By on June 24, 2013

Jeremy writes:

I traded in my 99 Dodge Dakota for a 2002 New Edge Cougar (2.5V6, automatic) in 2006. At the time it had 35k on it and I was the second owner. It started its life in Ohio, and I bought it in Flint Michigan. A year after I had it, I pulled out of a gas station in heavy traffic and got hit dead on at the front wheel by an Accord. I had it towed to the dealer and repaired completely there. After that repair, a year and a half later I had to do the ball joints and CV shaft on the right side.

It had a tune up (plugs, wires) and front breaks in 2008. In 2009 it got rear breaks and the transmission fluid was drained and re-filled.

I have replaced the o2 sensor about three times now.

I drove the car to Las Vegas in 2007 and I had the oil pan replaced by a dealer as well. I have swapped the battery and done general maintenance on it. In 2009 I drove the car from Vegas to San Francisco where I now live. The front end squeaked horribly bad and I had a replace the front end sway bar bushings to get it to go away.

San Francisco has not been kind to the car. It was hit in the back by the left rear wheel and now has a big dent. Some one nailed it in the front in the Target parking lot so it has a dent in the front right side. Its all street parking and apparently it looks like a target for the neightbors who dont know how to parallel park. If I park in front of my house, there car leans about 20 degrees to the right, and if it rains it leaks. So I park across the street and always keep it level.

It gets regular oil changes, and it had the coolant flushed in 2011.

Once I had trouble opening / closing the moon roof so now I just leave it closed. It does not leak. This car is a daily driver, and it shows. It is up to 130,000 miles.

Now that I live and work in the city, I drive the car about once or twice a week and when we go out of town camping. It runs good, its paid for, and the insurance is dirt cheap. I need to put new tires on it, but overall the car is solid.

It rides rough and its noisy (exhaust loose and clunking) but its still a good car. My question is what is the best thing I do to keep this running. I’d love to do some suspension work and smooth out the ride and handling a bit (I feel EVERY bump) but I am afraid that if I have them start working on it, things will just get worse and it will turn into a money pit. Cheap uncomfortable ride is WAY better than an Expensive ride.

Where is the best bang for my buck? Plugs and wires again? Should I do the timing belt? Flush n Fill the transmission? What is recommended to keep this thing running for as long as possible, or until my neighbor finally destroys it when he trys to parallel park in front of his driveway?

What I am most concerned about is making it worse. The car runs and drives fine now, and its solid. If I have preventative maintenance done, and things start getting worse I will hate my self. Am I just being paranoid here?

Sajeev answers:

Surprisingly enough, you aren’t paranoid. But not for the reasons you might think.

Don’t get me wrong, the New Edge Cougar was a fantastic sports coupe. Everyone knows that, Even Jeremy Clarkson liked it.  But since it’s a V6 model well out of the warranty period, you must sell it. I’ve seen three of these (including Mr. Michael Karesh’s V6 Contour) suck up catalyst from the small “pup” cats attached to the exhaust manifolds, which scores the cylinder walls.  And that eventually destroys the motor.

If you really, really like this car, find a set of Duratec Contour/Cougar headers…because they don’t have the pup cats, these eliminate the catalyst sucking problem. And they add a ton of hot-rod sound and a good bit more punch throughout the powerband. More to the point: BAD PUP CATS!

Again, Ford wasn’t the only company with this problem.  And I feel a little bad for kicking this feline can to another owner who might experience this problem…but I feel obligated to tell you, dear reader, to run like hell.

Best of luck.


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31 Comments on “Piston Slap: The New Edge Cougar Must Die...”

  • avatar

    yeah, early production Nissan QR25DE’s (Sentra SE-R) had this exact same problem.

    Those new edge Cougars seem so cool – but I just hear a litany of terrible things about problems with them. Such a shame.

    • 0 avatar

      True. When I was with Nissan in ’06 they actually recalled a big batch of QR25 Altimas and sent them back to the plant to have new engines installed. To this day I won’t buy one of those time bombs because of my experience with those. I don’t think there are even any ’02-’06 SE-Rs left on the road.

      • 0 avatar

        An ex-gf of mine had a 2004 Sentra, I think it was an XE. The manifold cat failed by 90,000 miles, and CA says you need to replace it with the same awful factory part for about $1,200. There is an aftermarket replacement, but it isn’t legal under the CARB villains. There was a work around thanks to her relationship with people above CA laws, but it was pretty irritating that the Nissan dealer cowardly sent us to another shop to deliver the news that the only legal repair was an expensive dealer part. The Nissan dealer knew that, as this is a common problem.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve got 140k on my ’03 SE-R. Original pre-cat too. Still runs great. It does burn oil though.

  • avatar

    130,000 and that beat up; at this point I’d drive it into the ground and start saving for a down payment on something newer when the time comes.

    Some cars are worth keeping up and putting money into. I don’t think that’s one of them….

  • avatar

    Personally, I would recommend to get rid of that car and get something more reliable. In my experience 10+ year old cars of that Ford era are basically unfixable. I am speaking from my experience with a g3 Ford Taurus with 3.0L Duratec. The car run like a Swiss watch for about 10 years (granted, I did only about 60,000 miles on it) and then it just started falling apart. The engine is exemplary. Regular oil changes and a couple of sensor changes is all that it needed to run in top shape. However, oil and ATF pan gaskets are leaking. All seals have been leaking leaking. Once I fix one leak, another one springs up immediately. The interior is falling apart. Motor mounts well apart. The transmission is sending some troubling messages. The AC runs loud and weak even after a rebuild following a complete meltdown. The front suspension and steering needed to be entirely rebuild, some components more than once (ball joints 3 times, control arms, end links, steering rack, stront struts and springs, the rear end is sagging and needs new springs.. all of this on a car with under 100,000 miles on clock). Doing any sort of maintenance is a nightmare because of hard access to anything on the V6 engine. Changing sparkplugs is a weekend long affair. Changing oil pan gasket is a weeks long affair as I needed to drop the rusted exhaust pipe. I am pretty sure the other Ford/Mercury cars from that era are not much different in terms of reliability and ease of maintenance. I did some napkin math using google spreadsheet and it seems like with all the money I had put into repairs, I could have simply leased a newish Fusion and driven it for the past 2-3 years. Don’t fall into that trap and sell this car now IMHO. If you want an affordable and reliable car with a cheap insurance, get a cheap Toyota Corolla, Yaris, or Fusion (I4).

    • 0 avatar

      This, ford is like the poor mans Range rover in terms of reliability.

      • 0 avatar

        I have a more nuanced view.

        My 1998 Ranger was wonderfully maintainable. It was a Mazda/Ford collaboration (metric bolts on the body, “standard” bolts on engine), and I drove it for 8 years and 100k miles.

        My 1989 Ford Tempo was an unmaintainable POS. You were supposed to use an engine hoist for simple jobs like to swapping the serpentine belt.

        I also owned a Ford Escape for a year. There were no mechanical surprises, though there is some expensive maintenance around 120k moles on these vehicles. I didn’t much care for the fact that it’s a butched up compact car on stilts, but I knew that when I bought it… Used Escapes are a good deal if you need a compact family hauler that can tow, but that doesn’t mean it was our favorite car.

        All three cars were more maintainable and more reliable than the 2001 VW Jetta I had this misfortune of owning. Also, both Fords exceeded the dismal expectations I had when I purchased them. I loved driving the Jetta, but that POS put Ford’s definition-of-average reliability into context. Ford is just fine. Toyota is better.

        I’ve never owned a Range Rover, but it’s hard to imagine that they have Ford’s combination of average-reliability, rapid depreciation, and maintainability (if you avoid the “just lift out the engine to change the belts” era of compact cars).

  • avatar

    I have to agree with the general consensus, there comes a point of diminishing returns when it comes to repairs on some cars. It sounds like you got your monies worth out of this one and perhaps your best efforts should go towards finding a similar ( good car with low resale value )vehicle

  • avatar

    As he lives in California I am thinking eliminating the prone to fail in a catastrophic manner cats with headers is not going to be an option. So what you have is an unpopular, albeit decent model from an orphan brand with multiple accident history and some body damage. Since you park on the street it is likely whatever you get will take some abuse. Also likely your Cougar isn’t worth much so I’d drive it until it falls apart or has a costly smog failure.

    Incidentally if I had to live and park in the city I think a rhino lined and offroad armored Suzuki Samauri would be in my future.

  • avatar

    I bought a 2000 Cougar for my daughter. What a truly wretched experience. A lot of the clunk can be taken out of the suspension by replacing the upper strut mounts, which are nothing but 2 nylon rings with grease in the middle. Whether you replace the struts while they’re down is up to you. The engine has no timing belt. Oil leaks are dangerous because it gets crazy hot around the exhaust, which always made changing the oil filter entertaining.

    Hopefully they fixed the problem with undersized wiring from fuse box to alternator, so the dealer won’t have to permanently jump the field and battery terminals like he did with mine, and you won’t have the bad alternator connector that make the headlights flicker. Also, if you haven’t had the water pump replaced yet (unlikely) you’ll want an aftermarket one without a disintegrating plastic impeller. And by 2002 they probably resolved the issue with the molded plastic fuel tanks and yours won’t warp like the one in my Cougar and Contour.

  • avatar

    That feline in the picture must know that those are NOT the “cat sucking headers” to be so brave to get so close. :P

    Two years ago when I visited my family in Ohio my cousin was driving around in one of these V6 Cougars. She is not well known for preventative maintenance. I’ll have to check and see if it survived when I visit again in a few weeks.

  • avatar

    I had one for a short time that I flipped. It was a solid car, but ended up biting me for a pair of rear struts and springs (these tend to have spring noise from the rear, and the shock portion of the strut was shot anyway), and a $200 alternator. Not horrible cost wise, but replacing the alternator on the V6 version is a major pain. It’s down in the lower rear portion of the engine compartment whic isn’t bad in and of itself once you remove the splash shield, it’s when you realize they put the bolts in from the opposite side for which there is no practical access that the rage builds.

    Anyway, in your case, you already own this cat, so you need to decide if its worth investing in. I’d say if the powertrain is still going strong, have a trusted mechanic look it over and give you a run down of what is on the urgent list. If you have suspension bits ready to fall out, do those first. Work your way back from most to least critical as your budget affords.

  • avatar

    “What I am most concerned about is making it worse. The car runs and drives fine now, and its solid. If I have preventative maintenance done, and things start getting worse I will hate my self.”

    And for that reason, I’d do nothing to it if it were mine. It’s eleven years old, has 130,000 miles and is driven infrequently. Change the oil regularly and don’t abuse it. When it does finally take a knee, take the license plate off of it and walk away. You’ll be better off financially and in the long run too.

  • avatar

    I feel your pain. Therefore, I have researched your situation and come forth with the true and expert economic solution. The facts are:

    1. it runs
    2. its market value as trade-in (per Kelley Blue Book) is $1,225 USD

    It follows that you should drive it until it breaks again and then junk it.

    The vehicle is nearing the end of its useful economic life. Managing such assets can be an art in itself. Forget about preventive maintenance. Skimp on other maintenance. Cheapest oil, used tires (se habla Spangilsh en su barrio?). Have a game plan for that awful day. Ashes to ashes, rust to rust.

    • 0 avatar

      This, if it was actually worth something I was going to recommend selling it and getting something comparable in the same price range. As long as it runs and drives it can’t depreciate all that much more. So I say keep it until you think is not going to be reliable.

      I would not do anything major to it, a tune up(plugs, wires, cap/rotor is it has it, PCV, fuel filter, and a couple bottles of injector cleaner). And when its on its last legs, just leave it in the right spot to get totaled by your neighbor.

  • avatar

    A friend of mine had one of these, V6. It was pretty nice transportation until the transmission started slipping and clunking and shifting into false neutral on the 3-4 shift at 80k miles. he had the transmission rebuilt and drove it for another 3k miles. Then he somehow managed to flip it on a a straight flat road with nobody else on it. Held up pretty well in the accident too… better than I would have guessed a late 90s designed ford would have fared.

  • avatar

    Well the obvious answer to the question is… Panther!

    • 0 avatar

      In my area 10 year old Town Car, less than 100,000 miles, for around $5,000. Although with the way his neighbor parks he should get an 80s Panther with 5mph bumpers to absorb his neighbors park by feel style.

      • 0 avatar

        Won’t be a problem because he will NEVER find a street parking spot in SF that will take a panther. He will be like the Marie Celeste, continually circling the block like a ghost ship.

  • avatar

    I had a very early build ’99 Cougar that I owned and daily drove from 1999 until 2011. Agree with the poster above who recommended changing the water pump. My water pump, which I never changed, led to the car’s death at 110k miles.

    These cars were hit or miss in terms of problems. Some had tons of problems (especially with sunroofs and alternators), others had no problems. I had my fair share — POS CD4E auto tranny went out at 65k; had it rebuilt for $1,500 and the rebuild lasted until its death. I also had a problem with the flex plate (flywheel) getting teeth stripped off, which caused a very loud and very embarrassing screeching sound on start-up sometimes. The ABS module went south at around 80k; never got it fixed. Also had O2 sensor problems constantly toward the end. The original alternator was good for the life of the car in my case, though.

    Despite the problems, I LOVED that car. It was really a little go-kart with amazing steering and handling. The ride was HARSH — definitely not the most sophisticated sports suspension in the world, but it was still fun to mob around town in. It also attracted a ton of positive attention when it was new. The Cougar was the first Ford vehicle to wear the New Edge styling that spread through the line, and it really stood out as the “shape of things to come” in ’99.

    Now I have a Caddy CTS, and while I love the Caddy, sometimes I still miss that little go-kart Cougar.

    So for sentimental reasons, I vote that you drive it till she dies.

    • 0 avatar

      I would flip my lid if my car dropped a tranny at 65,000 miles, especially one I’d bought new. Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but I’m somewhere north of 160,000 miles on a 1996 Panther, and I ran ’90 and ’93 Tauruses up to 180,000+ miles with good maintenance and the occasional part repair. I’ve also ran a 2008 MKZ from 48K to 70K over the last 2 years with nary a problem so far.

      I dream at night of a brand new (never had a new car) BMW 328i, but I’m sooo scared that it will break down on me just out of warranty and kill my dreams forever.

      • 0 avatar

        Don’t worry. Be happy. Forget about warranty. Find a good independent mechanic who knows them. Buy one. A used Beamer 3 series, properly selected, is one of God’s gifts. It drives like a bat out of Hell on wheels, and it only starts to deteriorate at over 100,000 miles, maybe longer with proper TLC. Live long and prosper.

  • avatar

    Sajeev Mehta I very rarely disagree with you, but I think you’re looking at the “new edge” Cougar through rose colored sunglasses. For starters the OP has done the right thing with the sunroof, given up using it. They are infamous for the failures, along with engine and tranny failures. It wasn’t a great replacement for the Cougar or the Ford Probe. It was definitely a nice looking coupe, but a service nightmare. Especially say compared to an Accord coupe of the same era.

  • avatar
    Kevin Jaeger

    I had the Contour versus of this – a basically similar car but with four doors, 2.5V6 and a manual. It was a fun car and I loved it for about 8 years and a little over 100k. After that it was quite breathtaking how absolutely everything but the engine and transmission completely and comprehensively fell apart. It was a fine car – one of my favorites ever for the first 100k, and the absolute worst I’ve ever had after that, and I’m used to driving old cars out to 200-300k. But this car was difficult to service and a general nightmare once it reached the typical high mileage maintenance phase of a car’s life. I just drove mine until it had a major problem and traded it in and was pleased I got $500 for it.

  • avatar

    So that X-type 2.5L might not be such a deal after all?

    • 0 avatar

      No no – the X-type was based on a different platform, it was from the original Mondeo but not the Americanized Contour/Cougar platform, instead more of a direct descendant. A better vehicle overall.

      In any case, good luck getting parts for the X-type when they break.

      I had a couple of V6 Contours, including an SVT – not bad when newer but really crappy long-term cars. Electrical connectors made of the most brittle plastics possible and with the most corrosion-prone connectors that could be engineered. Disposable front bearings. Hidden megafuses to fool the uninitiated.

      But at least they were fun to drive, even the plain V6 with an automatic. The SVT was a hoot but I could never get myself snugged into the seats well enough.

  • avatar

    I’d do as little to it as possible and drive it until it dies.

    It pains me a little to say that, because I love Cougars. (That’s my Cougar’s headlight in my avatar.) However, there are two facts to bear in mind. First, they’re a dime a dozen now. Second, it’s an automatic. The CD4E is the worst weak spot of that platform. There are other weak spots–the water pump mentioned, rear main seal, fuel pump, and IMRC come to mind–but the CD4E is the only one of those that’s more than KBB value to replace. (Unless you don’t notice your water pump failing before the engine overheats, anyway.) Unless there’s some incredible sentimental value to this particular Cougar, drive it until it dies; then, if you really want, get another one. (With a stick, this time!)

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    My wife’s sister , a self-described ” Cougar queen ” , had two of these , IIRC both equipped with a stick . She had owned a number of Cougars before , everything from a 1967 XR7 to a couple of the aero Cougars , even a ghastly tarted up with padded vinyl roof , special ” Texas Edition” version . By far , the new-edge version was her favorite . She was terribly disappointed when she went to the dealership hoping to buy a new one that they were no longer being built .

  • avatar

    A friend’s wife had one of these, can’t remember what year it was, but it was a great car for her, except it had the absolute worst seats I have sat in/on, since my stepfather’s early 80’s Olds 88. Those were worse, but not much. My friend constantly complained about them killing his back everytime he got stuck driving it, which was whenever his wife went shopping, took the dogs to the vet(Very big dogs), etc. He got stuck driving it at least 3 days a week. I decided to see how bad they were. I couldn’t find a position where I could sit more than 10 minutes without my back or neck cramping up too. She refused to get rid of it, so he went and bought an old Camaro, like a ’88, to drive on the “Cougar days”.

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