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Question DetailsAsked on 7/8/2012

I have a 1999 Ford Focus;125,000 miles on odometer; 6-speed manual; new battery; 4 Michelin tires with about 5k miles on them.

I was on my way to the airport to pick up a friend. Just before I arrived, the a/c started blowing warm air. Turned it off. Car was making funny noises. Next morning, took it to Firestone store recommended by my insurance company. Manager replaced the battery (@ $160!), but said he couldn't give me a safety sticker until I had put at least another 90 miles on the car, for some reason I couldn't understand.

Checked with a couple of independent repair shops, by phone. Both said it was at the very least, a worn "serpentine belt." Both gave me a price around $125-150. However, there is another belt that might need to be replaced. Apparently both belts are due for replacement at around 125k miles. Both mechanics tell me the second belt itself is not expensive, but replacing it -- for this particular car -- requires removing a lot of parts if not moving the engine out of the way. Result? Lotsa labor hours "just to check." Do I have a choice? I seriously need a/c.

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8 Answers


I would suggest getting the belts from the auto parts store nearby, and go to a different shop than the ones you spoke with, they dont sound very honest ,and get someone to replace them, it should not cost you that much, especially if buy the parts yourself, some shops do frown upon customers buying their on parts, but its cheaper for us the consumer , GOOD LUCK !!!!

Answered 8 years ago by kenno25


WHERE is my brain? Sorry, folks. I have a 1999 Ford CONTOUR. The rest of the info is correct.

In response to the only person who has answered so far: I have no intention of taking the car back to the Firestone jerks. It was an emergency and my insurance company sent me there -- after sending some young kid who couldn't get the car to start, thus concluding that it was the alternator. . .or maybe the battery. Whaaa? After Fire-Jerks decided it wasn't the alternator, they decided that what I needed was a brand-new, expensive battery @ $160. They also gave me an estimate for fixing the overall problem @$750, i.e., replacing both the serpentine and timer belts. Here's a warning, Fire-Jerks: NEVER speak down to an intelligent woman. She WILL get even in the end.

I'm wondering if it's worth making such an expensive repair. If it's only the serpentine belt (which would probably get the a/c running again), that's OK, and I'm not going to go running all over town to find the exact one to fit this car. I cannot replace it myself (no tools, no experience) and the savings for the belt alone are not really worth it. Besides, if I let the garage supply and replace it, they will cover any mistakes. Yes, I have found a place with an excellent reputation, recommended by a friend.

The main question I have is this: is it possible to see if the timing belt needs to be replaced WITHOUT having to remove and then replace parts (thus involving labor charges)? [I have no repair history for this car.]

Answered 8 years ago by Oleron


Hard to diagnose problem with the incomplete info you have provided. The timing belt would have nothing to do with your AC not working. If it has never been replaced in 13 years, it needs to be done though.

Not sure why they replaced your battery. In a 13 year old car, the most likely reason for no AC would be the belt (cheap), or the compressor (expensive).

Answered 8 years ago by Sideshowtom


There is no way to know if the timing belt needs to be replaced, unless you know how many miles are on the vehicle, then you can check the manufactures reccommendations for replacement. First you need to find out if its an interference engine, if it is and you dont know the mileage, you need to replace it, because an interference engine means that if the timing belt does fail, it will cause little to massive amounts of damage to the engine, meaning it will cost alot more to repair, than the cost of a timing belt. If you do have a mechanic check it out, he has to remove several parts from the car to check the belt,so, if you go that far you might as well have them replace it while they are in there. get your belts replaced, they need replacing every few years anyway , and then see whats up with your A/C. I hope at least some of this information helped you. GOOD LUCK !!!

Answered 8 years ago by kenno25


Thanks, Kenno ~

That's what I figured, although I was hoping there was some "magic" way to examine the timing belt without removing all those parts. btw, I DID say upfront that the car has 125k miles on it. I bought it from a neighbor who has always taken good basic care of his cars. He is somewhat of a cheapskate, however, so I doubt he ever had anything replaced until absolutely necessary. Not sure the car is worth the $$$ I will need to shell out for these repairs, ESPECIALLY if the a/c is still not working after the work is completed. Summer in Central Texas is about half the year and sometimes it's HOT in that season other folks call "winter."

Am planning to take it to the garage either tomorrow or Tuesday. Will let ya know!

Answered 8 years ago by Oleron


According to this source, that year and model does not have an "interference engine":

The 1998 Ford Contour was a mid-size sedan that was sold in North America from 1995 to 2000. There were a variety of trim levels produced, all of which either had a 2.0 L inline-4 cylinder or a 2.5L V6 engine. Both of these engines are double overhead-cam engines that use timing belts. When a timing belt breaks, there may be associated damage and engine malfunction. Luckily, these engines are not "interference" engines, which means that you are unlikely to damage engine valves if the belt breaks.

To replace the serpentine belt:

The serpentine belt on the 1999 Ford Contour with the four-cylinder engine operates all of the engine accessories. The belt is one complete unit that routes around the alternator pulley, water pump pulley, power steering pump pulley and the air-conditioner pulley. As the motor is running and the belt is turning around each accessory, it enables the accessories to be able to perform. If the belt develops damage, change it out immediately.

Answered 8 years ago by Oleron


I had some problems dealing with the garage that was first recommended to me. Seems the owner has so much business, he doesn't care whether you bring him more or not [Yost Automotive], and will not even speak with you, on the phone or in person. The friend who suggested Yost rounded up more suggestions. I took the car to Uptown Auto. Wow. What super people! I took it in last Thursday morning and had it back Friday afternoon. Yes, as someone else suggested, the a/c compressor was kaput [no advance warnings; worked great one minute and died the next]. Uptown Auto replaced it with a new compressor, NOT a re-conditioned one -- this is good, as the price difference was minimal. They also vacuumed out the a/c apparatus and put plenty of charge in the compressor. In the process, they had to remove the serpentine belt, but determined it was in good condition and did not require a new belt (saving me $50). I was also having a problem with the right rear brake "catching" when I started the car and tried moving in reverse gear. Once it even burned rubber until I tried moving in first gear, before engaging reverse. Turned out the brake cylinder was leaking. They replaced the cylinder (not an expensive part), the brake shoe and resurfaced both rear brake drums. Words cannot express how grateful I am for having found these WONDERFUL, HONEST people, who have no issue with repairing older cars. The total was about 49% parts and 51% labor. Most definitely worth it. I'm not going to say how much it cost except to mention that I'm sure it was less than half what I would have paid at most other places. Nasser and Nasrin [owners and, respectively, head mechanic and office manager] are Nice x a zillion. They actually LISTENED to my somewhat detailed non-mechanic description of the symptoms and knew exactly what to look for. I won't take my car anywhere else from now on, even when I get my next used set of wheels. Thank goodness they're about 10 years younger than I am, so hopefully they won't retire before I'm out of the driving game!

[btw, I'm in Austin, Texas]

Answered 8 years ago by Oleron


Hey Oleron, great thread!

If you haven't already, please be sure to sign in and write a review about your positive experiences with your mechanic on Angie's List!

Answered 8 years ago by JP

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