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1995-98 Ford Windstar

Ford Windstar

Ford's Missed Opportunity

It looked like Chrysler's all-conquering but aging minivans were finally vulnerable. The year was 1994 and Ford unveiled their biggest challenge yet - the Windstar. It duplicated and improved upon almost all of Chrysler's successful formula. Its ride, comfort and handling were first rate, it was big and it had an air of technical sophistication that the Chryslers lacked.

But they didn't add the second sliding door. All their focus groups, interviews and consumer clinics told them they didn't need it. So they chose not to add it. Big mistake. Chrysler would've been trumped by nearly two years and it's quite possible that Ford would've taken a commanding position in the minivan segment. Sometimes car design requires leadership and original thinking - something Chrysler clearly has - not decisions by committees.

 

Strengths

Weaknesses

  • Low noise levels
  • Power (200hp V6)
  • Room
  • Interior Design
  • Bang for the buck
  • Uninspired exterior design
  • No fourth door
  • Power (3.0L V6)

What's Available

Windstars were initially available in two trim levels, the entry level GL and the upmarket LX. The Windstar could also be ordered as a cargo van. Starting with the 1997 model year, a price leader base model was added. It was basically a slightly decontented GL.

For it's final year, the top-of-the-line Limited was introduced. As you might expect, the limited was largely a loaded LX, with all kinds of stuff such as quad leather seats, 16-inch wheels and a chrome grille added to the standard equipment list. A larger driver's door with a tip/slide driver's seat for easy access was added in 1997 to LX and later, Limited models. It was offered as an option on the GL. It helps rear seat entry, but was clearly a stop-gap measure until the new '99 models arrived with dual sliding rear doors.

The GL interior is a pretty attractive place to begin with, and the LX and Limited add slightly richer materials and more standard gizmos. That pretty much holds true with the exterior as well, with the biggest difference being standard cast aluminum wheels on the LX and slightly larger tires.

For the introductory model year, only the 3.8 liter V6 was available, coupled with a 4spd automatic overdrive transmission. Beginning in '96, the 3.8L V6 was standard on the LX and optional on the GL. A 3.0 liter V6 became the standard powerplant on the GL and subsequent base models.

Exterior Design

The Windstar broke no new ground in the styling department. Clean and contemporary would best describe the look. However, what was contemporary in '94 when the Windstar was introduced looks somewhat dated today. It has not aged particularly well. To make matters worse, it received a slight facelift for '97 that gave it a larger grille opening for better cooling. It created a rather somber and frumpy looking nose.

Interior

Things improve markedly here. A stylish, integrated, and functional dash greets the driver. A full set of gauges (on 3.8L equipped vans), logically positioned heating, ventilating and air-conditioning controls, and convenient power assist controls are an easy reach away. The rich-looking materials make for quality presentation.

The stereo controls aren't the greatest however, and the small buttons and knobs require too much attention to use -- distracting the driver from the business of driving.

Thoughtful features abound, such as an optional convex mirror that drops from the headliner so you can keep an eye on the ruckus in the back, and available integrated child seats, adding to the family-friendly environment. Fit and finish were excellent on both the GL and the LX models we examined.

Room and Comfort

The Windstar's strong suits are its convenient passenger and cargo room and its comfortable cabin. Besides the already mentioned thoughtfulness of the interior design, the belts and seating position are very comfortable, as are the seats themselves. The third seat is rather limited in the leg room department, at least for adults. Available power front seats offer an array of adjustment, but are not really necessary to achieve a comfortable position. Seating arrangements are typical for the class -- 2 front buckets, a middle and rear bench or 4 buckets and a really heavy (over 100lbs) rear bench.

A tilt steering wheel was standard equipment, except in the base model introduced in '97.

Many Windstars were equipped with a center console between the two front seats. While handy for storage and a great idea on paper, in the real world it often gets in the way -- it's harder to reach the screaming baby in the back!

Noise levels are very low, with road noise especially well muffled. The LX model, with its extra sound insulation was particularly quiet. During hard acceleration, however, the engine note becomes rather obtrusive and it's not a particularly pleasant on refined sound.

Ride/Handling/Performance

No surprises here - the Windstar's a smooth, comfortable cruiser with average, but adequate, handling. The ride conveys a solid, well-built feeling to its occupants. In fact, its highway ride is still competitive with the newest generation of minivans.

When pushed, the Windstar leans modestly and the tires howl in protest, but it all remains safe and predictable. There were no handling options available to firm things up, and the suspension is the same in the base model right on through the Limited model, so don't go looking for any suspension options or upgrades. A heavy-duty suspension came with the optional towing package.

There were two engine choices. We strongly recommend the larger 3.8L 200hp (155hp in 1995) engine. The 3.0L 145hp motor is barely adequate, most always working hard, making a bunch of noise, and not moving the big Windstar with any confidence. One local dealer we know wouldn't even order Windstars with the smaller engine - he felt they were unsatisfactory. The torquey 3.8 liter V6 makes a big - no huge - difference. The 4-speed overdrive automatic always shifts smoothly with both engines, but downshifts much more frequently with the smaller mill.

On most Windstars, braking chores are handled by the standard ABS equipped front disc/rear drum setup. Performance was not exceptional, with some pronounced nose-dive, but stops were straight and smooth.. The ABS pulsates strongly when engaged.

Safety

All Windstars have ABS brakes, dual front airbags, and adjustable front safety belts. Traction control was an option beginning in 1996 in combination with 4-wheel disc brakes. This duo was only available on 3.8L V6 equipped vans.

The government crash tested a '97 Windstar and awarded it 5 stars for both the driver and the front passenger -- an exceptional performance.

Reliability

Ford's usual weak point, transmissions, tend to break sooner than, say, GM or Toyota models, but you should get to 100,000 miles before that becomes a factor. Our latest customer hotline database search, however, shows an upturn in reports of earlier failures for Ford transmissions.  UPDATE 3/05/2000 - Ford has announced a generous repair allowance and/or buyback program for owners of 1995 Windstars with the 3.8 liter engine.  Over 700,000 engines are believed to have faulty head gaskets.  Ford will reimburse for past repairs, replace the engine or buy the car.   Other models with this engine are also being covered.  Letters will be sent in March to owners outlining the program. Contact Ford Motor Company (or 800-392-3673) for details.

There also have been reports of excessive engine temperatures on the '95 and '96 models. Get the vehicle up to operating temperature and then let it idle for 10 minutes with the A/C running. The temperature gauge shouldn't go over the two-thirds mark.

Windstars have had their fair share of safety recalls, and while not indicative of overall reliability, you should check to make sure the work was done.

There are also an unusually large number of technical service bulletins (TSBs) associated with the Windstar, which is a sign of poor reliability.   Most appear to be information bulletins for dealers, or minor isolated issues on a limited number of models, but the sheer number of them causes some concern.  Again, check the vehicle's history.

Service

Routine maintenance and service weigh in below average for the Windstar. Helping in this department is the lack of any timing belt to replace (both engines are overhead valve designs), a stainless steel exhaust system, and below average prices for most parts.

Recommendations

The minivan segment is tough when it comes to picking a winner. All the players have certain strengths and weakness. Some offer superior reliability, others more features for the money, still others are downright bargains. None are bad choices. We can't declare the Windstar the winner among these choices in any of the categories.  We'd look elsewhere.

 

What They Said When New

"The S-shaped dashboard sweeping gradually into the door panels looks like a design proposal for the Lincoln Mark VIII."............ Road & Track 1994

"...Clean lines, unruffled ride; a passenger-friendly motorized den."....Car & Driver 1995

"Equally reassuring was the well-fitted and attractive cabin, which remained in excellent shape even after 36,980 miles. In spite of it's hard use....the interior still looks new."......Automobile 1995

"The Windstar doesn't feel like a house on the road, though, and perhaps the most pleasant surprise is how will it drives."......Automobile 1995

"A fine all-around performer -- but reliability continues to disappoint.".........Consumer Reports 1997

 

 

General Specifications

 
General

Trim Levels: Base ('97 & '98), GL, LX, Limited ('98)

Body Styles: 3-dr Van

Dimensions & Capacities

Weight: 3750 -4000 lbs

Length: 201.2"

Wheelbase: 120.7"

Width: 75.4"

Height: 68"

EPA Class: Specialty Van

Interior Vol: n/a

Trunk Vol : 22 cu ft (w/3rd seat in place); 66.5 (w/3rd seat out); 144 cu ft. (max)

Fuel: 20 gallons (25 on LX & Ltd.)

Mechanical

Layout: Front-engine, Front-wheel drive;

Engines: 3.0L (6cyl-145/150hp) 3.8L (6cyl-155hp) (1995) 3.8L (6cyl-200hp) (1996-1998)

Transmission: 4-speed automatic w/overdrive

Brakes: Front disc/rear drum; front & rear disc available

 

Performance (3.8L-200hp)

0-60mph: 9.5 seconds 1/4 mile: 17.0 seconds Top Speed: 105 mph

EPA Mileage: 17/25 (city/hwy) (3.0L) 17/23 (city/hwy) (3.8L)

 

Safety

ABS Brakes: Standard

Air Bags: Dual standard

NHTSA Safety Rating:

Driver ***** Passenger *****

Overall: Excellent

Key:

Best: ***** No or minor injuries probable

Worst: * Serious injury probable

IIHS 40 mph Crash Rating:

Not tested

Original Warranty:

3yr/36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper 6yr/unlimited miles corrosion

 

Running Changes

1995:  New model.

1996:  3.8 Liter V6 gets big power boost to 200hp along with a higher final drive ratio; traction control with 4-wheel disc brakes optional; GL model now has 3.0L V6 as base engine.

1997:  New front fascia; wider driver's door for easier rear seat entry; new alloy wheels and exterior moldings; interior gets headrests on second and third row seats; new entry-level base model introduced.

1998: Base 3.0L V6 boosted to 150hp; carryover year - all new model arrived for 1999.

 

Parts/Service Costs Parts Only Parts & Labor
Accessory belt(s) $30-$40  $50-$80
Alternator (new)  $180-$410 $240-$390
*Brakes (pads only) Front  $40-$60 $150-$190
Rear $20-$40 $150-$190
CV Joints (outer ea.)  $100-160 $225-325
Exhaust (full)  $n/a  $250-$350
Headlamp assembly $130 $200
Struts- Front (ea.) $50-$65  $90-140
Tube shocks-Rear (ea.)  $50-$65  $90-$140
Timing belt $35-$45 $180-$150
Water pump $90-$175   $200-$300

Note: Pricing comes from dealers, wholesale mail-order companies and independent parts stores. Average labor rate computed at $50/hr. Pricing can vary widely - shop around.

*Brakes include turning rotors/pricing for front disc/rear drum setup

 

Safety Recalls


Number: 94V222000: Potential Number of Units Affected: 72000

Model Year: 1995: Manufactured From: JAN 1994 To: JUN 1994

Year of Recall: '94

Summary: THE WIRING HARNESS INSULATION CAN ABRADE ON A BRACE THAT RUNS FROM THE INSTRUMENT PANEL TO THE COWL. THIS CONDITION CAN RESULT IN AN ELECTRICAL SHORT AND POSSIBLY A VEHICLE FIRE. DEALERS WILL INSTALL A SHIELD ON THE INSTRUMENT PANEL TO COWL BRACE, AND INSTALLATION OF A PIECE OF CONVOLUTE WRAP MATERIAL ON ONE OF THE ADJACENT HARNESSES.

Number: 94V223000: Potential Number of Units Affected: 112000

Model Year: 1995: Manufactured From: JAN 1994 To: SEP 1994

Year of Recall: '94

Summary: THE ALTERNATOR OUTPUT WIRE WAS NOT CONNECTED TIGHTLY TO THE POWER DISTRIBUTION BOX. THIS CAN RESULT IN OVERHEATING OF THE CONNECTION AND A POSSIBLE VEHICLE FIRE. DEALERS WILL INSPECT AND TIGHTEN THE CONNECTION. VEHICLES WITH VISIBLE DAMAGE TO THE PLASTIC POWER DISTRIBUTION BOX HOUSING WILL HAVE THE UNDERHOOD HARNESS, INCLUDING THE POWER DISTRIBUTION BOX, REPLACED.

Number: 95E006002: Potential Number of Units Affected: 8600

Model Year: 1995: Manufactured From: JAN 1995 To: FEB 1995

Year of Recall: '95

Summary: THE PASSENGER SIDE AIR BAG HAS AN INFLATOR BODY THAT CRACKED DURING FORMING OF THE CURL THAT RETAINS THE IGNITER PLUG IN THE END OF THE INFLATOR. ALSO THE IGNITER END CAP CAN SEPARATE FROM THE INFLATOR. THE PASSENGER SIDE AIR BAG MAY NOT INFLATE PROPERLY RESULTING IN REDUCED OCCUPANT PROTECTION IN A VEHICLE ACCIDENT. IF THE IGNITER END CAP SEPARATES IN A FRONTAL COLLISION, HOT GASES CAN BE RELEASED AND IGNITE FLAMMABLE MATERIAL OR CAUSE BURN INJURIES. DEALERS WILL REMOVE AND REPLACE THE PASSENGER SIDE AIR BAG MODULE.

Number: 96V086000: Potential Number of Units Affected: 100000

Model Year: 1996: Manufactured From: JUL 1995 To: OCT 1995

Year of Recall: '96

Summary: THE PARK PAWL SHAFT WAS IMPROPERLY POSITIONED WHEN THE ROLL PIN THAT RETAINS IT WAS INSTALLED DURING TRANSMISSION ASSEMBLY. IF THE SHAFT WAS NOT PROPERLY POSITIONED, THE ROLL PIN MAY NOT HAVE LINED UP WITH THE GROOVE IN THE SHAFT AND HAVE BEEN CRUSHED AT ASSEMBLY. ALSO, A BURR COULD HAVE BEEN RAISED ON THE SHAFT. THIS COULD RESULT IN THE PARK PAWL OCCASIONALLY NOT ENGAGING WHEN THE TRANSMISSION SELECTOR LEVER IS PLACED IN THE PARK POSITION. THIS COULD RESULT IN THE VEHICLE ROLLING AS IF IN NEUTRAL IF THE VEHICLE OPERATOR DOES NOT APPLY THE PARKING BRAKE. DEALERS WILL INSPECT THE PARK PAWL SHAFT ROLL PIN. IF THE ROLL PIN IS DAMAGED, BOTH THE ROLL PIN AND THE PARK PAWL SHAFT WILL BE REPLACED. IN ADDITION, OWNERS WILL BE REMINDED TO FULLY APPLY THE PARKING BRAKE, IN ADDITION TO PLACING THE TRANSMISSION IN PARK.

Number: 96V114000: Potential Number of Units Affected: 200

Model Year: 1996: Manufactured From: MAY 1996 To: MAY 1996

Year of Recall: '96

Summary: THE FOUR FASTENERS SECURING THE DRIVER'S SEAT TO THE FLOORPAN WERE NOT TORQUED TO PROPER SPECIFICATIONS. THE DRIVER'S SEAT MAY NOT PROPERLY HOLD IN THE EVENT OF A VEHICLE ACCIDENT RESULTING IN PERSONAL INJURY TO THE OCCUPANT. DEALERS WILL INSPECT THE DRIVER'S SEAT FASTENERS AND RETORQUE TO PROPER SPECIFICATIONS.

Number: 96V166000: Potential Number of Units Affected: 40000

Model Year: 1996: Manufactured From: AUG 1996 To: AUG 1996

Year of Recall: '96

Summary: The park pawl abutment bracket has a sharp edge which can cause the parking pawl to hand up and no engage the park gear. This would allow the vehicle to move even though the gear shift indicator shows that the vehicle is in park. Unintended and unexpected vehicle movement can result in personal injury and property damage. Dealers will inspect and, if necessary, replace the park pawl abutment bracket.

Number: 97V051000: Potential Number of Units Affected: 202

Model Year: 1998: Manufactured From: JAN 1997 To: JAN 1997

Year of Recall: '97

Summary: Vehicle Description: Minivan equipped with second row bench seats with optional integrated child seat (ICS). The headrest lockout mechanism on the seats may not engage and lock the headrests in the "down" position, as intended, when the ICS is deployed. A vehicle occupant could move the headrest to the "up" position. As a result of the headrest being in the "up" position, a child seated in the ICS would receive less than the intended protection in the child head area in the event of a crash. The second row bench seats have been replaced with seats built with revised headrest lockout mechanisms. Owner Notification: All owners have been notified and the seats have been replaced in the affected vehicles.

Number: 97V097000: Potential Number of Units Affected: 100000

Model Years: 1997-1998: Manufactured From: NOV 1996 To: MAR 1997

Year of Recall: '97

Summary: Vehicle Description: Passenger vehicles equipped with AX4S automatic transaxles. The low/intermediate servo cover can separate from the transaxle while the vehicle is being driven. If this occurs, transmission fluid will leak contacting the catalytic converter. The catalytic converter temperature may be hot enough to ignite the transmission fluid and cause a vehicle fire. Dealers will inspect the transmission and replace these servo covers.

Number: 97V165000/97V1650001: Potential Number of Units Affected: 2250/750

Model Year: 1998: Manufactured From: SEP 1997 To: SEP 1997

Year of Recall: '97

Summary: Vehicle Description: Passenger Vehicles and Mini-Vans. The rack and pinion steering gears may have damaged input shaft bearings. This condition can increase steering efforts, affecting steering control. Dealers will inspect the date code on the rack and pinion steering gear, and, if necessary, replace those rack and pinion assemblies that fall within the suspect date code range. The date codes for Windstar model vehicles are 97JC08; 97JC09 or 97JC08.

Number: 97V180000: Potential Number of Units Affected: 769000

Model Years: 1995-96: Manufactured From: JAN 1994 To: DEC 1995

Year of Recall: '97

Summary: Vehicle Description: Passenger vehicles and mini vans.  Tearing of the bond between the inner and outer hood panels during minor front end collisions can result in a gap at the leading edge of the hood. Air forced between the inner and outer panels can produce enough pressure to force the outer panel upward. This condition can result in total separation of the outer hood panel. Dealers will inspect the hood area for any damage along the leading edge of the hood. If there is any evidence of bond separation, the hood will be replaced. If there is no evidence of bond separation, additional adhesive will be applied between the inner and outer hood panels.

Number: 98I003000: Potential Number of Units Affected: 174000

Model Year: 1998: Manufactured From: DEC 1996 To: MAY 1997

Year of Recall: '98

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