O2 Sensor Question

My sister, Cathy, has a 1997 Ford Contour inherited from our parents, who don't drive anymore.
Last week the engine light showed yellow and she took it to a car
place who charged her $90 and ran diagnostics and came up with about $2,000 worth of repairs needed. Since that is about the book value of the car now, she is in a quandary about what to do.
The car place prioritized the work that needed to be done and said the O2 sensor was the most critical. That, and some other sensor replacement, with labor, comes to about $500. Priority 1 and 2 stuff together come to about $1200.
I know zero about cars. What is the O2 sensor and is it really that critical?
The yellow light has since gone out.
The dealer says if this stuff is done the car is good for another 100,000 miles. Could that be true? There are 98,000 miles on the car now - lowish for a car that old.
The car was bought new in 1997 and has been meticulously maintained by my parents and now by Cathy. So that is a consideration too, when it comes to considering trading it in and getting another used car of unknown providence. (Buying a new car right now is not financially possible).
I wish we knew somebody locally who knew about cars. I think Cathy gets ripped off a lot as a woman walking into car places where they assume, correctly, that she knows nothing about cars.
Any thoughts?
The labor costs are what makes it so expensive. And it seems they don't "consolidate the labor charges" - so even if they do 5 things and because they do it all at the same time they get done quicker they don't charge less. It is "this much labor charge for this job" period. Is that common car repair practice?
Thanks,
doug
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For $90 you or your sister should have asked for the specific numeric codes and done the research on them. Lots of help here and google. Usually the O2 sensor is fine and gets "shot" for being the messenger of some other problem, like a vacuum leak, very common. Knowing what I know about Fords, I would not spend anything until you could take it to autozone to get the specific code numbers read for free.
Sounds like bs, $2000 is not going to guarantee another 100,000 miles on any car.
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On 21 May 2007 00:48:01 -0700, douglerner

The O2 sensor is considered a maintenance item just like spark plugs. After 50-60k miles, it starts to become "lazy" and respond slowly. At a deadle, you can expect to pay a diagnostic charge. $90 is not out of line for a complete diagnostic charge as the technician needs training and a rather expensive piece of equipment to do it correctly and completely. A Motorcraft OEM O2 sensor can be found online for about $60 - probably closer to $100 at the dealer. Your 1997 vehicle has OBD2 emissions which will require at least 4 O2 sensors for a complete set. This is where a good technician may be helpful in that he can usually determine which one(s) are working correctly and which need replacement. There are some, of course, who have the philosophy the if one is bad, all should be replaced.
As far as the other items are concerned, you or your daughter need to try to get some recommendations from others for a good independant shop that can be trusted to take care of your vehicles if you know little about cars. It sounds like the Contour just needs some routine maintenance work done. The 100K mile mark is where some rather expensive maintenance would be expected no matter what car you are driving. Unfortunately, the cost of maintenance has nothing to do with the book value of the car. If you buy another 100k miles car, you will probably be looking at the same situation. The best alternative would be a new car, but, you would then need to determine whether it is financially more appropriate to trade up or do the maintenance on your present car with which you are already familiar.
You may want to post back here with the other recommended repairs/maintenance. There are some in this group including a couple of Ford techs that can be very helpful. It is likely that you can do much of the maintenance yourself with alittle guidance as the routine at 100K for much of the work is just time and TLC with some readily available inexpensive cleaners and lubricants. A repair manual can be immensely helpful. Sometimes, you can find the OEM factory manuals available on Ebay. Amazon may also be a good source for aftermarket and, possibly, a used factory manual.
Lugnut
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lugnut wrote:

I disagree that a new car is the best alternative.
This car should easily go another 100k mi. Of course, there will be some repairs along the way, probably $2000 - $4000 worth. That's far cheaper than a new car. And the insuranc is cheaper, too.

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On Mon, 21 May 2007 14:21:13 GMT, Jeff

My comment is based on their comment of knowing little about cars. For people who know little to nothing about cars and want minimal problems with no regard for expense, a new or low mileage car is the best way to go. Yes, the Contour can easily go well over 200k miles with proper maintenance and some repairs. For people who do not have the ability to become involved in the maintenance of their vehicle even to the point of recognizing when there is a problem or maintenance due, a new or low mileage vehicle is by far the best plan if they are not on a first name basis with a dependable competent repair facility that periodically is given the opportunity to do whatever is needed.
Lugnut

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lugnut wrote: <...>

Unless one has money to burn, I have to disagree with you on this. It usually costs far less to maintain (including insurance) an older car than a new car. A car costs a lot of money. What one needs to do is find a good mechanic who is honest.
In my days with my contour (only 141k mi), I have had to replace the rear struts and bearing plates, the four roters, a couple of calipers, two wheel bearings, one axle (one side only) and a few other minor repairs. The total bill is something like $4000 including oil changes, inspections and tires (I remember two new tire sets that I bought - I think there was a third new one (besides the originals)) for 141k mi. (Excludes insurance)
I certainly would have paid $4k more in insurance if I replaced the car twice so I didn't have to worry about repairs.
I guess the bottom line is change the oil often (every 7500 mi with synthetic), fix things, get a good mechanic and find out what is wrong instead of throwing money at it.
So it's throw money at a newer car every few years or find a good mechanic. The good mechanic is cheaper.
Jeff
I guess it comes down to finding a good mechanic, being able to do the work yourself or spending thousands of dollars every few years on a new car.
Jeff

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This story smells a bit like a troll. Assuming it's not, I would run away from that 'car place'. The dead giveaway is the 100,000 mile promise. Nobody can promise such thing, no matter how many parts they replace. If you manage to extricate the numeric codes that came out of the $90 diagnostics, post them here, and someone will come up with a suggestion. If the check engine light turns on again, you may take the car to Autozone which will pull the codes free (in the hope of selling you parts to fix the problem). As for your oxygen sensor question, a '97 Contour will have two or four of those, depending on engine size; half of them in front and half behind the catalytic converter. Those in front are indeed critical, as they provide the engine management computer with the feedback it needs to adjust the mixture. These devices rarely fail, and a code indicating 'lean' or 'rich' reading from them usually points to a problem elsewhere -- hopefully a small one, if the vehicle has been properly maintained and has no drivability concerns. While it's impossible to judge from what you posted, rushing to replace oxygen sensors as the first thing often indicates a poor mechanic (or an attempt to make an easy buck). Incidentally, an oxygen sensor for your vehicle costs about $60-$70 and I can't imagine needing more than an half an hour of labor to replace one. It's highly unlikely for more than one to fail at the same time.

.
.
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douglerner wrote:

I would do two things:
1) I would ask for a written report by the garage about what the diagnosis found, including all the trouble codes.
If they did provide such a report, please tell us exactly what the report said.
2) I would take that to another garage and get a second opinion.
Jeff
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Why not get a second opinion, at another dealership, then decide? After all, even at $2,000 all she is getting a car she knows, for around what an unknown would cost on the market.
One of my relatives has a 2000 Mystique, the Mercury version of the Contour, that was purchased new by me and currently has over 230,000 trouble free miles on the clock
mike

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An O2 sensor doesnt cost 500$ to replace, especially on a Ford Contour, the part itself is probably under 100, so they want 400 for labor? BS! You can drive fine with a bad O2 sensor, just might waste some gas and wont pass your next smog test is all. Dont go back there. I dont have a problem with dealers but I do with this one. I think you got some good suggestions here, go to Kragen or Autozone and get the engine codes. You can come back here and get a better estimate what it should cost. How can a dealer say that after 2K in repairs it will run another 100K??? I would ask friends where do they get their car fixed. Just this morning I thought I had a trans problem, took it to a trans shop known for honest service, ended up it wasnt the trans, they fix the rattle and only charged me 20$. I asked them where to take my car for brakes and tune ups, and I now have another great independent service shop to go to.
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Really bad advice. A bad O2 sensor can foul the catalytic converter over time. Then you'll fail the smog test even after you replace the bad sensor. And your engine will run like crap. Replace it now.
Find out which one is bad, buy one at NAPA or someplace, and ask any dealer or even a muffler shop mechanic how it costs for JUST THE LABOR. That's assuming you're not feeling up to doing it yourself.
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your're right, I forgot about the issue with the cat.
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John H wrote:

Wasn't trying to smack you down or anything. I've just "been there / done that."
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Thanks, but less than a week ago I had some exhaust work done on my 89 Probe GT. Had the resonator removed and replaced the CAT. Man, what a difference in HP. That CAT was seriously clogged and the resonated sounded like a set of maracas
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