The Truth About Cars » ford freestar The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:25:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » ford freestar Hammer Time: The $700 Repo Sat, 28 Jun 2014 02:07:16 +0000 civic1

My brother-in-law’s 1997 Honda Civic took a vacation recently, and it only cost me about $700.

The customer who escorted the Civic to the humidity ridden swamps of Crystal Lakes, Florida, let’s call him, Mud, had already been financing a 2005 Ford Freestar from my dealership.


Some weeks he would pay on time. Other times, he would be late. The phone always worked though, and since the Freestar had been one of my unsellable cars of the past year, I was just happy to have the vehicle out there to what I hoped would be a good owner.

If only it were so.

One day, I got a call from Mud while his chain smoking soon-to-be pregnant ex-girlfriend was screaming at him in the background.


“Steve, I’m returning the Freestar today. Me and Wildflower are splitting  and…. shut up! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!!!”

“Aaahhh… that’s fine. Just call me back in a few.”

The few turned out to be a day.


“Hey Steve. That  Civic you have on the lot. Can I exchange that with the Freestar and just make the same payment?”

Normally I say no to these things because the math doesn’t work out and, even if it does, exchange customers often get into the habit of delaying maintenance on their vehicles. Right around oil change time, these customers will come back to the lot and ask for an upgrade. What I do instead is tell them of a place a mile down the road where they can get the oil changed for $20. The cheap price has a surprisingly nice halo effect on the affordability of the vehicle they drive, and then I never hear from them until I start having payment issues.


Mud wasn’t bad when it came to payments. But his ex-girlfriend’s smoking meant that the Freestar would need to have the interior detailed, and God knows what else.

“Bring the Freestar down and let me see what we can do.”

When I saw the platinum colored Freestar, I was both surprised and not surprised. The interior was still in decent shape. It had a faint smell of smoke, but not too bad. What did surprise me was a nice big dent on the driver’s door. That would cost some money to pop out along with the interior detail.

178,000 miles. When he had bought it from me it had all of 170,000. Or so I thought. This guy was driving close to 1,000 miles a week, and whatever I gave him, if I gave him anything, it needed to be able to handle that constant driving.

Thankfully, my brother-in-law’s Civic had more or less been overhauled before I got it. New belts, water pump, tensioner, plugs, wires, on and on. I did need to put four new tires on it, which turned out to cost only $233 thanks to my usual discount and a $100 gift card promo that the chain tire store was offering at the time.

I tried retailing the Civic for $3500, then $3300, and then $3000.

Nobody wanted it, and those that did just didn’t have the money. I had two kids in college and one older fellow tell me that they were going to get it in the next week, two weeks, when they got a settlement check, etc.

I didn’t care that much either way. Even though it was an unsellable car, I enjoyed driving thanks to my brother-in-law’s maintenance regimen. I knew it would eventually sell.

Then things started to get a bit, complicated. My sister-in-law mentioned to my wife, that my BIL hadn’t sold the vehicle for a lot of money, and that she thought it would get more than the $2000 I had paid for it.

When I hear things like this, I pretty much assume that this recent decision may not have been as smooth as I had initially thought.

I also couldn’t ask for nicer in-laws over the years. They have always been wonderful to me and my wife,  and I didn’t want anything that would cause hard feelings.  When their Camry’s engine blew up a couple years ago, I bought the vehicle for all of $500 with a very nice body and a perfect interior.   I replaced the engine with a JDM 2.0 four cylinder, financed it, had it voluntarily repoed in Denver (owner went out there and ran out of money). I then paid $750 for it to be delivered back to Atlanta, and sold it for $3000 cash which turned out to be my net profit.

I was thinking about selling the Freestar for cash, financing the Civic, and when I got my money back out of the Civic (about $2400), I would give my in-laws the profits. They had two young kids and I figured out this money, nine months from now, would be a perfect way to balance out their monthly daycare costs that I remember paying for back in my 30′s.

It was not meant to be. At least not when it came to Dirt, I mean, Mud. He was a pathological liar along with, what I would later found out, a serial impregnator. I should have taken the keys to the Freestar, shot him, and Jersey dumped his ass in Deliverance country.

Instead I took $305. $120 for what he owed on the Freestar, $120 as a payment cushion on the Civic, and $65 for the actual cost of the detail. I forgave the dent on the Freestar because, psychologically, if you do a nice favor for someone, they tend to be far less screwy with you in the future. However this isn’t always the case,  which is why I also asked him to give me the afternoon so that I can straighten it all out with my bank.

Well, the Bank of Steve has certain strict requirements. One of them is when you have a high-risk customer, you always put a GPS on that vehicle. Since I had initially planned on selling the Civic for cash, I had to take it to the mechanic shop so that we can put one in it. The cost of the unit is $129, and once we had three successful hits on the GPS, Mud got the keys.

Mud then took the car, went to Florida, and decided to play the BS game.

Instead of telling me the truth, that he had no job, he decided to tell me over the weeks, “I’ll get the money in on Tuesday.” Or, “I’ll be riding up to Georgia this weekend and I’ll get the money in and set up an automatic payment with Wells Fargo.” Every week was a new lie, a new excuse, and a new headache.

My policy with payments is relatively straight forward.

If you can’t pay me, then just tell me the truth.

If you can’t tell the truth, at least return my call.

If you can’t bother to return my calls over the course of three days, I’m going to get back my property.

And it is my property. Just because someone pays for the use of it, doesn’t mean they own it.

I get especially steamed when someone tells me, “It’s my car.” or “I already paid too much for it.” Hello? You don’t own my property. I am also not here to lecture you . My business is to provide for my wife and family and if you have some genuine catastrophic event that’s taken place, I’ll put the payments on a temporary hiatus. If you’re nice, I may even try to figure out a way to work off the balance with a side job related to your former work, so that you can become a long-term owner (and keeper) instead of a perpetual debtor.

Most of the time, I don’t want the car back. In the past I’ve had cleaning women do interior details. Small farmers pay me in chicken, eggs and tomatoes. I have even accepted lawnmower repairs, small generators, automotive repair work, assistance with transporting vehicles to and from the auctions, and  minor landscaping projects.

However in this case, I wanted the car back, big time. Last night the repo company scooped up the Civic that was suntanning in Lakeland, Florida. The old cost was $250 for the repo. $65 to transfer it to a nearby auction. $20 to mail the auction the keys so that it can be loaded onto a transport truck next Tuesday, and $275 to have it hauled back to my dealership.

I hope to see it on Thursday. From there it will likely need a $65 interior detail, and $42 to relist it on Autotrader and Craigslist.

So now I have another stickshift back on the lot. The Freestar sold for $3000 cash to a Latino family thanks to my posting the Craigslist ad in Spanish. By my calculations, this guy managed to do about 10,000 miles of driving for which I netted about $700. I got nailed by Mud, but that doesn’t mean I can’t wash myself of him and move forward to the next chapter in life.


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Total Recall: Ignore At Your Own Peril Sat, 20 Jul 2013 19:43:23 +0000 rust 1

In March Ford announced another recall for their Ford Freestar minivans. The last time this happened I took my Freestar to my local dealership for transmission work and a few weeks later ended up replacing the entire transmission at my own cost when the part suffered an “unrelated problem.” This time Ford tells me that my van may suffer from corrosion in the wheel wells and that the affected areas include the third row seat mount. Presumably, the metal under the seat rusts out which could prevent the seat from latching properly. The condition, they continued, affects about 196,500 vehicle registered in the United States and that the vehicles most at risk are in states where salt is used on the roads to melt snow in the winter. I made note of the recall but then life intervened and my best laid plans to take the van in for a quick repair evaporated.

Apparently the issue is more important than I thought because about two weeks ago my local Ford shop contacted me by letter to remind me about the recall and to encourage me to make an appointment for an inspection. But the cat was in the cradle with the silver spoon and little boy blue and the man on the moon and like so many important things in life, I never got around to doing anything about it. Yesterday, however, I decided to tackle one the van’s other annoying little problems, the malfunctioning rear air conditioning, and that required removing the interior panel that covered both the AC unit and the seat mount. I was utterly shocked by what I found.


As you can see from the photos, the steel wall of the wheel well is almost entirely eaten away around the seat mount and in places the corrosion is so bad I could look through the holes in the body and see the garage floor. Because of the pattern of rust, in a complete circle around the mount, the situation appears to be quite dire in my opinion. I could have easily made a hole big enough to put a basketball through by simply pulling on the affected part with my bare hand. Given the fact that my son rides in that third row almost everyday I’m left a little speechless about what I found. All it would have taken to collapse the rear seat completely was one hard bump.

Naturally, I went to the Ford dealership right away and they scheduled me a time next Friday to come in and get the issue fixed. Until then, we will have to continue to use the van for daily errands, but I’ve told my wife to stay close to home as possible for the next week. Because we only have the two vehicles now, these repairs, which I am told will take about a day to complete, will be pretty inconvenient for us. Loaner cars are not covered under the recall.

Despite the inconvenience, I still have to commend Ford for their repeated efforts to get me to address what they knew to be a legitimate concern rather than just posting the information on their website and letting it languish. I wish now I had been more proactive about solving the problem and I encourage all of you to spread the word to anyone who owns one of the affected vehicles about the severity of this condition. I guess it pays to stay on top of these things. Lesson learned. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I better make that colonoscopy appointment I have been putting off…

2004 Ford Freestar

2004 Ford Freestar

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Piston Slap: Come and Dance with…who??? Tue, 06 Dec 2011 18:51:07 +0000

Chris writes:

Dear Sajeev,

Love the website and love your reading your column. My question is I am looking to get a minivan within the next 6 months to a year. I am only looking to spend around 8 grand on one. I am leaning heavily towards Chrysler’s vans, and found some really great deals on older ones with low miles. But then I read your article about how it’s not always good to go with older, low mile automobiles. So would I be better to get say, a 2002 model Town and Country, with a little over 100 hundred thousand miles? Or should I not even bother with Chrysler at all? I was leaning towards a Windstar as well, but then there’s that whole rear axle breaking thing, and I quite enjoy living. In your personal opinion what is the best minivan for my budget.

Sajeev Answers:

I’m gonna try something different: give reasonably decent advice in the beginning, then let out my crazy.  Because there’s more variety to your minivan choices than what you see: multiple opportunities to dance before dating in the Homecoming Dance of Minivan Life, as it were. So let’s do this thing.

That said, buying a used minivan is a tough nut to crack.  Usually a higher mile vehicle with ample service records is the way to go, but perhaps their Achilles’ heel (transaxles not worthy of such a large machine) will fail much sooner on a high mile rig versus a low mile creampuff.  After all, new tires/belts/hoses/brakes on a 30,000 mile rig is much more palatable than a new gearbox after 110,000 miles. Speaking purely in generalities, ‘natch.

Chrysler’s hit or miss quality control with transmissions is almost legendary.  Rebuilt units are just as troublesome, depending on the Pentastar-savviness of the shop involved. Windstars were recalled for rusty axles, and perhaps the replacements should also be coated in 90-weight gear oil to keep the problem from resurfacing, so to speak.

That said, 90-weight oil does smell like a gigantic ass, so perhaps not. But this isn’t the point.

Look at what’s in your budget, I suspect the recall free (fuel system aside) Ford Freestar is up your alley…they definitely trade under your budget in the auctions, so why not find a desperate seller ready to take a low ball bid? And with the “big block” 4.2L motor, they are rather quick too. I kinda like them, in a bizarre CUV-hating kinda way. Then again, you might find plenty of clean Chrysler vans with ample service paperwork and a clean transmission dipstick. How am I to know what you will find first?

Even though the last gen GM minivans are uglier than sin, they are also a worthy choice. Especially the Buick of Minivans, the Terraza. And maybe you’ll get a sweetheart deal on a Toyota/Honda minivan from a friend who could care less about their price premium on the market. So what’s my advice?

Let the service history, transmission fluid condition, and status of normal wear items (interior, brakes, paint, power-operated gizmos, tires, etc) be your guide.  Or be nuts like me, and hold out until you find a fully loaded Mercury Monterey and tune the hell outta that big block 4.2L for maximum minivan hotrod goodness.

Mercury lives: come and dance with me!

Send your queries to . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.



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