1994 Ford Escort GT Woes

Hello all techs!
I am the not-so-proud owner of a 1994 Ford Escort GT. Lately, it has been having several problems that I would be thankful for input on.
1) Since August, it has been making a very loud humming noise when driving at any speed. Now, I have tried to have this fixed... my father, normally a great car guy, thought it was the bottom body strip on the driver's side, pulling away from the body after losing some bolts. His theory was that it was vibrating from wind, and that was why the sound got louder at high speeds, but did not change when braking, shifting, or accelerating. I noticed it -did- get much less loud when taking a left turn. I thought this was because the air was simply pressing in on the body on the left side, pushing the strip in. Since I did not have much money, he rigged in a bolt but there really isn't much to bolt it -to-. This did not stop the noise. I figured, screw it, it's an old car, it's rusting, cosmetic things peel off, I'll live with it.
I had it into a garage last week for a hood cable repair and a center hubcap replacement on the rear driver's side wheel. The center hubcap, about 5" across, had come off during the summer somehow, and again, I thought, ugly but not a crucial safety repair. So, I put it off until another (bad) garage snapped the hood cable while it was in their care for rear trailing arms and exhaust parts repair. As a side note, I would have brought the car back to the original garage for them to fix their damage, but I was so pissed off at the extreme delay of 2 WEEKS waiting for the trailing arms (sent from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts by burro I guess), and that they denyed any responsibility for the fact that my A/C motor came on but no cold came out, AND that my hood cable was lying in the footwell after I picked up the car. I paid them, angry for the delay and the dodging but mostly, glad to have my car back.
Rant aside... ;-) after having the new hood cable put in, the hubcap replaced, the mechanic mentioned I may need new wheel bearings in the rear, most likely the driver's side. Now, my question is: could the bearings have been contaminated by dirt/water allowed in by the missing hubcap? Or could the grease seal just rot out on its own? The car's wheels are aluminum, and not in great shape (the driver's side front wheel had a very persistent slow leak that turned out to be a bad seal with the wheel, not a valve or cut in the tire, caused by the wheel's surface deterioration.)
The mechanic said he thought it was bearings because of the constant noise, and that the noise would lessen on a left turn because the weight of the car would shift to the right. Seems reasonable. What do you all think? And, while not a huge concern, they quoted me about $120 to fix the bearings in this one wheel. Is that about right? My father couldn't say, not having it done, but thought it seemed high.
2) Design flaw? I had to replace the heat/AC blower motor last winter because of (I think) leaves accumulating in the air vents, causing a water runoff into the electrical system. What happened was I parked under a tree in the fall, it filled up with leaves, I brushed off most of them, but when taking a sharp corner in the fall, after a rain storm, a large amount (like 2-4 cups!) of water rushed into the passenger footwell. Not long after, one very cold morning, I turned on the heat, and nothing came on. After having the motor replaced, I've noticed an occasional hot plastic/electrical smell, and that often the heat will not work on its highest setting of 4, but will set at 1-3. Just a couple days ago, it totally shut off on me again, but then came back on the following day. I have had a garage put in a new blower motor plug and wire connectors because they were corroded, from water I assume, and this would fix it for a while but still, I'm worried that pretty soon I'm going to replacing the damn blower motor again... after being fanatical about removing every leaf that fell into the vents. Does anyone else who owns a 1994 Ford Escort GT have this problem?
Sorry for the long post, but this car is riding my last nerve lately. It has 83K miles on it, and I'm getting the feeling that it is on its way out... I think my next car will be Japanese! ;-)
Sarah Jahn (Please reply in group - thank you!)
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1. You have terrible mechanics.
2. Check the heat shields on and just downstream of the catalytic converter.
3. I had the exact same thing happen to my A/C - Heater blower. It's not your cars fault, it your fault for not cleaning out your car. The only exception in my case is that I took the motor out, let it dry out overnight inside my warm apartment. Then reinstalled it the next day and it's been working fine ever sine. Your mechanic doesn't make much money for cleaning stuff, but then can charge you big bucks for replacing them, which is what they did in this case.
4. Your car IS Japanese (Mazda engine and Mazda transmission, Mazda desiged). Don't blame Ford for all the design defects in this car! (although all the ones you mentioned happen to all cars).
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On 20 Nov 2003 12:05:28 -0800, scott snipped-for-privacy@my-deja.com (Childfree Scott) wrote:

True... hopefully only in the past and not the current one!

Hmm, but if this is the cause of the noise, why would it get much quieter when I make a left turn?

It was my fault the first time, but ever since that happened, I have been a freak about cleaning leaves out of the car. And when it was fixed the first time, the blower motor, the motor plug AND the wire connectors were all replaced with new. Yet, I still have this problem. I have had 2 previous cars (1983 Ford Escort and a 1988 Mercury Tracer) which never had this problem. (They had others but at least the heat stayed on.)

I stand corrected :-) No Mazdas in my future.
Thank you for your post, Sarah Jahn
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I don't know but all newer cars (irregardless of make and model) seem ot have heat shields that fall off. I see them all over the road when I am biking. And I bet if you still have any of your heat shields left they have bad or almost bad welds. Solution is to get the 7" diameter hose clamp from the bulk bin at Home Depot (96 cents) and wrap it around your catalytic converter. The easiest way to install it is to remove the splash guard first. The only catch is that the bolts on the splash guard might be really rusted, repace them with M6-1.0 stainless steel bolts (Lowes has them). This is easy enough to do and even you can do it. Even if it's not "the" cause of your noise it will happen sooner or later. The other heat shield downstream of the catalytic converter is probably unnecessary unless you live in a dry area like out west or park in tall grass or leaves.
And I have been driving and maintaining Escorts since Jan 1985.
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