TOP FIVE 02-05 T-Bird Problems

biddle

Forum Moderator
Staff member
I bought a beautiful, show-room clean 2003 Thunderbird Deluxe Hardtop/Convertible with the 3.9 liter Jaguar engine in August of 2019. Only 56,000 miles on her. Purchased from a Ford dealership - the previous owner collected cars and traded her and a Corvette in to purchase an SUV. She was on the market less than 48 hrs., and 5 people were trying to buy her, but I called and put a deposit down. No time to do research on her - just had to hope and pray she was a good car. After putting 350 miles on her, that darn engine light and wrench lit-up on the dash, and she went into "limp home" mode. ONLY 25 mph. Good thing I was near home. Took her to my ace mechanics here at a classic car dealership. The original owner never did the recommended "recalls" on the COPS. All 8 were original from 2003. 2 had gone bad. I spent close to $1,000.00 and replaced all 8 of them. After another 200 miles - same darn thing - "limp home" mode and that damned wrench symbol. (I've learned to HATE that darn wrench!!!). The codes were indicating COPS again. Couldn't be - just replaced them all. They called Ford and were told to check the ECM - the main computer. It had malfunctioned, (due to the COPS?). Ford no longer makes the ECM's for the 2002-2005 T-Birds. I didn't want a re-built one. We sent the old one off for repair. They called and said it was completely "fried" and couldn't be re-built. We finally found a brand new one, after weeks of searching, (She's been in the shop since April 14th), we found a brand new ECM out west somewhere with a lifetime warranty. They "flashed" it, and are sending it here to be programmed and installed. Then the car has to finish the programming itself. This will cost $1,655.00. After that, she has to be driven and tested to make sure the Throttle Module wasn't damaged. If it was, that's another $850.00 that I don't have. (I pray THAT isn't damaged.) When everything is said and done - I hope the problems are cured. She is a beautiful car - but I don't trust her, right now. I will rent a car for out-of-town trips until she gains my trust for anything but short, close-to-home driving. I love the T-Bird and want to keep her, but darn she's costing me a LOT of money! I am NOT a rich person. I retire in 2 years. She's supposed to be my retirement car. I've done a lot of reading about the "Little 'Birds, and IF I HAD KNOWN about the problems they had - I would NOT have bought her. Expensive lesson learned. I hope she can be repaired - and run like she is supposed to - RELIABLY! I have never had the kind of problem with any of my T-Birds that I've had with this one. Thank goodness I didn't trade my 1995 T-Bird LX!!!! She's 25 years old, but running great! Never had any problems with her, besides routine maintenance. I drive her to my second job and back. 20 miles per week. At that rate, she'll theoretically last the rest my lifetime....... But, that 2003 has been a NIGHTMARE!!!!!


The first thing I was taught in sales was to create urgency. I.E. 5 people are trying to buy the car, which could very well be true, but doesn't mean they had the money or could get a loan, etc. These cars have a very limited market and usually take a while to sell. It's not like you found one with 10,000 miles. I saw one this week in the ghetto part of town at a used car lot.

Regarding the car troubles. Frankly, it sounds like your "ace mechanics" are the nightmare.
I'm sure you've seen by now that you can buy a set of 8 aftermarket COPS for 41.99 on Amazon.com. Installation takes less than 2 hours, so the 1000.00 could have also been avoided with some research. I suspect the computer could have been rebuilt as well, but have no way to confirm obviously. I'd be pissed off if I found that out!

At least you are here now and can do your research! One last thing, just a reminder, you bought a 17 year old car. It's going to have problems. If you want something reliable you need to get a newer car.
 
Top 5 problems: Don't have 5, guess we're pretty lucky. My '04 has 30k miles, bought used 8-years ago, is a one-two day a month driver. We've put a total of 16k miles on it in 8 years. We've been pretty satisfied thus far with Da Bird but limp mode issue is starting to become annoying.
1.) COPS - I replaced all spark plugs and CPS this year (myself)
2.) Limp Mode Throttle Actuator (so says the OBDII scanner) - drops power, goes into limp mode, resets when shut down and restarted

No other real issues to speak of. Oh, my mechanic says the suspension boots are deteriorated. Since Da Bird only sees fair weather, I'm waiting to replace when suspension needs work. That, I believe, will be quite a while from now, when I'm retired and back home in AZ
 
I have 3 T Birds, a white 02 with 12,800 miles, a red 02 with 13,900 miles, and a black 02 with 129978 miles. The white, and the red Birds are
our fun to drive cars, the black Bird is for parts when needed. The white Bird I have owned now for 18 years, and has been trouble free,
the red Bird I have owned for two and a half years, and it has been trouble free also. All I have done is change rotted suspension parts
on both cars. Everything works perfectly, not sure why I have two great cars. The black bird I have had for 10 months now, and the
previous owner did some work on it, because she gave me all the receipts. I have also discovered that her mechanic was not very
good at putting parts back in the car correctly, and left a lot of nuts, and bolts out. The black Bird with 129k miles has no oil leaks, always starts
even when not started in 5 or 6 weeks. It even has the original hydraulic cooling fan that still works, and original ac compressor that
still works. I did have to get the FEM rebuilt, so I would have a good spare part when needed. So T Birds are a good reliable car for me.
 
OMG! I've had my 2002 since then. Guess I got a good one. 108k miles. CD player stopped but radio fine. Just replaced the struts and battery (yup.. original). Alternator, wiper motor and gas cap. Pretty much it. Paint is in great condition even tho it's been parked outside in Florida weather all these yrs. Do a good wax every 3 months.
Where did u get gas cap
 
I have 3 T Birds, a white 02 with 12,800 miles, a red 02 with 13,900 miles, and a black 02 with 129978 miles. The white, and the red Birds are
our fun to drive cars, the black Bird is for parts when needed. The white Bird I have owned now for 18 years, and has been trouble free,
the red Bird I have owned for two and a half years, and it has been trouble free also. All I have done is change rotted suspension parts
on both cars. Everything works perfectly, not sure why I have two great cars. The black bird I have had for 10 months now, and the
previous owner did some work on it, because she gave me all the receipts. I have also discovered that her mechanic was not very
good at putting parts back in the car correctly, and left a lot of nuts, and bolts out. The black Bird with 129k miles has no oil leaks, always starts
even when not started in 5 or 6 weeks. It even has the original hydraulic cooling fan that still works, and original ac compressor that
still works. I did have to get the FEM rebuilt, so I would have a good spare part when needed. So T Birds are a good reliable car for me.
My 2004 T Bird (bought new) had an excellent performance record until i hit about 85k-90k miles. Since then, i have replaced a lot of suspension parts, have had error codes popping up all the time. Replace all of the coil packs (some three times) and last two years intermittent issues running hot. I just replaced the radiator ($760.00), and the darn thing overheated again, i saw the mechanic bent the spring loaded hose clamp, so it probably does not have enough strength now. I bought a traditional hose clamp; that should solve the issue. I have to agree with another member who said they are not $40,000 cars; i paid around $41k. I love the car, but it's starting to annoy me now.
 

j&d

Well-Known Member
Our '05 was bought new, now has 43k on the clock and still looks and runs and like brand new. Over the years some typical problems arose: cop's, thermostat housing, a sensor behind the dash that was quoted as 1,500 and the mechanic figured out how to do it without taking out he dash, final cost 700.00 ( at a dealership). A Mass air sensor also went bad. One set of tires and one set of new brake pads. I also bought new chrome-strips for around the windshield.
We are very happy with the dependability and quality of our bird and it still turns more heads than most cars. Well worth the maintenance and gets 25mpg. Ford dependability, quality and long lasting all the way !! All V8's

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Hello everyone,

I am new to the forum, and honestly new to Ford as well. I am typically a Volkswagen guy as they are what I grew up working on and owning. Recently I inherited an 02 Thunderbird in inspiration yellow from my father. I have had little time with the car and I am about to take It on an 800 mile road trip home, what could go wrong, right? I have already had to replace the battery which lead to some issues with an after market alarm, the windows not wanting to reset to the closed position once the doors are closed, and the discovery of some pretty shady wiring related to the after market alarm that was added.

I will be honest in saying that I never dreamed of owning a Thunderbird and to be frank I never had much interest in American cars beyond the classics but this car has really grown on me. Growing up my father owned a small dealership and he would always take me out to look at cars. I have been addicted to them ever since. Having the Thunderbird is a way for me to be closer to him.I am incredibly grateful for the car and I look forward To maintaining it and keeping it up over the years till I can one day hopefully leave it to my son.

I know that the coil packs on these cars are notorious for failure, but is there anything else that I should look out for or pay special attention to? Anything I should be aware of that I may not know about, or any tips or tricks you may have relating to these cars would be greatly appreciated. As I get to know the car more I am sure I will have plenty of questions. For now, I am glad to be here and look forward to contributing to the forum.
 

RDH

Active Member
If it's a Jaguar model, you can expect some problems. I had to replace the battery twice in 5 years, the heads were leaking and had to get them repaired, they had to shave them too, and all the suspension was replaced, So far that all I had to do, start it every two weeks during the winter and when the salt is off the roads and it's nice out, then I take it for a ride, every other day, and open her up. Borla exhaust and the shaved head, equal more horsepower and sound good when I put my foot to the floor, almost like the drag strip
 
If it's a Jaguar model, you can expect some problems. I had to replace the battery twice in 5 years, the heads were leaking and had to get them repaired, they had to shave them too, and all the suspension was replaced, So far that all I had to do, start it every two weeks during the winter and when the salt is off the roads and it's nice out, then I take it for a ride, every other day, and open her up. Borla exhaust and the shaved head, equal more horsepower and sound good when I put my foot to the floor, almost like the drag strip
make sure you have fresh battery in your ignition lock. keep rain water from entering your engine coils.get some cds and enjoy the ride.Good Luck.
 
I'm glad you haven't had any problems. Buying mine used comes with its problems but the body and interior are excellent. I have 68000 miles and it's a daily driver for me. Ignition coils, air conditioning have been problems. the center part of dash board, radio, top control and seat heater controls keep coming loose.
You should check the suspension, front and rear. The rubber grommets that holds the grease are probably rotten and are not there. That has been a issued. I have replaced the suspension on two 2005 TBirds, one with 68000 and the other with 58000 miles.
 
I purchased my 2005 50th Anniv Edition New and have not had any quality issues thus far but she only has 7,000 miles on her. What quality issues have you experienced?
My 2004 still hauls, but around 50k miles the driveline started wearing out, by 85k miles pretty much everything needed replacement. I have replaced many components (struts, 1 lower control arm, strut rods and stabilizers), but now at 114k miles, all 7 remaining A Arms need replacing, the front strut rods are metal on metal, the rear end has been whining since about 85k miles, and I've recently gained a tapping noise, which i believe is an exhaust leak. I'm on the second soft top and it needs replacing. I bought mine new, so i agree it could have been built a little better. Did i mention trim is de-laminating and it needs a new paint job?
It has been fun, but i think I've come to the end of the line. I have a 1950 Ford Deluxe w/302 and AOD, so i have another car to work on.
 
Guess it depends on your definition of serious. I’ve known of several cars that have gone 200K with no blown engine or tranny. However any of the various electronic modules can go at any time with little or no warning. Repairs to those can get pricey.
 
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