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I have a 1995 Escort LX Wagon 1.9L engine. This is the first car I have ever owned, and I know very little about cars. So your patience, help and guidance would be greatly appreciated.

When I bought it from my 80 year old mother in 2003 it had 23,000 miles on it. She drove it to the grocery store. I drove it across the country to the east coast, and still drive it so little it has 36,000 miles today. Aside from routine maintenance, I changed a gasket, and the alternator failed. At this point I want to keep it safely running, but not do unnecessary maintenance on a 15 year old car.

I changed the transmission, brake and coolant fluid 4 years ago. The power steering fluid has never been changed.

Here is what my local mechanic says I need to do, due to the age of the car, and the prices he wants to charge:

Timing belt and water pump -- $800
Transmission fluid -- $180
Brake fluid -- $110
Coolant -- $130
Power Steering fluid -- $120
Replace front brake pads -- $350
TOTAL -- $1,700

He said that if the timing belt breaks, the engine is ruined. I already discovered that is false by reading this web site -- it has a non-interference engine. A friend who knows about cars said the coolant would be replaced just to do this job, so there should be no labor charge on that anyway.

My local mechanic has treated me well -- until now. In his defense, the speedometer says 49,000, so he argues that this is a 15 year old car that should get the normal 65,000 mile maintenance. But he forgot that he changed the speedometer a few years ago, and that increased the mileage from 29,973 to 43,470, a difference of 13,500. So the actual mileage is 36,000.

My mechanic must have a large boat payment to make, given that he wants me to spend twice as much as the car is worth.

For a 15 year old Escort with less than 40,000 miles, how many of the above items should I do?

Timing belt, water pump, tensioner -- necessary due to the age of the rubber belt, or should I just take my chances and keep driving until it breaks and I need a tow? What should an honest garage charge for that job? $800?

I probably need new front brake pads, but assume that is $150 or less at a Midas?

And the fluids? Three of those were changed four years ago, and the power steering has never been changed. What would it cost to do all four, if that is necessary?

Thanks again for your advice and help. I greatly appreciate it.
 

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I would get the timing belt/water pump done after the car has travelled 60,000 miles. That would be plenty soon enough. If the belt breaks in the meantime, the car will stop running, with no damage to the rest of the engine. You may have a towing bill to pay though. For sure replace the water pump at the same time. The transmission fluid can be left alone - if its going to cost $180 to change it. I would see what another repair place altogether wants to charge for changing the tranny fluid. Dont forget, many many owners go for 100,000 miles without changing the transmission fluid at all. However, the Escort automatic tranny is one of the weaker points of an otherwise very durable design. Whether you change the fluid or not, it might go out at 120,000 - to 150,000, depending more on how you drive it than how often you change fluid/filter/clean-the-much-off-the-magnets. I will send you a p.m. with my own viewpoint on how to extend the life of the tranny.
The brake fluid doesnt get 'changed' so much as it gets replaced; as part of bleeding the brakes. I would think this would cost about $50-$80, since it shouldnt take an hour to do. I agree that fluid should be 'changed' (by bleeding) if its the original fluid in a 95. Again, lots of owners never do that either.
Forget the coolant change - or do it yourself. There is a drain valve on the bottom of the radiator, and a couple of gallons of %50 coolant mixture would cost you $28 I guess. As you observed, the coolant gets changed when you replace the water pump. (And by the way, you should change the top and bottom radiator hoses at the same time - just due to the rubber hoses probably being the original ones.

I would not bother to change the power steering fluid. I would wait for the pump to begin leaking - at maybe 150,000-200,00 miles, and change the fluid when I installed the rebuilt p.s. pump.

The front brake pads may need replaced, but not because of the age of the car. They are either worn down or they arent. More important would be bleeding the brakes, and pushing the pistons into the bore of the calipers, which would normally be done as part of putting in new pads. I do this kind of work on my own cars, and have been doing it since I was a teenager. If the rotors have some slight grooving in them - dont bother to get them 'turned down' to be smooth. The new pads will seat in to match the existing grooves, with no adverse affect before or after.

And I would advise pricing out the same work at a couple of other facilities. If you dont want to do the work yourself, then I would pick a place you felt confident with - not necessarily the lowest price quoted.


Where do you live that a mechanic can get those prices for his work? The prices all seem nearly twice what I would expect to pay at a non-dealer repair place - including buying the parts; other than perhaps in New York City. And all of these jobs involve parts that arent expensive, and are very common.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Denisond3

Thanks very much for the detailed response. Greatly appreciated. I will look for your PM on the tranny.

I also posted on a web site called "Just Answer" where you pay a nominal amount for a response from an "expert," in this case a Ford mechanic in NC. He responded before I saw your excellent answer. He said he would not change the water pump, but I had already seen responses here where almost all of you recommend doing so. So I responded and asked him again, and the Ford mechanic responded that "On the water pump, it does not have to be removed to replace the belt, the timing belt runs on the water gear but the gear can be checked and if there is play in the gear then by all means replace it but if not then I wouldn't."

He recommend only changing the timing belt due to the age and said the belt and labor in NC would be $225. The brakes would be $160 at a Ford dealership, and the water pump (which he didn't recommend) would add another $250 with labor. He said I should skip all fluids due to low mileage since I last changed them.

I live in Washington DC. I doubt the $1,800 was due to the location. I think my mechanic, who treated me well until now, thinks I am a descendant of PT Barnum and I am enough of a sucker to pay him $1,800.
 

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$800 for a Timing Belt job (albeit on the high side) isn't necessarily out of line for a repair shop... but for that price it had better include a NEW water pump, tensioner, Serpentine Belt AND a coolant flush as well.

$180 for a transmission service is ridiculous.. we get about $110 for a transmission flush.

Brake Fluid flush we charge $60 for.

Coolant flush is $110 (but for that $800 price tag should be included with the timing belt).

Power steering flush we charge $70 for... but here's what you do... every oil change just suck the fluid out of the P/S reservoir and refill it with clean. This is quick and cheap to do, and eventually you'll have nice clean fluid.

$350 for a 'retail' brake job again isn't out of line, as long as it includes pads AND rotors AND caliper hardware, but if the Rotors are OK you can find a brake job for under $100 at a lot of places. Just keep in mind that the caliper slides tend to freeze up on these... and on many I've had to remove the caliper.. mount it on a vice and HAMMER them out. On a couple occasions I ended up giving up and replacing the calipers.

If you have access to tools, time, and a little know-how you could easily do all of this yourself...
 

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Reminds me of the saying; "knowledge is power". You may not know how to do these jobs now but you could learn and invest the savings. I've done all of these to my 'scort and other cars, getting ready to do a '93 Suburban. They are not above the capability of the average person willing to read instructions and follow them carefully. There are stickies here on some tasks, anyone would be willing to give you further assistance if you get stuck.
If anything, don't believe everything the first mechanic tells you. This one sounds like he wants to take advantage of you. Not uncommon if they think you know nothing.
 

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I agree with the others are saying. Your mechanic's prices are excessive and all of those jobs can easily be done at home. I wouldn't change the timing belt yet but I would change it along with the water pump at 60K. Depending on where you live you may need brakes.
Almost nobody changes the brake fluid, coolant, or trans fluid in their cars but that doesn't mean you should not do so. Given that you changed all 3 of them 4 years ago they are fine. Don't bother with the power steering fluid unless you have to replace a part in the system.
 

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yep, save your money... don't worry about doing any of that for now. DEFINITELY search for another mechanic in your area. Those prices are beyond insane.
 

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I would oil the door hinges, and put a drop of oil on the key, and stick it in each lock for ten minutes - and repeat. This will help keep them working for the NEXT 15 years.
I would recommend you get the back end of the car up on ramps sometime, so you can look straight up at the brake lines, - every inch of them - running to the back axle. They can rust through (mine did) right up beside the fuel tank. This was on an Escort that spent its entire life running back and forth between Manassas and Springfield. There is rust on the undercarriage, that I wipe grease/oil onto each spring and fall - to retard further rusting.

Also, was the car kept under a roof, or in a garage when your grandparent owne it? I just need to know how much to envy you your Escort.
 

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All those prices seem extremely high to me. I suggest buying a service/repair manual such as Chilton's or Haynes that covers your year model Escort. A Haynes manual can be bought at Auto Zone or Advance Auto Parts for about $20. or a Chilton's can be purchased somewhere on line for probably about $30-35. The manual will give you step by step instructions with picture illustrations that will show you how to do nearly any repair you'll ever need to do. I've never had any mechanical classes or work experience and do nearly all my own mechanic work simply by following this type of manual. The Chilton's is a little bit more expensive, but in my opinion it is worth the difference in price, because it gives more details and more specifications on your car. Last time I changed a timing belt on my '88 Pony I did it in about an hour which isn't a good example of how long it will take someone who's never done it, but if you have tools and the time you could probably change it in 4 hours yourself without rushing through it and the new belt will problaby cost you about $20. Changing the timing belt is the hardest job listed on your list and as far as the front brakes there are lots of places that advertise replacing the brakes on one axle (front/back) including parts for about $69.95. Front brake pads are simple to change on these cars and the new brake pads probably cost about $20 with lifetime warranty at a chain auto parts such as Advance or Auto Zone. If you were close by I could bleed your brake system replacing the brake fluid at no cost except $2 for the cost of a bottle of brake fluid in less than 30 minutes. As a matter of fact several years ago a woman was having trouble with her brakes and I bled the system for her and wasn't going to charge her anything, but she insisted on giving me $40. for 15 minutes time. I felt guilty taking her money, but she refused to let me do it for nothing.
 

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^^i agree. chiltons has saved me a lot of money becuse i'd rather not get hound for my money from a mechanic when i can do the work myself. and i only payed $20 for a chilton's handbook at schucks
 

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dump that guy he is a rip off. here is what i usually charge my customers for the escort service

Timing belt and water pump -- 175
Transmission fluid -- 125 includes filter kit
Brake fluid --60
Coolant -- 100 includes flushing radiator and heater core with water first.
Power Steering fluid -- 100
Replace front brake pads -- $100 includes oe style pads
TOTAL -- $660 plus tax.
 

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You guys have to remember that labor charges vary GREATLY depending on where you are.

To give an example, my shop charges $80/hour but the "average" labor charge here in st. louis is about $100-120/hour.

Now down in southern Missouri where my Grandparents live, the shops charge $20/hour for labor.

It's absolutely insane, but what is considered 'expensive' for one person, may be 'cheap' for another.

But regardless, yes there IS a lot of money to be saved by doing it yourself...
 

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escortwhisperer said:
dump that guy he is a rip off. here is what i usually charge my customers for the escort service
Timing belt and water pump -- 175
Transmission fluid -- 125 includes filter kit
Brake fluid --60
Coolant -- 100 includes flushing radiator and heater core with water first.
Power Steering fluid -- 100
Replace front brake pads -- $100 includes oe style pads
TOTAL -- $660 plus tax.
So you run an Escort Service, do ya? Are the proceedures that you mention "code words" for services applied? 8O :lol: ;)
 

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dave8338 said:
escortwhisperer said:
dump that guy he is a rip off. here is what i usually charge my customers for the escort service
Timing belt and water pump -- 175
Transmission fluid -- 125 includes filter kit
Brake fluid --60
Coolant -- 100 includes flushing radiator and heater core with water first.
Power Steering fluid -- 100
Replace front brake pads -- $100 includes oe style pads
TOTAL -- $660 plus tax.
So you run an Escort Service, do ya? Are the proceedures that you mention "code words" for services applied? 8O :lol: ;)
He has worked on more Escorts than anyone I know. I bet there have easily been over 100 Escorts through his shop.
 

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Re: $800 Time belt replacemnt needed for 1995 with 36,000 mi

Grandmas-Car said:
Timing belt and water pump -- $800
Transmission fluid -- $180
Brake fluid -- $110
Coolant -- $130
Power Steering fluid -- $120
Replace front brake pads -- $350
TOTAL -- $1,700
No body is giving him a chance... Yes prices are high but here is a techs point of view... a tech whom doesnt work on 1.9l escorts... ever

FIRST OFF... this is not a ford dealer so you must quit faulting this guy for information that isnt 100% accurate. I deal with that crap all the time, if you cannot afford the dealers hourly rate then deal with the job not being 100% accurate. Not that dealers arent faultless but they know their product. My father in law knows a jaguar mechanic "one of the best in the NW" and he has said a lady whom paid some trans shop to replace a trans due to their diagnosis of a bad trans broght her car in after it didnt repair the concern, problem ended up being like a relay or fuse or something so she paid 2500 dollars for a trans and it was a "common problem" that was MUCH cheaper. If you bring it to a dealer the techs will know its a non interfearance engine.

You must also consider there is an element of CYA in an independent shop... IF he told you otherwise and for some weird reason you needed an engine after your belt went, we live in a time where people would be wasting his time and money to take him to court to make him pay for the repairs for YOUR car... its stupid... so I would tend to agree with him, yes us knowing otherwise would make us want to say he is trying to encourage him to do this expensive unessicary work by scaring him, but it could just as easily be CYA.

Trans fluid, to do a "trans service" which my dealer charges 1 hr for the fluid is drained, the pan is removed, and filters (if there are any) are replaced. 1 hr in labor + trans fluid + gasket + filter/s... 130 bucks isnt bad, and the cost of this maintainence compaired to replacing the trans, a trans service is something I do suggest, if for nothing more than knowing you have fresh non-contaminated fluid and you know there is nothing sitting in the pan that would show serious wear and possible replacement needed in the near future.

we charge .5 hr to do the brake flush then add in the brake fluid 110 is high but not that crazy... not to mention we used to charge 1hr that in it self would have been 98 bones. We use a machine that feeds new fluid through the resivor and pumps out all the old stuff. Yes many consider this overkill as MANY cars dont every have this done and they are still on the road. It is called maintanence for a reason... brake fluid is hygroscopic (attracts moisture) and moisture reduces the boiling point of brake fluid and causes rust from the inside out.

Coolant, it is TOPPED OFF with a waterpump but there is still alot of space below the level of the waterpump that retains the old fluid, not to mention of he "flushes" it it will actually push fresh coolant and additives in and drain the old crap out. many consider it overkill and not important, and I would tend to agree, I like the drain and fill method and so long as you do it regularly (3 yrs) there is nothing wrong with that.

P/S fluid, its dependant on what he saw. If he saw black fluid I would suggest replacement too... its WAY more expensive to replace a p/s pump, and rack due to running contaminated fluid, Contaminated fluid could also be a sign of things like the pump beginging to fail, every reason to baby it and give it fresh fluid.

brakes, just be happy you dont drive a jeep/chrysler/dodge, a front brake job for us will easly run you into the 450 dollar range, but 600+ is not uncommon, for the SRT vehicles (4 wheel brake job) with brembo brakes your looking at 1500+ for pads, rotors, and labor (and they EAT throught them as they use the rear brakes for traction control), rear brake jobs are not uncommon at 10k miles.

realistically unneeded maintanence are the flushes, things you do need are safety things, like brakes, if you dont have tons of cash and just want to keep it driving CHANGE THE OIL REGULARLY, keep it tuned up (regular sparkplugs, and wires), drive it nicely dont abuse it, and replace things when they need to be replaced dont drive on problems because "its not hurting anything now" and you will be good for YEARS to come!
 
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