By on July 20, 2011


TTAC Commentator SupremeBrougham writes:

Hey Sajeev, out of the blue a man calls me up and makes me an offer to take my Chevy HHR off my hands. I made a counter-offer and the deal was done. Hooray, no more car payments, I’ll just keep and drive the Mystique!

But, as luck would have it, the Mystique decided that it didn’t want to run anymore, so I had to have it towed to my local independent shop, and it’s been sitting there for a while. It turns out that the main wiring harness under the hood has disintegrated and needs to be replaced. He has tried calling a number of junkyards and he said they all laughed at him, and said they all cut the harnesses when removing the engines on junk cars, so none are available. At the dealer, they quoted him a price of ~$800 for a new one! He told me that he is going to try and see if he can salvage enough wiring under the hood to try and reconnect the ends together so that the car will run again. Also, I’ve tried looking online for this part but I haven’t had any luck.

So now I am stuck with no car (though thankfully my parents have been kind enough to loan me one of theirs) and I don’t know what to do. Some folks have suggested rather strongly that I need to sell it and buy another car, while others have said just cough up the $$$ and get it fixed.

I would prefer to keep the car, as I rather like it. Despite the fact that it’s almost seventeen years old, and has some rather dried-out leather inside, the body is in very good shape (thank you Ziebart!), and it still has that wonderful suspension that makes it such a joy to drive.

I did decide to go and look at cars today, but here in my neck of the woods (Northeast lower Michigan), most of what’s out there in the price range I’d like to stay in ($10000 max OTD) has LOTS of miles and is worn out! Yes, I could afford to spend a good deal more, but I do not want to. Today I looked at some Ford Focus models, a Honda Civic and a Chrysler PT Cruiser. Part of me really wants a Ford Fusion, but they are way over priced up here these days. Plus, it’s just me, so I don’t need a large car. I have been driving my mom’s ’05 Mercury Sable, and while very nice, it just seems like too much car for me. Also, gas just went to well over $4/gal. here, so mid-20’s mpg is not acceptable anymore.

So here is my quandary…Should I just get the Mystique fixed and hope for the best that the repairs will last for a while, or sell it quickly (which I don’t think would be a problem) and buy something else? And, if so, what?  I liked the Civic, even though it was over my self-imposed budget, but then I was reminded that no mechanic up where I live will touch a “foreign car”, and the closest import dealers are ~75 miles away. The idea of a PT Cruiser is appealing in that it has the higher H-point that would help me when getting in and out (bad knee), and the extra cargo space would be nice. And, they are cheap! The Focus also has the higher H-point, but a lot of them have lots of miles and a high price tag?

PS, for my contribution to Panther Love, I have already put in my request for Grandma and Grandpa’s 1991 Town Car Cartier to be left to me in the will one day, so that future problem should be solved. ;-)

Sajeev answers:

You like the Mystique, but are you a regular member of  You better be, otherwise owning Mercury’s finest Mistake at this age will drive you nuts.  That said, I am the Super Moderator (yes, really) of and my Mark VIII still drives me bonkers at times. There’s no easy answer for people who value their time over the repairs needed to keep an old car at 100% functionality, but the forums do help you make local friends that give you access to parts, labor for the cost of pizza and beer, etc.

If you can’t budget 1-5 hours a week on the forums (at least initially) for the next month or so, it’s time to sell the Mystique.  Buy that PT Cruiser, and sell it when the Cartier Town Car arrives in your garage. If you can stomach the Mystique’s, ummm, mechanical mystique: get that new wiring harness (or have the mechanic fix it) and you can save money using the forum’s hook ups later.

Good luck getting the Panther Love that you so truly deserve. The best of Ford USA and Ford Europe in the same garage is nothing to sneeze at.

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

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43 Comments on “Piston Slap: When Does the Mystique Wear Off?...”

  • avatar

    The real Mistake here is attempting to keep an old car at 100%. Like the unofficial Daewoo slogan went, “Lower Your Expectations.”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    (Spoiler alert, I display my TTAC/CC geeky-ness alert)

    FWIW I think Supremebrougham got an old LeSabre for a good price. Now on to his woes, if you want to have a “cool car” around and you want it to be a runner not just a lawn ornament, Sajeev is right in that you’ve got to be willing to devote time to it. If I was Supremebrougham I’d up my mechanical skills and start to go the buddies pizza/beer route.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    I also woke up and realized that keeping a 12 yr old car running like new was a sinful waste of money, so I keep my 98 325k mile Corolla tuned up, clean fluids, good tires and brakes, the rest is not important

  • avatar

    $800 vs $8000? I guess if there are other unknowns, then $800 is the better route.

    I’d either fix the Mercury or get a Focus (of the vehicles you listed). I just picked up an 06 ZX3 for my little brother, drove it 400 miles and it was a blast. Other than the AC needing a charge (has held for 3 weeks fine), it was a great find at $7500. Solid and tight steering. Smooth ride even for the shorter wheelbase.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Time to decide how much (or little) you really love this particular car. It has passed the point where major repairs like this make economic sense, but if driving it provides an intangible sense that all is right with the world, then go ahead and spring for the new harness and remember that from here on out you will be renewing the car more than repairing it.

  • avatar

    Have you tried Hemmings for the harness?

  • avatar

    Many PT Cruiser owners report only 18 MPG overall. Don’t buy one for the MPG.

    • 0 avatar

      I suppose that could be true if they drive with a heavy foot; remember the PT only have 150hp unless you find yourself a GT version.

      I have a 2007 PT Touring model for 4 years and was usually able to manage 21-23mpg in town driving and 26-28mpg highway, I’d average somewhere in the 24 mpg range combined.

  • avatar

    I had the same issue with my 97 Windstar, but the harness was NLA so we had the one wire bypassed and sold the van within six months. Once wiring starts to go bad it really limits the amount of trust you can put in a vehicle, since the failures are completely unpredictable and happen without warning.
    I’d possibly look for a harness from a dry Southern state wrecking yard, but I’ve got two endorsements for you:
    1) Krown rust protection gets into connectors and helps keep wiring from going bad.
    2) We love our Focus ZTS

    • 0 avatar

      @DougD: I like the suggestion about a harness from a drier climate.

      I would also suggest an automotive electrical shop if one is near you. I had an issue with my Chevy’s headlights that after 14 years of use a wire that was spliced at the factory apparently, chafed against a bulkhead and started to short intermittently. My regular mechanic couldn’t diagnose and repair correctly after several attempts. I did find a guy who specializes in electrical issues, had it fixed the same day. YMMV.

  • avatar

    It’s probably worth a few hours of your time scouring the internet for the wiring harness. Google the part number; I’m certain you’ll find a good used or possibly even new part for much less than $800.

  • avatar

    Don’t just do something, stand there.

    Used car prices have skyrocketed in the past few months; if you buy now you are probably buying at the top of the market. I’d cobble the wiring for now and wait for prices to come down to earth, which is just beginning to happen.

    …and as an ex-Michigan resident, let me suggest that when you decide to take the plunge buy a plane ticket and get your next used car somewhere in the sunbelt. It is amazing how much better cars that are not from the snow belt hold together, and if at all possible you should avoid a car that has been annually marinated in road salt and brine. The Midwest is called the “Rust Belt” for good reason.

  • avatar

    I think it is time for a new car. The Ford Fusion is a good choice, trade in the Mercury, bump up your budget and ypu can get a new one. Otherwise the new Chevy Cruze looks ok.

  • avatar

    Oh wow, I’ve never heard of a wiring harness going bad (unless there’s a rodent problem), but then again, my family and me have only owned japanese cars all our lives….
    Make sure you get a quote on the labour before you go ahead and buy a new/used harness for it. On most vehicles you’ll have to pull the dash and possibly the engine to replace it….that won’t be cheap unless you do it yourself.

  • avatar

    “salvage enough wiring under the hood to try and reconnect the ends together so that the car will run again. Also, I’ve tried looking online for this part but I haven’t had any luck.”

    Well, online for info was the right thing, because you are more or less in luck now!

    My sister had a 1980 Fiesta Ghia, and one holiday weekend we drove from F.H. to my parent’s vacation home outside T.C. sometime before she had to drive home (I was staying longer), the motor must have moved in its mounts, or the harness shifted in its, because the pulley on the a/c compressor scuffed through the insulation and took out the cables for somethings (I forget now what as it was like 1982 when this happened) … so my solution was to buy a bunch of heavy gauge wire, a soldering iron, water-proof shrink wrap, and high-quality 3M electrical tape … then to follow the damaged wires to the place where the damage ended, which ended up to be in the IP (so big disassembly there – time consuming but totally do-able), and then to begin replacing the damaged wires one by one … some amplifications & caveats are in order:
    1) the heavier gauge wire makes it certain that you won’t replace a circuit with an undersize and prone to shorting out one,
    2) forget about matching the fancy colours of all those different circuits – if you do your job well, you won’t have to trace circuits for the rest of the car’s life,
    3) regarding the splice itself
    a) if it is just a single circuit, don’t totally disassemble the harness to pull out the old circuit. Abandon it in place and siamese the new cable to the outside of the harness and attach it with zip-ties,
    b) make the splice in a location, further down the circuit if necessary, where access is easiest,
    c) be careful stripping the insulation so not as to damage the end of the wire,
    d) strip 1/2 to 1 inch of insulation away,
    e) spread the fibers of the cables a bit,
    f) then mesh them together with a mild twisting action to compress the joint,
    g) then solder them together (don’t use quick connects because these don’t hold up to vibration well, and make sealing difficult),
    h) oops, I forgot, before you strip, mesh and solder, don’t forget to slide your shrink tube over the end of the new cable!
    i) after the solder joint cools, slide the shrink tube over the joint, with its length being like 3 inches, i.e. the joint is 1 inch long, so the wrap will extend beyond each end of the joint by 1 inch,
    j) if it is a proper self-sealing shrink tube, then shrink away, but if there is any risk of moisture getting into the joint, or it is not self-sealing, then put a blob of silicone over the joint, massage it in, leave an excess, slide the tubing over, once the shrink tube is in place inject silicone into one end until it comes out the other end and you are confident it is fully filling the joint, then shrink away,
    k) for any joints in the passenger compartment, the silicone is not necessary, and if it makes it easier, you can replace the shrink tubing with a judicous use of electrical tape,
    L) make sure that you don’t place any of the replacement circuits where they can rub against something and abrade the insulation due to vibration,
    m) if there are multiple splices that need to be made in the same area, don’t make them all in one place, lest it look like there is a tumor growing inside your harness when you are done, space them out along the length of the harness (a good rule of thumb may be: no more than 3 splices in the same laterally adjacent cross-section, and 3 to 4 inches between the centers of any lengthwise adjacent splices),
    n) if there are multiple circuits that need replacing, it may be necessary to cut open the harness and remove the dead wire for those circuits in order to keep the overall diameter of the bundle reasonable,
    O) modify these instructions as the local situation and your best judgement demand,
    p) this is not rocket-science, and anybody who is reasonably handy, courageous, and organized should be able to do this.

    Hope this helps. Good luck. (It took me two days of my vacation to accomplish this, but my sister’s Fiesta never failed her in the remaining 5 years she had it.)

    p.s. Remember, you are not necessarily looking for a concours-level restoration, you just want to be reasonably assured that when you come out onto the corner of S. Washington and Pearl Streets, in the middle of the night, that you will not find that your ride has stranded you in the middle of downtown Ypsi…

    • 0 avatar

      I did this with an entire accessory harness in my engine bay. GM’s infinite wisdom had splices covered with only electrical tape along the front of the engine bay and all coroded. So after a lot of disassmbly, I unplugged the entire harness (easier than workin on it in place), and rewired it using your methods and RTV. Plugged it back in and I’d havce to say that that harness is more robust than it was from the factory. A multimeter helped diagnose all the problems prior to disassembly.

      • 0 avatar

        Accessory, or sub harnesses are much easier to unplug and repair this way. In my case, the harness in my sister’s Fiesta was the 14401, the main harness, so it would have been really difficult to take it out of the car, and the risk was that in doing so, some connector somewhere would have been damaged, or pulled off of the termination, somewhere necessitating even more repair.

        I do recall that I did unplug it at a number of locations to be able to kind of straighten it out to make the repair and access easier … but I didn’t take it fully out … in the process, I also found that the lead to the front side-marker was damaged and the leads nearly corroded through, so I repaired this as well…

    • 0 avatar

      Ah, you know Ypsi!

      Thanks for this. I’m going to speak with the mechanic about this. Thankfully though, I’m up in Tawas these days, so I don’t think I have too much to worry about at the moment!

  • avatar

    I’d get a used car within your budget from a southern state. Anything that’s already been in Michigan for several years is well on its way to rust issues. If you get one that hasn’t seen many salted roads, the body should last longer.

  • avatar

    btw, I worked on CDW-27 and this was such a flop of global engineering, something like having a talented orchestra spread around the world, where each player played a slihtly different variation on thesame theme, and in the end, in some markets it wasn’t the piece that the audience had wanted to hear…

    Factoid 1: The U.S. version of that car was supposed to have a bench seat variant for 6-person seating … then it was realized it would be an impractical and unloved feature, so the bench and related column shift, etc were all dropped shortly before production launch…

    Factoid 2: A Ford V.P. or higher, can’t remember who anymore, showed his freudian-slip, and mistakenly referred to the Mercury variant as the “Mercury Mistake” during a press-intro;

    Factoid 3: After a) the car failed to command premium prices and win-over Camcord buyers and b) the price separation from a Taurusresulted in mor customers preferring to buy a taurus, the CDW-27 cars went through a massive de-contenting cycle to try to improve margin while shifting to a compete-on price strategy;

    There are other interesting factoids, but enough for now…

  • avatar

    I further Sajeev’s suggestion of cruising – it has helped me many a time with my Contour SVT (in fact, I need to post about my current shift cable issue, botched by a former mechanic), and the people on it are very knowledgeable and helpful. This goes for most forums – the hard part is finding the right one (for example, trying to get info about my dad’s G35, there are no less than 4 forums that discuss that car and it is hard to figure out which one is worthwhile).

    And who knows, you may see me on there….

    Another suggestion is to email the guys at – they put in my 3L – they aren’t terribly far from you and have some great resources for parts.

  • avatar

    Wire harnesses don’t intimidate me as much as they used to. Grab a multimeter and go to town. Disassembly takes a while and your back will probably hurt for a bit, but it’s not impossible to track down electrical gremlins.

    If this idea scares you, I’d ditch it before it burns a hole in your wallet.

  • avatar

    I wouldn’t put a penny into that thing! It’s false economy; that’s why you never see any of those blasted things on the road anymore.

    You would be better to use your 10K (which is a pretty good sum) and search for something better engineered and more reliable. If you are in NE Michigan, it might better serve you to look further south in a bigger market; you may find a better, larger selection with room to negotiate. Good luck!

    • 0 avatar

      False economy to spend $800 instead of $10,000? If spending that $800 nets him two additional years of Mystique driving, that allows him to do two things: 1) invest that $10k and hopefully get a 4% annual return to cover the wire harness, and 2) wait out this used car bubble and get something newer/better for the same amount of money that he would otherwise be spending today. The risk is that the wiring harness is the first of many expensive repairs coming down the pike but only SupremeBrougham and his mechanic will be able to take an even educated guess. The potential upside is that he gets an even better return (hint: they just released earnings yesterday) and/or the Mystique soldiers on way past the break-even point.

      I don’t get why people are so scared of these four-figure repairs on older cars when the cost of the repair is so much less than the cost of replacing the car (which is inevitably something much newer).

      • 0 avatar

        I had a similar issue with an old car a couple of years ago, I grenaded the trans in the car. Then, it was whether to fix a then 13 year old car or buy another car… Whose history I did not know and could come with a plethora of other problems…

        I decided better the devil I knew and not to open a whole new can of worms. (Like how many cliches I added there?)

        Seriously. If you like the car, fix it. Everyone has their own pain level. But you’ve written about this car on CC, it has family history, which is important, too.

        Fix it.

      • 0 avatar

        I blew the trans in my Explorer at 225,000 miles, I took it to a shop and paid them a large sum of money to rebuild it, I could have found another car for the same price, but I’d have a whole new list of things to fix, vs. just a bad transmission.

  • avatar
    Ian Anderson

    The only reason to sink money into a older car for anything beyond maintenance should be if it is/is slated to be a project or you’re broke, the former of which is the only reason I’m still looking for body panels for the S10 I drive.

  • avatar

    Ahh the infamous wire harness fault. trace the harness out and replace whats damaged, usually by the battery. will have any info you need on these cars.

    I owned a 2000 fleet queen Contour, good handler, decent power out of the DOHC 4, sorriest automatic known to man, and tons and tons of road noise.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a 96 with the big engine, pimento red paint, grey leather interior … was fast, but was the most twitchy thing to drive … seemed to ignore the crown on the road, or find every rut and crack and then try to dart about … was the worst car a I ever drove until driving a new Acura mid-size sports sedan a couple of years ago (this was like the Contour, but even worse)…

  • avatar

    The worst-case scenario – brand new dealer part, installed by your mechanic, costs the same as 3 or 4 car payments on an equivalent new or used vehicle.

    And if you don’t fix it, then you have a car that is basically worthless because of one easily-fixed problem.

    In other words, even if you want a different car, you will come out ahead by fixing this car before you sell it.

  • avatar

    Well this was certainly a surprise to see today!

    I had written this to Sajeev back in April, so I guess an update is in order.

    Mechanic #1 discovered he was in over his head, so I ended up taking it to the Ford dealer. They attempted to disassemble the harness, in the hope that they could patch up what was bad. Unfortunately they discovered that the WHOLE thing was falling apart! And, Ford no longer supports these cars, so a harness from them is no longer possible.

    I did check out, and posted on a forum there, but I never got a reply.

    The car has never been in a fire or wreck, but the engine was replaced about five years ago. (See this past Saturday’s CC I wrote about the car) I did read that Ford chose to use a supplier that used very poor grade wiring for these that had trouble holding up to the heat under the hood. This car is an early build model, so that may explain why I’m having this problem.

    Now for some hopefully good news! I have the car sitting down at mechanic #3, and it seems that a harness has been located! I just have to wait and see if it gets here from the wrecking yard in Saginaw, and if this shop can install it.

    Why do I love this little car so? Because for one, it drives like no other car in it’s class, short of going to an actual Euro car. Plus, it’s the perfect size for me. And, I don’t owe for it!

    Back in May I did stumble upon a beautiful 1995 Buick LeSabre. One owner (Little old lady) 103K, loaded and beautiful. All for $4700. It’s totally not what I wanted, but now that I have it, I LOVE IT!

    My grandpa that gave me the Mystique says I should get rid of it, but I don’t know, every time I get behind the wheel, I get that smile on my face and my heart says, drive it!

    Thank you all for the input, I appreciate it!

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, Ford does not support anything over ten years old. They might have some parts, but I think they don’t order any new once to be made. It’s good to hear that you resolved your issue (with a Buick) and almost fixed Mystique.

    • 0 avatar

      If any connectors are broken or cut off, this site has an extremely good selection of new parts for Ford wiring.

  • avatar

    Contours & Mystiques were recalled for this problem — my daughter had one, and the recall had never been done. When she had problems, Ford replaced the harness, no questions asked.

    Have the dealer check on open recalls.

  • avatar

    Interesting post!

    Back in 2009, I was able to buy replacement parts for my shifter in my 1992 Ford Ranger truck (well, most of them anyway) and they WERE still available, and yes, from the dealer too although I’m sure I could’ve found parts elsewhere too.

    mostly it was the nylon bushings and metal washer rings that went bad and those ARE available still, at least at that time anyway.

    • 0 avatar

      Some major Ford sub-assemblies were designed to be repairable down to the component-level. As Ford outsourced the design and production of a replacement for a family of these to my employer at the time, I put a stop to this long-held practice.

      When Ford asked us for a list of all the sub-components we would be providing to Ford Parts and Service, I replied “none”. This resulted in a repeated request, and then a discussion. My rationale was, why service these assemblies if it is now cheaper to just remove and replace?

      Further, because my product is a saftey-item, I had great fear if I applied the doctrine of “the best repair can only be as good as that done by the worst mechanic on his worst day”.

      For my own peace of mind, and to avoid at-minimum pointless warranty claims and discussions, and at maximum really-really-really-undesired product liability lawsuits later, I refused to allow anything on our product to be servicable.

      My economic argument of: “What sense does it make for a 100$/hr tech to repair a 50$/pc item (with a risk of impairing its FMVSS function)?” sealed the deal.

  • avatar

    And now for the conclusion of this story…

    Today, after much thought and discussion, I sold the car to my best friend James. Like me, he “gets” these cars, and he couldn’t wait to get it. I know he will take care of it and enjoy it as much as I did. Plus, with him having it, I’ll still get to ride in it on occasion, so it’s all good :)

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