Gerard's 2000 Mercury Mountaineer

Well, it's an interesting story how this car came into my possession...

I bought a 1970 Ford Torino Cobra SCJ car, and it needed tires to roll on while it's being refurbished.  It's in bad shape, so it will be worked on a lot in the future.  I own a 1990 Ford Bronco II, and its tires are getting worn, but they hold air well.  So, I was going to get some Ford Explorer aluminum wheels to go on the Bronco, and take the Bronco's steel wheels and put them on the Torino.  I got on Craigslist, and entered "Explorer wheels" to find some for sale, and all these fairly nice Ford Explorers came up for sale, some as low as $1500.

There is a Ford Explorer forum that has a ton of good information, and I asked the folks there what would be a good model Explorer to purchase.  My limitations were 2-wheel drive for the lighter weight and simplicity over 4-wheel drive, 1996 or newer to get the OBD II diagnositcs, and 2001 or older to get the live rear axle.  The guys on the website said to just get the V8, because it only gets 1 mpg less gas mileage, and it's a more robust engine than the V6.  When new, Mercurys are usually nicer and more expensive than their Ford counterparts, and since they are all 10 years old now, the prices are the same, so it made sense to look for a Mercury Mountaineer.  I like red, so that was the color I sought out.

While shopping on Craigslist for Mercury Mountaineers, I found a used car dealer in Santa Ana that had exactly what I was looking for:  2000 Mercury Mountaineer, V8, 2-wheel drive, red.  The price was right at $2995, so I bought it!  Here's what it looked like when I brought it home.

And here it is after I lowered it 2 inches in the back with lowering blocks from AutoZone ($29.95) and turning the torsion bar adjusters in the front (free).

These cars go for anywhere between $1500 for a rough one, to $6000 for a really nice one with a warranty.  This car was sold "As-Is," and since I'm a mechanic, I can do all the work myself.  So far, a few things have needed fixing.  Big THANKS go to the guys at the Explorer Forum.

The radio didn't work when I picked it up, and there was no jack.  The seller had the car at the auction house in Los Angeles, and he said that any time someone is missing a part on their own car for sale at the auction, they go find that part on someone else's car, and steal it!  That explained the jack, and later the radio.

As I was driving it home, there was a "Bong-Bong-Bong-Bong-Bong," five tones, five times every 30 minutes.  The guys on the Explorer Forum told me that was due to a burned out airbag light.  Sure enough, there was no airbag light when I turned the key to "On".  Getting TO the airbag light is another story!  You have to take out ALL the dash parts, including the radio in the center.  That's when I found out why the radio didn't work: It wasn't hooked up!  Apparently, someone at the auction liked the radio in this car better than the one in THEIR car, so I ended up with a radio that only partially functioned after I hooked it up.  The CD player won't work, and the display is out.  But, the cassette works fine, and that's what I use to play my iPod.  No problems!

Once I got the airbag light to work, it blinked a series of 3 blinks, pause, then 7 blinks, then steady.  The guys on the Explorer Forum have seen this before, and its due to a bad connection at the airbag harness underneath the passenger seat.  It ends up that the fix is very simple!  The connector under the passenger seat has a clip at the very rear, and people getting in and out kick it a lot.  This causes a resistance problem and the error code.  I tried all sorts of cleaning, and even installed some plugs that take the side airbags out of the circuit.  Nothing worked until I removed the yellow connector from its clip and moved it about 2 inches further forward to get the tension out of the harness.  Here's a pic of the location and the clip, with the connector now removed.

As I was driving it home, there wasn't any heat coming out of the heater, and the temperature gauge wasn't moving.  Turns out it was a stuck-open thermostat, an easy fix.  There was a little exhaust leak from loose exhaust manifold bolts, an easy fix.

The parking brake didn't work, so I took off the rear brake calipers and the brake rotors to expose the parking brake shoes.  This was pretty obvious!  The friction material was GONE completely!  In the photo below, you can see the lowering blocks between the axle tube and the leaf spring.

The car originally comes with 15 x 7 wheels and 235-75 R 15 wheels and tires.  Since I still needed a set of wheels and tires to move the Torino around, I started looking for something bigger and nicer.  I found a set of used 16 x 7 Explorer wheels on eBay for $300 delivered, caps included.  At the tire store, we did a fit check with a set of 255-75 R 16 tires, and they were a little too close to the bumper cover on the driver's side.  Looking underneath, I saw that the cover was held on by 4 nuts, so I took it off and added some washers to space it out on the left side.  There's not a whole lot to these bumpers and bumper covers.

Here it is after the tires and wheels and alignment at the tire store.  Looking better!

There were a lot of water spots on the driver's side, and the paint and interior were a little on the grungy side.  At work, there is a mobile detailer guy who comes every Tuesday.  I asked him how much to detail the Mounty, and this is what he did for $170:

So, I have about $4000 invested in the Mounty, and I sure am happy with the purchase!  My recommendation is that if you are mechanically inclined and can fix the small things, don't be afraid to buy a cheap car and fix it up.  If you are unable to tear a dash apart and do minor repairs on your own, you should spend a little extra and find yourself a car in nicer condition with a warranty.  Otherwise, the small things like lights and brakes will really make the bargain not so much of a bargain.

Kiwi Gas Mileage Meter

My car has a factory mileage meter that tells you average mileage.  This is a good thing, but doesn't tell you about what you're doing right or wrong at a particluar instant.  There's a little meter made by Kiwi that simply plugs into the OBDII port on 1996 and newer vehicles. sells them for $89. 

I installed the unit, and really like it!  Here are two pics of the meter while going down the road.  One is going downhill, and one uphill.  The worst mileage I got at 65 MPH was uphill, about 8 MPG.  The best mileage was 125 MPG going downhill in neutral.  Downhill in gear gives about 60 MPG due to the engine speed.  Putting the car in neutral (NOT RECOMMENDED) cuts the engine speed to about 800 RPM, hence the fantastic mileage.

The best mileage is provided when the car is in the highest gear possible, even lugging down, which surprised me.  My Mountaineer gets about 26 MPG at 35 MPH, and about 20 MPG at 65 MPH.  Wind resistance is a really big factor.  Simply getting a tailwind really increases the mileage.

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