Gary Conway sorts a reliable runaround for a friend.
Searching for a cheap but reliable runaround as a surprise gift for a friend, I spotted this 2004 Ford Focus Mk1 1.4 for a very reasonable price on Autotrader. With just one owner in the past eight years, 63,000 miles on the clock, MOT for nine months and no advisories, a full service history and a recent cambelt change, it sounded well looked after.
I phoned the seller first thing Monday morning and arranged to view it on Friday. I’m glad I did as the car was so reasonably priced that, by Wednesday, the seller had been forced to remove the advert after receiving 72 phone calls!
Needless to say, I didn’t haggle on the price and came away with the car and a reassuringly thick wedge of receipts and old MOTS, including a service just a few hundred miles ago.
Sure enough, on checking the oil it was still nice and clean, and the air filter looked brand-new. The power steering fluid, however, looked like it had done 13 years’ service, so was quickly replenished. The pollen filter had also seen better days, so it was renewed – it’s amazing how many cars with ‘full service history’ still have the original pollen filter in place.
When changing it, I would recommend fitting a new sealing strip at the top of the scuttle panel as the old one may have lost its stickiness or be damaged, which will result in a wet passenger-side carpet the next time it rains.
There was a slight issue with changing gears, where the Focus seemed to hold the revs for too long after lifting off the accelerator, and the revs would drop too low when pulling up at junctions. Some WD-40 on the joint of the throttle pedal and a quick clean of the inlet air control valve (held on by two bolts and an electrical connector at the front of the engine) with throttle body cleaner seem to have done the trick.
The engine and ancillaries seemed sound and the brakes and tyres were good, but you can always find jobs to do on a secondhand car. Fortunately, most of these were cosmetic. Small dings and scratches on practically every panel had been ‘fixed’ with a liberal spray from a rattle-can – so liberal, in fact, that the paint had visibly run and there was overspray everywhere. After some elbow grease and G3 compound, the paintwork looks much more presentable.
The biggest eyesore was the bottom of the nearside rear door, which had rusted through, possibly as a result of a blocked drain or untreated stone damage. By far the easiest and cheapest option would have been to swap the door for a used one, but it took two weeks of scouring the internet and enquiries at breakers before I found one in good condition, in the right colour (Ford seem to have various shades of light blue) and with a matching doorcard and trim. I paid £35 and fitted it within half-an-hour.
Replacing the door was surprisingly easy. Undo one Torx bolt at the B-pillar to remove the retaining strap, unplug the electrics, then loosen, but don’t remove, the two grub bolts that hold the hinges to the door. The entire door can then be lifted up and off, and the new one dropped in its place. By leaving the hinges in place on the bodywork, there’s no need to spend ages adjusting them, and sure enough the new door fitted perfectly.
I would strongly recommend any Focus owner to whip off their wheelarch liners from time to time. I removed half an
allotment’s worth of mud that had built up underneath and would eventually have caused the wings and sills to rot out. The car had suffered from water ingress into the boot at some point, which was now fixed, but it had left the wheel well with some surface rust. This was removed with a wire brush and a coat of red oxide and then Hammerite, which should stop any tinworm getting established. Rusty jack The jack lives under the spare wheel and had rusted solid. Not something you want to find out on a dark, rainy night in a lay-by with a flat tyre! More work with the wire brush and some lubricant got the jack moving, but with an almighty squeak, so again I turned to the trusty breakers for a jack in mint condition.
The interior was tidy, except for the steering wheel, which looked and felt as though someone had been chewing the rim – perhaps in frustration at being stuck in traffic! As they’re made from some sort of rubber compound, I can only assume these wheels tend to soften in direct sunlight and are then prone to premature wear. The same breakers that supplied the door had several wheels to choose from, so I picked the best and fitted it. I’ve never changed a steering wheel before and was slightly nervous about triggering the airbag, but after disconnecting the battery for 10 minutes and undoing a couple of bolts at the back of the airbag, it was removed with no problems. It took no longer than half-an-hour all-in to have a nice, smooth wheel – which with the replacement jack cost £30!
Being a base-spec model, the Focus came with a cassette player, which I swapped for the 6000 model CD player, bought online for £25. The seats also lacked Isofix fittings in the back for a child seat, but some poking around revealed that the holes for the fittings are pre-drilled and that an Isofix kit sold for a Focus MKII might fit – at £16 for the kit, it seemed worth a gamble and it was fitted with no issues within 20 minutes. Undoing the four Torx bolts to remove the upright portion of the rear seat helps with access, then simply detach the plastic covers on the predrilled holes, line up the Isofix bracket and tighten the supplied Torx bolts.
Having a child in the back of a basespec car presented another problem: how to stop little hands fiddling with the manual window winder at inopportune moments? Removing the winder handle solved the problem, but left the splined metal shaft exposed. As I had a spare handle on the old, rusty door, I cut it down with a Dremmel to leave just the circular hub of the handle as a neat cover.
All in, including six months’ road tax, the car owes me £675, which I’m very happy with. I’ve already covered 1000 miles in it and will soon hand the keys over to a young lady in sore need of a runabout, who I hope will enjoy many more trouble-free miles.
Want to show off your latest model? Just email around 1000 words with a handful of digital pictures to the Editor at martyn.knowles@ bauermedia.co.uk or send it to the postal address on page 4.
Body panels had been rattle-can sprayed at some point. Rubbing them down with compound, they looked a lot better.
The pollen filter hadn’t been renewed for some time.
A secondhand door was sourced to replace the original rusty item.
A used steering wheel was found – and fitted in half-an-hour.