alex Dork
8/24/10 3:01 p.m.

In my search to replace my SO's SVT Focus, I've come across what I consider to be a surprising dearth of information on the 'webs: it's really hard to find real-world data/reviews of thoroughly used cars. Magazine 'long term' tests are pretty much useless once a car is older than you'd generally find off-lease at a dealer lot. But I'd really like to have an impression of what it's like to live with a car on a daily basis for many tens of thousands of miles. What kind of maintenance beyond the usual pops up? How much (generally speaking) do the major services like timing belt changes cost? How's the aftermarket? That kind of thing.

Granted, all of this information is available in great depth on model-specific fora, but I'm really not interested in joining any more fanobi sites just to search for hours.

Most musicians (or gear nerds) know about Harmony Central reviews. It's a site with user generated reviews of various instruments and gear. Think of it as a restaurant comment card: you rate the item on a scale of 1-10 in certain categories, then expound upon the ratings in the comments section for each category. In the mean time, the number scores are averaged into a quickly-readable table at the top of each page.

There's my million dollar idea. You're welcome. Now, somebody with better programming skillz get on that. And quick - I gotta get a new car by the end of October.

(Perhaps this is something that could be incorporated into the GRM online community? And if it takes off, perhaps I get a free subscription for life?)

In the mean time, I'm going to keep bugging you all about specific cars, because this is still the best place for useful information.

Tim Baxter
Tim Baxter SuperDork
8/24/10 3:32 p.m.

Added to my personal lengthy list of cool things I hope to get around to someday.

paul Reader
8/26/10 9:08 p.m.

Is the SO looking for something similar?

There's a plethora of senior citizens who own civic EP3's... always 2-3 for sale on various autotrader'esque sites for good prices...

alex Dork
8/27/10 8:39 a.m.

In reply to paul:
She is, yes. #1 Contender is actually a ZX3/5 with a 2.3 and full SVT suspension swap. But we're all over the board with what she's considering.

Having heard the stories about tuned Civics sending out the STEAL ME beacon for miles, I have to say I'm nervous about owning one. We don't live in a bad neighborhood, but it's not crime-free. Are the EP3s theft magnets?

And back on topic: I suppose we could make this sort of a Review thread until there's a proper database somewhere. I'll start, and hopefully others will chime in.

2004 SVT Focus:
A rational performance bargain with, in my mind, a fatal flaw.

I love the SVTF because it strikes a such good compromise on so many levels. It's small but has tons of useful space inside - the split/fold rear seat make it flexible, and the hatch is cavernous with both sides folded. It's quick and fairly powerful but returns great mileage - she gets 33 on a tank with mainly highway miles (I can't touch that number myself, but there you go). The suspension approaches perfection for street-biased performance car straight out of the box: very predictable cornering characteristics, great communication from both ends, composed and surprisingly willing to rotate; at the same time, it's 100% liveable on the street. Not at all jarring or stiff; if you had your grandma in it just cruising down the highway, she wouldn't guess it's a 'tuned' car. When the SVT first came out, more than one review compared its suspension refinement and performance to E36 M3s - high praise for an econobox hatchback.

The interior is quite durable and especially nice considering its starting point as an economy car. (However, I can say the same thing about my base 2000 ZX3, an actual economy car. It wasn't until it hit the 140k+ mile, 9-10 year-old mark that the interior began to show its age, but I had stopped taking good care of it at that point, and was treating it more like a beater/utility car.)

I can't comment extensively on parts costs, either aftermarket or factory, because (aside from one major incident, described below) we've had no opportunity to modify or necessity to repair in the 30k miles or so that we've had it. Parts supply, though, is as close as your local Ford dealer, and there's a healthy aftermarket for the car, along with an active and generally insightful community over at

Little things: I'm not in love with the feel of the Getrag 6 speed gearbox (shared with the Cooper S, I believe), but it seems well matched to the engine. It's no joy to shift like a Miata, but it's no real pain. The turning radius is compromised on the SVT in comparison to the ZX3, thanks to the former's larger and wider wheels. If you're into U-turns, you have to think ahead with the SVT.

Insurance (for a female with a squeaky clean record anyway) is downright cheap.

There is, however a Big Problem with the motor, and it's the main reason we're selling the car. The timing belt pulleys are known to occasionally fail - by which I mean, they shatter and totally disintegrate while the engine is spinning. It's certainly not a problem that could be described as common - there's no TSB or recall on it - but it's by no means unheard of. When a pulley fails, obviously, the cams jump time. And the SVT version of the 2.0L Zetec is an interference motor, which means bent valves. When ours let go, somewhere in the neighborhood of 50k mi, it took most of the valves with it. Compounding the problem, there is no alternative parts source for the pulleys, so you're stuck putting Ford parts back on and rolling the dice, hoping you'll get a set that won't grenade before the timing belt is due to be replaced. On the other hand, my 2000 ZX3 uses the same parts, and it's pushing 150k on its original timing belt and pulleys. But, if/when it loses one, the non-SVT engine is not an interference design.

Unfortunately, we're not willing to take the risk with the SVT. We just can't afford to replace bent valves in another 50k. It's entirely possible - highly likely, even - that it will be trouble free for 100k more, until the timing belt is due again. But that's not a chance we're willing to take.

I should reiterate: I love the car. It's practically perfect for our needs, and if it weren't for the pulley issue, I'd recommend it without reservation to anyone looking for a very solid and practical commuter with a very entertaining sporty side. But the pulley issue is a serious one; an issue that likely would have caused us to pass on the car had we known. Others should know what they're getting, also. If you're willing to take the risk, though, the SVT Focus doesn't disappoint as a practical performance bargain.

Now then, lets turn this into a proper real-world used performance car review thread.

93celicaGT2 SuperDork
8/27/10 11:00 a.m.

EP3s are not theft-magnets, namely because the "hardcore" honda owners don't like them.

poopshovel SuperDork
8/27/10 12:03 p.m. is sort of like what you're describing, but like harmony central, it seems as though 98% will say "This is the best berkeleying thing since sliced bread because I own it," and 2% will say "This is the worst berkeleying car in the world. After only 100,000 miles, the motor dun blowed up cuz that thur timin whatzamajig dun broke. Ahm uh buyin' GM from now on!"

skruffy SuperDork
8/27/10 12:17 p.m.

I do most of my used car research at marque-specific forums. Most forums will have a good set of stickies covering common problems with a car.

This site is pretty good to, a really diverse group here.

Nitroracer Dork
8/27/10 8:40 p.m.

Like poopshovel said take a look on While it may not be everything you are looking for the longer reviews are usually well written and honest about the car. The newer or more expensive the car was originally the more likely you will find info there. Forums are the next best-bet. I always make a post looking for the common problems of the next car I am looking into.

I lost my svt euro to an accident but I did make a good amount of money dealing with the insurance company (not at fault). If it had a few more horsepower or a better first gear I think I would have fixed the car and kept driving it. I never cared for how that car got going from a stop, it could barely chirp the tires.

John Brown
John Brown SuperDork
8/27/10 9:21 p.m.

If an automatic is not a dealbreaker I have a lovely MKIV GLI that I need gone before the 13th.

Priced to roll.

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