Ford Thunderbird

Tagged with:
Auto Defects > Ford
November 1999

Dear Ford Owner:

Thank you for contacting the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) about your 1985-97 Ford Thunderbird, Mercury Cougar or Lincoln Mark which are built on the same platform and share common features. After 1997 Ford killed off the T-bird/Mark and replaced the Cougar with a car built on the same platform as the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique. The T-bird in its dying days little resembled the legendary '55 T-bird and may come back in 2001. CAS has received many complaints from consumers concerning fires, brakes, paint, stalling, transmissions, and unintended acceleration in the Mark, T-bird and Cougar.

Although among Ford's most reliable cars, these models still have their share of problems. Consumer Reports rates the electrical system and brakes as the most trouble-prone areas on 1988-93 models with worse than average frequency of repair ratings. CAS has been flooded with brake complaints on these cars, particularly premature brake wear. Some owners have reported replacing brakes as often as every 2-3,000 miles. There have been four safety recalls for various brake defects on many 1988-97 models. Although not as dangerous as brake defects, Ford has also issued numerous service bulletins about engine and transmission problems.

A common and expensive defect is peeling paint on 1985-92 models. Ford attempted to cover up paint problems by buying off aggressive consumers under a secret warranty and ignoring consumers who don't complain loudly. CAS petitioned the Federal Trade Commission and every state attorney general in 1994 to take action on Ford's peeling paint secret warranty. In 1987, Ford recalled 3.6 million 1986-87 vehicles for faulty fuel line couplings that caused engine compartment fires. In 1996, Ford recalled 1988-93 Cougars and T-birds for defective ignition switches that started dash fires but refused to recall earlier 1983-1987 models with the same ignition switch.

Another dangerous defect in full-size Fords is sudden or unintended acceleration. CAS pressured DOT to investigate sudden acceleration in 1983-86 Fords with 3.8 and 5.0 liter engines, but DOT failed to order a recall despite almost 500 complaints and 136 reported injuries. NHTSA also investigated 1991-93 models with 3.8 liter V6 engines for high idle speed but again closed it without a recall. Although Ford recalled 1.1 million 1984-85 cars with 1.6L and 2.3L engines for stalling at highway speeds when ignition modules mounted on the distributor overheated, Ford failed to recall any larger engine T-birds, Cougars or Marks with similar modules. Ford continued this design through 1988 on T-birds and Cougars and 1992 on Marks.

You'll find information on these and other T-bird class defects below and what you can do about them plus a complaint box. Your information will help us build a strong case against Ford on the defects we know about and help us spot new ones.

We need you to support the Center for Auto Safety in our fight for consumer rights and against poorly designed and unsafe cars. Your contribution is tax-deductible and entitles your to our quarterly newsletter, Lemon Times. Please submit the membership form along with your contribution and complaint. If you contribute $35 or more, we will send you the current edition of The Ultimate Car Book, by Jack Gillis. Every home should have this invaluable consumer guide.


Clarence M. Ditlow
Executive Director

Ford technical service bulletin numbers are in parentheses. (Only post-1984 models are covered.)
Cougar=Cougar Mark VII=M7 Mark VIII=M8 Thunderbird=T-bird

Brakes: ABS cycling on rough roads,'93-94 M8, '93-96 Cougar/T-bird (95-20-2, 98-5A-6); Roughness during brake application, '93-95 All (95-6-2); Front disc "thumping" or "clacking", '94-95 Cougar/T-bird (94-23-5); Brake pedal pulsation from rear drum roughness, '92-95 Cougar/T-bird (95-6-2); Distorted rear brake drum '94-97 Cougar/T-bird (98-5A-18).

Driveability/Engine: Thrust bearing & crankshaft failure, '82-88 Cougar/T-bird, '82-90 M7 (91-4-10); Intermittent high idle, '88-90 M7 (90-21-5); Engine knock, '85-87 Cougar/M7/T-bird (87-6-9); No start/dead battery, '83-90 all except M8 (90-18-3); Hesitation or stall during acceleration or deceleration, rough idle, coolant does not reach normal temperature, '92-94 Cougar/T-bird (93-24-8); "Moan" or "hooting" from engine compartment, '93-94 Cougar/T-bird (94-22-4); "Squeal" from FEAD during cold start below 20F, '93-96 Cougar/M8/T-bird (96-14-8, 96-14-9); Silicone contamination of exhaust gas oxygen sensors, '92-94 Cougar/T-bird, '93-94 M8 (93-23-6); No crank, '92-96 Cougar/T-bird (94-26-3); Moan or vibration from exhaust, '92-95 Cougar/T-bird (95-3-8); Low pitched "squeak," "chirp," or "knock" noise from rocker arm, '92-95 Cougar/T-bird (95-24-3); Long crank/sticking idle air control valve, '95-96 M8 (96-19-4); Hard start due to low reserve battery capacity below 32F, '93-94 M8 (95-16-7); Metallic "rapping"during cold start-up, '93-94 M8 (95-7-3).

Electrical/Instruments: Electronic cluster shows higher than actual fuel level, '89-90 Cougar/M7/T-bird (90-7-11); Driver's seat sensor switch causes doors to lock when driver exits, '93-94 Cougar/M8/T-bird (94-10-2); Erratic distance-to-empty & fuel gauge readings, '92-94 M8, '93-94 Cougar/T-bird (95-2-3); Temperature gauge reads low, '92-95 Cougar/T-bird, '93-95 M8 (95-13-2); Heater output & thermostat stuck open, '92-94 Cougar/T-bird (93-24-8); Cluster panel loose at corners, '92-93 Cougar/T-bird (94-2-4); Temperature gauge fluctuating &/or inaccurate high readings, '92-93 Cougar/T-bird (95-18-5); Inaccurate fuel indication, '93-94 M8 (93-26-10); Fuel gauge inoperative, '93-95 M8 (95-17-6): Fuel pump buzz thru radio, '94-97 Cougar/T-bird (98-7-3).

Paint: Paint peeling & contamination, all '85-92 models (91-18-1); Exterior clearcoat "microchecking," "hazing," or peeling, '92-93 Cougar/T-bird (93-8-4); Rough texture, ferrous metal contamination, & acid rain discoloration or etching, '92-97 Cougar/T-bird, '93-97 M8 (95-6-1); Lower body side paint abrasion, '93-96 M8 (96-5-2).

Steering/Suspension: Steering column "clunk" & "looseness", '87-88 Cougar/T-bird (88-4-9); "Chatter" during tight turns or turns after highway driving, '92-96 Cougar/T-bird (96-12-9); "Growl" from steering column while turning, '93-96 Cougar/M8/T-bird (96-12-2); Intermittent increase in steering effort at low speeds, '94-96 Cougar/T-bird (96-4-2); Lack of center feel, shudder during deceleration or braking, premature tire wear, & wander, '92-93 Cougar/T-bird (93-13-2); "Clunk" from rear end during turns, '92-94 Cougar/T-bird (94-10-11); Pull or drift to right & vibration or shake above 45 mph, '93-94 M8 (94-12-2); "Grunt" after steering wheel released from full lock position during low speed or parking maneuvers, '93-94 M8 (93-22-3).

Transmission: Intermittent loss of torque during or after 3-4 upshift, '94-95 Cougar/T-bird (95-5-15); Water intrusion into MLP/TR Sensor causing shift &/or engagement problems, '94-95 Cougar/T-bird (95-3-13); Vibration or shudder under light acceleration above 35 mph in 3rd or 4th gear, '94-97 Cougar/T-bird (95-23-4, 97-10-6, 98-8-7); Lubricant leakage through cover & vent hose, '92-94 Cougar/T-bird (94-11-12); No 3-4 upshift or slipping 4th gear, '92-93 Cougar/T-bird (93-23-18); Reverse shudder when backing up incline or under load, '92-93 Cougar/T-bird (93-19-7); Erratic 1-2 shift, '94-97 Cougar/T-bird (97-11-11).

Other: W/S film, '93-97 All(96-22-1); Loose catalyst/muffler heat shields, '92-97 Cougar/T-bird (94-7-10, 98-6-4); Fuel spit-back when filling tank, '93-94 M8 (93-26-7); Hole worn in evaporator core tube by carbon canister purge hose, '92-93 Cougar/T-bird (93-25-2); Chirp or squeak from blower motor, '94-97 Cougar/T-bird (97-25-5); Rear axle whine or howl, '94-96 Cougar/T-bird (97-8-11).

Copies of recalls may be obtained by calling NHTSA's Technical Reference Division at 202-366-2768.

Brakes: 3,508 '85 Cougar/T-bird - Master cylinder (85V-025); 16,000 '86 M7 - Fluid indicator light (86V-023); 38,000 '85-86 M7 - Pump motor fails (86V-109); 113,200 '89 Cougar/T-bird - Increased brake pedal travel (89V-081).

Electrical Fire: 19,200 '85 M7 - Air suspension control module (85V-040); 72 '90 Cougar/T-bird - Battery-to-starter cable short (90V-026); 500,000+ '88-93 Cougar/T-bird - Ignition switch short (96V-071).

Fuel Fire: 250,000+ '86-87 all models - Fuel line coupling disengages (87V-139); 124 '88 Cougar/T-bird - Rollover valve leaks (88V-165): 125,000 '92-93 Cougar/T-bird - Fuel line rubs against floor pan & leaks (97V-159).

Seat Belt/Airbag: 2,890 '93 M8 - Damaged retractor (92V-166).

Steering/Suspension: 10,600 '89 Cougar/T-bird - Rear suspension knuckle fracture (89V-080); 57,000 '91-94 Cougar - Frame mounting bracket fractures, loss of steering control (95V-194).

Transmission: 5,000+ '91 Cougar/T-bird - Park does not engage (91V-048).

Other: 100+ '86 M7 - Throttle sticks (85V-115); 20,000 '86 M7 - Ignition key fails to return to on (86V-108); 682 T-bird Turbo Coupe - Rear wheel separation (88V-033); 125,000 '90-91 Cougar/T-bird - W/S wipers malfunction (91V-076); 10,000+ '96 Cougar/T-bird - Defroster blower malfunctions (96V-007); 5,000+ '96 Cougar/T-bird - Driver door latch opens (96V-070); 45,000 '93-94 M8 - Lights short out (98V-009).

  grey Line