time. The second thing I noticed was the paint bubbling under the rear driver’s side door, It was a rust hole a full 8 inches long by about an inch wide that I would later weld in sheet. My dad says it’s a good car though other than that, And I, trusting my dads advice, go for a drive. The car is a dog. Absolutely gutless. The 1.9L 88hp 4 banger was never going to break records, but with a manual you could feel the engine pull and with the hand brake it would go around slick corners. I’d driven one before. With the same escort he’d sold. This car? It felt like it had a turbo, at the bottom end. The car would not accelerate until you really put your foot down for a few seconds. I’d later learn this was the MAF sensor failing. I grew up in that weird transition period where a car might be an EFI or it might have a solid state distributor or both. It also was spitting out an alarming amount of smoke and overheating.
We pulled the heads and drained the oil, and surprise, surprise, we had a milk shake in the drain pan and a burnt valve in cylinder 3 ($350 ish in P/L at this point if we were doing this with a shop). It was like a cutting torch. A wedge-shaped piece was just gone with some slag around the edges. So I got the head machined and rebuilt it. And replaced the radiator and thermostat. And I examined the block. There was a gouge in the side of cylinder 1. Turns out one of the rings had broken and was eating its way to the second ring. So now I’m rebuilding the whole thing. It’s too deep to sleeve. So I’m getting a whole engine ($400) from the junk yard. The crank bearings on mine and the new one are trashed. By the time I manage to cobble a workable engine from both of them and a lot of new parts $2000 more is in this “$1600” car.
But the trouble doesn’t stop there. No I was fine in Ohio, because this thing had managed to survive PA inspection for the first year. But when I had to reregister, in Pennsylvania 4 months later (because well that’s how shitty car dealers get by), the automatic seatbelt had failed. It would only stay, thankfully, in the back position. I could get in and out and unhook it by the “emergency” buckle at the top, but that wouldn’t pass PA inspection. I knew as much as a drunken trout about vehicle electronics at that point. And then one of the “new” brakes that the dealer swore it had (he wasn’t clear about which parts of the brakes were new, but they were new in his Pennsyltuckey accent [I can only assume based on my dad's description and his apparent location]), the pads on the driver’s side cracked in half, so they were all replaced. Another $650 with the seatbelt and the brakes. The rear drums just smoked. A lot. Until they were replaced. Oh the clutch master cylinder failed. Better replace that.
Another 3 months in there’s a really weird sound in the front. Turned out to be the CV joint. And then another master cylinder. Next month a full clutch replacement. Rear passenger tire burst at highway speeds. After that it was just a steady stream of master cylinder failures except for one rear brake caliper failure that meant I literally couldn’t stop without the E-brake. Total cost for one “Sight unseen but really good $1600 Ford Escort”: $6500ish.