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Troubleshooting Sudden Engine Problems in a 1991-94 Mercury Capri

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Perrya shares his experience working on his own Mercury Capri.

The 1991–94 Mercury Capri is a rare car in 2022, being over 30 years after it was first made. Only 66,000 were made worldwide and fewer than 20,000 still exist.

When the owner encounters engine troubles, many Capri owners simply junk a perfectly good car because they are afraid they won't be able to find parts, or because they don't have the service manual. Actually, since the engine is a 1.6L Mazda DOHC, it is still found in recent cars today. Parts are not hard to locate for the engine (depending on which one, of course!). With some effort you can often keep your Capri going at some expense. However, when looking for interior parts that are specific only to Capri, you have a much harder time finding them and pay even greater expense because they only fit a Capri.

Capri Idiosyncrasies

The following are some of the car's nuances that you may not be aware of:

Issues With the Fuel Pump

For instance, the automatic fuel pump will shut down if the car is lightly bumped by another car or a bad pothole. It was a safety issue. People buying the Capri nowadays may have no clue about this issue when suddenly their car will not run or start, they believe the worst, and sometimes decide to simply junk it. The fix for this issue is simply opening the rear trunk and, on the left side where the spare is, pressing the red button to activate the fuel pump again. Yes, it IS that simple. However, should the problem persist, the FP probably needs to be replaced.

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Issues With the Ignition

Another cause for a sudden stop is the electronic ignition. If the ignition suddenly fails, the car will not start. It is not a common failure, but if the engine is getting gas and everything seems to be OK, consider simply opening the distributor, and removing the dust cover and rotor to check the condition. The part is expensive, over $200, but a simple install for most DIY types.

Issues With the Turbo

Some owners get rid of the XR2 model (the turbo that produces 132 hp) after the turbo fails because a new turbo runs around $600+. The car will not function without it because you will not be able to accelerate. Nevertheless, many XR2s have functioning turbos with well over 140,000K on them because the turbo is not intrusive and always activated. Whenever you are not accelerating rapidly, the turbo is really not active. At steady speeds or slight accelerations, there is no indication a turbo is there. Should the airline become disconnected while moving, you will suddenly lose all power with barely enough to go. The first thought is the turbo is blown, however, if a turbo goes bad, it will make noise and a lot of smoke. Absent of these symptoms, pull over and make sure the airline and hose connections to turbo are good.

Issues With the Timing Belt

Some think that having a timing belt break while driving equals a blown engine. In some cars, it does (like a VW TDI Jetta), but the Capri simply loses all power and you glide to a stop. The engine will suffer no damage. Put a new belt on and you're good to go!

Issues With Loose Hoses

In the turbo model, should your hoses become disconnected while driving, you will suddenly lose power with a "whoosh" sound, and the car will be hard to start. Most common is the hose that comes off the exhaust near the oxygen sensor that goes to the intercooler area. You might think you have a blown tire, or maybe a belt broke. One could easily think the worst, like the Turbo failed. If the hose becomes disconnected, there is a huge vacuum leak in the engine: that's what causes the "whoosh" sound to be what it is. Simply reconnect the hose. The car will start right up. This happened to me. Lost all power while going 40 mph, it was scary, I thought the worst! I crawled over to the side road and looked and the hose had come off.

Issues With the Radiator

Many Capris now need their radiators replaced because the plastic tops are cracked and leaking. Before you spend $250+ for a new radiator from a Capri specialist store, go online and search. I found an OEM metal radiator that is a perfect fit for only $130 or so. Metal is a better material for any radiator. The time to remove and install a new one runs around 2–3 hours because of the very tight fit and depends on if you have any other installation\removal issues. That said, any DIY person can remove and replace it.

Issues With Moisture

Depending on your climate where the Capri is, you might experience stuttering after the car sits overnight or for a long duration in wet conditions. It seems that the electrical system in the engine compartment is sensitive to moisture. With my XR2, after sitting overnight in wet conditions (rainy or wet fog) upon starting it would purr like a kitten but when driving, it would stutter at times (like water in the fuel) until the engine warmed up to normal. Once the engine temp was mid-range, the stuttering or hesitation ended upon acceleration. The best result I had was to let the car idle for 5+ minutes to dry off any moisture before driving.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

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