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Fiesta Mk3 buying guide

This guide covers all models 1989-1996. To start, check the gaps between the bonnet and the top of the wings, if these appear gappy or very narrow on one side there is a chance the car has been in a frontal impact. You've heard it before, that slam panel is very hard to put back on correctly and affects the way the bonnet locates at the front.

After an accident the headlights and indicators rarely look spot-on, check for brand new headlamps and how level they look, and how well the indicators fit to the wings. Open the bonnet from inside, in most accident repair cases people don't get the tension correct on the cable and the bonnet release lever has to be pulled right out.

Check for overspray on the lip of the wings under the bonnet and in bad cases even on the engine itself or other components. Bonnets can rust underneath on the leading edge.

Look around the seal on the front windscreen, especially around the base, as surface rust can take hold here after a heavy handed windscreen replacement.

Check the external seams on the front valance, this rusts through from the weld at the back, also examine the bottom side, this area also seems to go quite badly.

On XR2i models check the condition of the driving/Fog lamps. One crack or stone chip and they will begin to corrode internally, and at £60 a side from Ford that is not good news.

Engine bay

Check for a manufacturers stamp on the wings, non-ford wings mean it's a repair, but that's no bad thing if it has been done correctly.

Look down the left and right sides of the bay where the wings join the front Valance, this seam is to prone to rusting, especially after a poor repair. Also examine the condition of the back of the Valance, if a new panel is required it can be costly, as the seams are hard to part.

The long running battery tray problem still remains on the MkIII, this can rust quite badly. Although access is very tight on the larger engined models check underneath where it joins the chassis member. If deep rust has taken hold here it is bad news, as the rust becomes structural and means the car could eventually fail its MOT.


Lift the seal between glass and metal at the top of the doors for any overspray or sharp paint lines. On XR2i models rust can start here from attempted break-ins.

Open the doors and examine the paint finish around the doorframe, if it is matt or a different colour to the rest of the car? This would point to a respray. Although this is to be expected on cars the mk3's age theres no excuse for a bad job.

It is vital to check the sill seams, so get on your knees and check! The seams may be brown with a little surface rust - but NEED to be solid; if they aren't you will soon be looking at having new sills welded on which always rot through again. If neglected, bad seams can spread to the floorpan and chassis. While you are on your knees check for plates welded underneath to cover rust and especially around seat mounting points and where the chassis number is stamped on the drivers side.

Due to the crap Ford jack you may find dents in the floorpan and crushed sill seams around the jacking points, do not worry as long as rust hasn't taken hold

It is hard to get a good look at the condition of the models with the bodyside mouldings, as these tend to cover up the most vulnerable parts of the car. Feel for rust around the bodykit bolts and gently lift the mouldings from the car around the wings to check as best you can behind them. Filler or rust should be fairly easy to spot.

The sole reason mk3 Fiesta's rust on wheelarches and filler caps is a build up of mud, most cars have a thick layer of mud inside the wheelarch lip and around the filler cap, but scrape this off and feel the condition of the metal behind - it should be a smooth surface right the way around. This will also enable you to feel any plates that may have been welded in.

MK3.5 cars have a redesigned filler cap and are not as prone to rusting.


Look on the bottom lip of the tailgate, around the wiper arm and the lock for rust. 1989-1990 Models have grooves on the bottom left and right of the tailgate facing the lights, 1992 - 1995 models do not have this, so this would be a quick check for a replaced tailgate.

The worst panel on the rear, as on the front is the Valance. Just like the front it rusts along the welded seams and along the bottom edge. A replacement rear Valance only costs around £20 from Ford and is not too expensive to replace, if you are buying a car with full length bumpers and have to get this done it might be worth going for the mk4 valance which is shorter and made of thicker metal.

Lift the carpet in the boot and check for rust, if there is any will be in the two rear corners. Take off the side trims and check around the suspension turrets for rust, examine the side closest to the road, if you can see rust here stay away, this is structural and would be very expensive to successfully repair - they rot through from the seam inside the rear wheelarches.


No problems really, except surface rust can appear at the front of the black trims running either side. On sunroof models check the aperture for rust.


Just check for the obviousy really, cigarette burns, mussy carpets etc. If you stand well back from the car with the door open you can spot filthy interiors as the edges of the seats have a brown sheen to them. Not a big problem but points to neglect on low mileage cars.

On turbo models check for a grey leather steering wheel and gearknob, these are turbo specific parts. The side bolsters on Recaro front seats usually sag also, if the odometer is less than 50k and the seats look worn then walk away.


McPherson struts all round operating a twist beam at the rear. Anti roll bar front (XR2i 8v, 16v, Turbo and all Zetec engined mk3.5 cars) and rear (Si, 16v and RS). Sports models had twin tube gas dampers up front and Turbo models had 1" lower suspension all round.

The largest suspension problem to look out for is neglected wishbones, which should be replaced at 36,000 mile intervals. You cannot really judge their condition from sight (unless they are very rusty), but when worn the front end feels even more vague than usual! When badly worn the ball joint, which connects wishbone to hub, separates under low speed cornering forces, and separates. Take it from me it can do do a fair bit of damage!

Dampers will be well worn by 60,000 miles, and will probably bottom out at the rear under load. Again when worn these components will make the cars handling very vague.


A common problem on pre 1994 cars is the steering U joint (UJ). This can cease up on earlier models, making steering progressively harder. The solution was a modified joint, with a cover over the UJ. This unit isn't expensive to fit or buy.

Zetec engined mk3.5 cars have power steering as carried over to the mk4. Steering should be incredibly sharp with absolutely no 'play' in the rack, walk away from cars that feel vague unless you are definate it is lower arms.


If the car judders under braking dont worry, its nothing more serious than warped discs - a very common problem as the 240mm standard discs are simply not up to the job.

The switches on simplistic ABS sytem usually break leaving the dashboard light illuminated permanantly. Under hard braking the pedal pulsates - this is jsut the system working.


rarely give trouble except on tuned cars. Life expectancy is not great - 65-100k depending on the driver. The one thing I can reccomend is stick to FORD gear oil. This is fully synthetic and suits the gearbox much better - ep80w and other cheap oils degrade gear selection quality and have been known to cause selector plate problems.>


1.1/1.3 HCS (High compression swirl) and CFi (Centralpoint Fuel injection)

The 1100 Valencia is a very unrefined, although reliable and economical engine. Based on the old Kent engine found in the first Fiesta's, With regular oil changes the proven technology should give good service to around 80,000 miles.

Look out for the tappet noise from this pushrod engine as it has solid tappets, a 'tap,tap' sound is the only thing you should hear, if the noise is particularly loud and more like 'knock, knock' then suspect a worn cam.

Early cars, particularly the 1300's suffered from this and later Ford released an improved oil feed system.

Not really suitable for high-speed motorway mileage as the crankshaft only has three main bearings, more a town engine. Most cars will have been used for short journeys, and this means the oil should be changed more regularly than Ford suggests, so check the filler cap for mayonnaise.

Leaking rocker covers seem to come as standard with the earlier Ford's, so don't let a bit of oil at the top of the engine bother you.

Also the standard radiators are plastic for some reason, so inspect for leaks along each side and the bottom, evident by steam or a pool in the area of the leak.

1.6 CVH (Compound valve angle - Hemispherical combustion chamber) and Turbo models

A completely new engine back in 1981, with an alloy cylinder head, hydraulic tappets and a five main bearing crankshaft, it makes for a fairly smooth engine. Ford EEC-IV management with electronic fuel injection (EFi)

The engine should be very quiet at idle, just a whirring sound. Look out for noisy water pumps and alternators, which make quite a noise. Any tappet sound can be attributed to a lazy tappet or at worst worn cam and followers. On engines which have covered 60,000 miles plus this is likely to be a worn cam.

Infrequent oil changes murder the CVH, sludge builds up in the head and damages the camshaft quite badly. Get a good look inside the filler cap for mayonnaise and sludge.

On ABS equipped models check the operation of the system, failed pumps are not uncommon, as are corroded brake and fuel lines - they are mild steel!

The thing to look out for on this engine is boy racer abuse, the 1st gear to 40mph brigade!

Check for smoke on start-up, and once the engine is warmed rev it hard and listen for a rumbling sound as the revs decline - main bearing wear.

The most usual thing to wear is the cam - it is an inherent design problem with CVH engines, it is usually valve lobes no 7+8 that wear first. A lack of low-down power can usually be attributed to this. Also most important that the cambelt is changed every 36,000 miles, although some specialists recommend a 20,000 mile change.

Turbo models are the same engine with a few modifications. Check for smoke at cold startup as per n/a cars. Take the car for a long run to get it up to temperature and after the run rev the engine whilst stationary and check for smoke - white smoke points to a worn turbo. When this has happened the exhaust tailpipe soot usually has a grey tinge to it.

1.6-1.8 16v ZETEC

Based on the CVH engine, redesigned by Yamaha for Ford in 1992. Originally named the 'Zeta' engine and later renamed Zetec. Although the engine was based on the CVH, the block is the only thing that closely resembles the older engine, and even this has been strengthened. The engine has twin overhead camshafts directly operating 4 valves per cylinder. Ford EEC-IV management with oxygen sensor loop and sequential fuel injection (SEFi).

Engines from the 1992-1993 era could have been affected by the sticking valve trouble, Ford put the cause down to 'poor fuel'. Ford exchanged heads on a goodwill basis with modified items. Si Fiestas will not be affected with this as they were 94 on, but check early 16v XR2i and RS1800 models.

The water rail specific to Fiestas tends to rust at the metal to hose join, situated at the drivers side front of the cam cover. The dipstick tube also rusts next to the pipe.

Basically a good engine with no problems. Cambelts last 65,000 as do the plugs. Oil should be changed regularly with FULLY synthetic oil, Ford recommend 10w 40 but 5w 30 is much better.

Several mechanics I have spoke to have reccomended using the synthetic oil and avoiding the cheaper supermarket fuels. They reccomended buying Super unleaded from a main garage, this apparantly cuts down carbon deposits inside the engine which can lead to valve trouble.


The 1.8 uni is very reliable and gives no problems with regualr maintenence. It will sound like its going to shake itself to pieces when starting from cold but once up to oil pressure its fine!

Cambelts are the only major worry, they should be changed at 36k along with the injection pump drive belt. They are VERY prone to snapping if left unchanged.

© Mark Stewart, Tuesday 15th June 1999
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