Heat not working

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I have a 2001 ZX3 that is giving me problems with the heat. I'm not getting hot air, just cold out unless I've been driving for at least 10-15 minutes.
The temperature gauge says the engine is at normal temp so it's not because the engine hasn't warmed up yet. At when I am getting warm air but come to a light and am idling the air begins to turn cold again. It's very cold here in Chicago and I can't put up with this much longer. I guess the real question is, is it time to trade the old girl in or is she worth saving? Anyone have a clue what my problem may be? Any help is greatly appreciated.
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shelma wrote:

My first guess would be to make sure you have enough coolant, after that you may have a clogged heater core.
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There is absolutely no reason to get rid of your Focus just for this problem. You need one of the many radiator/cooling system shops found in all modern cities. A power flush and refill will probably do it.
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With the engine not running (so it's quiet), turn the heater temp knob quickly in each direction, and listen for the muffled "thump" of the door closing and opening. Might have a disconnected operating cable. Another way is when it's operating, turn the fan to high. Then operate the temp knob to full and down. If it's working, you will feel resistance to turning it down due to the air flow resisting the flapper moving.
Ron '01 ZX3

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No reason to get a new car just because of this problem.
From your description it sounds like your thermostat is broken, it doesn't close anymore, so it takes ages to get warm air out of the heating. Shouldn't be expensive to get fixed at the next Ford dealer.
Good luck
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Ok I won't give up on her yet. I suppose having 55,000 miles I should do a coolant flush anyhow so I'll start with that. If Still no luck then I'll buy a new thermostat. Thanks all for your help.
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shelma wrote:

If temp is getting to normal I would think it's not the thermostat, as the car shouldn't get hot, or at least nowhere near normal, I had a car several years ago, if it was about 1 quart down in coolant, you got absolutly no heat, and when it gets to -20F thats not good,and engine temp was up to normal.
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You are sure you know how a car engine coolant system works and what happens if the thermostat doesn't close anymore?
[..]
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Michael Heiming wrote:

Well I thought the thermostat (when working normally) stayed closed thus reducing the flow of coolant through the radiator, keeping more heat in the engine until it reached temperature, at which time it opened up allowing more coolant into the radiator, and cooling the engine.
Now if it's stuck open then you would have a large flow of coolant through the radiator even when the engine is cool/cold, you would be losing heat through the radiator when you don't want to, and the engine won't heat up. Thats not to say it won't build up heat it just won't reach full temperature, especially in chicago, they are getting highs around 0 to -5C right now. I may be wrong though.
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Not quite, there are two coolant loops, switched together from the thermostat. The symptoms you'll encounter if the thermostat doesn't close anymore are more or less exactly what the OP is encountering.
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Michael Heiming wrote:

Ok, they must have changed things since the 70's era cars.
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Not really unless you are thinking about VW boxer engines, which didn't have liquid cooling those days in addition to a non working heating system... ;-)
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shelma wrote:

A thermostat was the first thing that came to my mind.
At 55,000, it's just starting to get broken in. I have 111,000 on my 2001 wagon. We have someone here who's around 250,000 miles on a 2003.
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Well I guess I started some sort of a debate with my question huh? It feels good to hear that 55,000 miles is nothing. Now I still have addressed the problem yet so still am not sure if it's the coolant or the thermostat. I don't know which one to root for. Addressing one of the posts, my temperature gauge works perfectly fine in the car. It reads cold when it's cold and normal after a little time running. The gauge never goes over normal and the engine is not overheating. I am going to check the coolant tommorow (temperature was -1 this morning and didn't want to deal with a cold drive to work so I got a ride). I will let you know what happens.
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Not that my opinion's worth much, but I'd bet against the thermostat given a normal response by your gauge. The low coolant/plugged heater coil/bad flapper in the dashboard thoughts others mentioned would be my candidates.
Craig
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I filled the radiator with coolant yesterday and have noticed a difference, problem is definitely better. So it does seem like my problem is that I need a coolant flush. Thanks for everyones help
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Glad to hear your heating works better again, even if I really had expected you to take the 10 sec. and check for sufficient coolant fluid before even attempting to ask a newsgroup.
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Thanks Michael for your comments. I asked a newsgroup because I'm a single mother who knows absolutely nothing about cars. I honestly didn't even know the coolant had to do with the heat, I honestly thought coolant just affected the air conditioning. I'm sorry if I botherd you with my question. Thank you though everyone else and VJC, it seems that I do have a leak. A coworker pointed out a fluid in my parking space and it does appear to be coolant. I suppose I'll just have to live with it until I can afford to fix it.
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Shelma, I'm glad you posted. Not only did we help you, but the question and answer are now in the google archives. It may help someone in the future.
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No problem, perhaps I'm presuming to much prior knowledge, sometimes. ;)

I'd get the problem fix asap and keep a close eye onto the temperature gauge. The engine can easily suffer from permanent damage if getting to hot, which is pretty likely to be far more expensive to fix then a simple leak.
In addition, depending on your country you are facing punishment, because the coolant fluid is hazardous if it leaks into the environment.
Good luck
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