2002-2005 Thunderbird Electronic Module problems? – Read this first!

new moduleHas your 2002-2005 Thunderbird started to exhibit some unusual problems?  Engine cranks but won’t start?  Starts but dies?  Power windows don’t work?  Headlights don’t function properly?  Instrument cluster  gauges don’t work?  If you’ve had one or more of these issues the cause may be a defective electronic module.

What’s an electronic module and how do they work?

Most newer cars use one or more electronic modules to control, regulate and monitor the various electronic components and functions of the car.  The 2002-2005 Thunderbird has several different modules including the PCM (Powertrain Control Module), FEM, or ‘Front Electronic Module,’ REM, or ‘Rear Electronic Module,’ ABS module, Climate Control Module, and more.  These modules are known by many different names including ‘Body Control Module,’ ‘Ambient Lighting Control Module,’ and ‘Engine Control Module.’  The array of different modules and the components and accessories they control can be very confusing.  Even more confusing is the number of different part numbers for what appears to be the same module.  Due to differences between the 2002 Thunderbird and the 2003-2005 Thunderbird, similar parts have  several different Ford part numbers and various different two -letter suffixes such as ‘AA,’ ‘AB,’ ‘AC,’ ‘AD,” ‘AF,’ ‘AG’ and more.  Adding to the confusion are four-letter suffixes such as ‘AFRM.’

Why are there so many electronic modules and different part numbers for them?

Most of the 2002 Thunderbirds have part numbers that begin with ‘1W.’  Ford made a number of changes beginning with the 2003 Thunderbird, including re-programming the 3.9 liter V8 engine for additional horsepower.  Many parts for the 2002 Thunderbird, beginning with ‘1W,’ were superseded by part numbers beginning with ‘3W.’ Some parts unique to the 2003-2005 Thunderbird began with ‘5W,’ or ‘6W.’    The result is literally dozens of different part numbers for a half dozen or more different electronic modules.  Finding out which one you need can be a real challenge.

How do I know which part number is correct for the module I need?

The best way to make sure you get the correct replacement part for your Thunderbird is by referencing your VIN, or ‘vehicle identification number.’  The VIN can be found on the door jamb or on the metal plate visible at the base of the driver’s side of the windshield.

After you’ve identified which module you need, use your VIN to determine the correct part number for that module.  Your Ford dealer or retail parts supplier can provide the correct part number based on your car’s VIN.

My Ford dealer said the module I need is no longer manufactured by Ford.  What can I do?

Ford has discontinued many of the original electronic modules for the 2002-2005 Thunderbird.  Some of the older part numbers have been replaced or superseded by different, updated part numbers, but many of those are also out of production and unavailable.  The good news is that some aftermarket companies now ‘rebuild’ or ‘remanufacture’ electronic modules using original Ford ‘cores.’  Cores are the metal boxes or cases that hold the various circuits and electronic components that make up the module itself.  First, ask your Ford dealer or independent mechanic for the part number of the module you need.  Next, request an itemized estimate for parts and labor, and be sure the estimate includes re-programming.  Whenever an electronic module is replaced it must be re-programmed or ‘re-flashed so it can ‘talk’ to the rest of your Thunderbird’s electrical and computer systems.  If the dealer tells you that the part you need is ‘backordered,’ ask if there is a release date.  Keep in mind that a ‘release date’ is only an estimated date when a part might become available.  It is common for release dates to be ‘pushed back’ one or more times before a part becomes available, and in some cases, after a series of postponements, the part may be listed as ‘obsolete,’ which means it’s no longer ‘serviced’ by Ford and will not be produced again.

For a list of the various Electronic Modules and more details, click here:

Thunderbird Control Modules-‘Ghost in the Machine’

What can I do if the part I need is ‘obsoleted’ by Ford and no longer available for either order or backorder?

Some Ford dealers work with one or more companies that ‘rebuild’ or ‘remanufacture’ electronic modules.  Remanufactured modules can be identified by the letters ‘RM’ at the end of the original part number.  There are a number of aftermarket suppliers that offer rebuilt, refurbished or remanufactured electronic modules, and prices vary widely from as low as $ 150 to over $ 800.  Ford dealers typically only install and guarantee OEM Ford parts, so if a Ford-supplied part is not available, you may be on your own locating an aftermarket module.

How can I be sure the aftermarket module I buy is the correct part and will work in my Thunderbird?

The best way to confirm that you’re getting the correct module is by cross-referencing the part with your Thunderbird’s VIN (vehicle identification number).  Reputable retailers and rebuilders will ask you for your VIN to make sure the part you order is compatible with and correct for, your Thunderbird.   When ordering a rebuilt or refurbished electronic module, be sure to ask these questions:

  1. Do you offer a warranty on the module, and if so for how long?
  2. What is your return policy if the module is defective or turns out to be the incorrect part for my Thunderbird?
  3. Does the price include a ‘core charge’, and if so, is the core charge refundable when I return my old module?

Before you order an aftermarket electronic module, be sure to ask your Ford dealer or mechanic if they will install a customer-supplied part.  This is very important.  Some shops and dealers will only install parts they supply.  Others may agree to install your part, but probably will not warranty the part itself.  Get an estimate for the labor to install your part, and be sure to ask if the price includes reprogramming.  Reprogramming electronic modules requires very specialized equipment and not all shops have the proper equipment to perform the re-programming.

Still confused?  Powersport/Thunderbird Specialties can help!

If you’re not comfortable navigating the ins and outs of tackling the replacement of an electronic module on your Thunderbird, contact us!  We’re happy to answer your questions and give you a price quote for a new or remanufactured module, and there’s no charge or obligation for our advice.  If you’ve found a good deal on an aftermarket module, we’ll let you know.  If you can’t find what you need, we can get it for you.  And chances are we’ll save you both time and money, and make sure you get the right part the first time!

Since 2002, we’ve offered the largest selection of accessories, OEM replacement parts and performance upgrades for the 2002-2005 Thunderbird available anywhere!  It’s our only product line.  Even Ford dealers turn to us for obsolete parts that are no longer available from Ford!

Call us at 310-589-1000 or e-mail us using the ‘Contact Us’ form on the home page of our website:  www.mytbird.com

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