Diagnosing problems on small vehicles such as the Ford Escort can be difficult due to limited space and the complexity of modern automotive systems. Try to rule out the simplest causes and the most easily accessible components first. If you begin to feel that you're in over your head, ask an automotive professional for help.
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If you turn the key and can hear the starter motor spin but the engine will not turn over, remove the starter motor. Check that the starter gear is not stuck and that there are no broken teeth on the starter or flywheel. Most auto-parts stores will test for proper operation of the starter at no cost. If the engine is suffering from power loss, check the ignition timing and look for excessive play where the distributor shaft mounts to the engine. If the engine idles erratically, look for a vacuum leakage, tighten the mounting bolts on the carburettor and intake manifold, and spray the vacuum lines with soapy water. Look for bubbles coming off the lines.
If the battery will not hold a charge, examine the terminals. If they are corroded, they must be cleaned. If the terminals are loose, tighten the retaining bolts. Measure the deflection of the alternator drive belt by placing a straight edge against the alternator and crankshaft pulleys. Measure the distance you can push down on the drive belt. Tighten the belt if necessary and replace it if it is frayed or overly worn.
Cooling System Problems
If the engine is overheating, check the coolant level in the radiator and expansion tank. The cooling system is under intense pressure--never try to remove the radiator cap until the engine has completely cooled. While the engine is running, inspect the radiator to make sure the fan is rotating. Never put your hand in the path of the fan blades--the fan can turn on unexpectedly. Check for a faulty thermostat by placing your hand on the upper radiator hose. If the hose is cool while the engine is hot, the thermostat is most likely stuck in the closed position.
If the clutch slips, it could be caused by an overly worn clutch disc or oil leaking onto the clutch face. If the clutch pedal fails to release, it could be a faulty clutch cable or a bent clutch disc. If the manual transaxle is excessively noisy, it could be a sign of a low lubricant level in the transmission. Noise while the manual transmission is in neutral can be caused by wear on the input shaft bearing or damage to the main drive gear bearing. If you are experiencing fluid loss from an automatic transaxle, the best way to pinpoint the source is to clean the transaxle case using solvents or steam. Then drive the vehicle at low speed so wind will not blow the fluid away from the source of the leak. Lift the vehicle and inspect it for the source of the leak.
Brake System Problems
If the vehicle pulls to one side during braking, remove the pads and look for damage as well as contamination from oil or grease. Replace the pads if necessary. If the brake pedal feels spongy when pushed, inspect the flexible lines between the frame and wheels for leaks and wear. Bleed the brake system to eliminate air in the lines. If a lot of effort is required by the driver to stop the vehicle, it could be a sign that the power booster has failed. In addition, check the thickness of the brake linings and replace them if they fall below safety guidelines.
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