Planning to buy a 2002-2005 Thunderbird? 10 Things you must know.

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Are you thinking of buying a 2002-2005 Thunderbird? – You’re not alone.

Since the 11th generation Ford Thunderbird was introduced at international auto shows back in 1999, it’s attracted world wide attention.  As the first two-seat convertible Thunderbird produced since the classic 1957 Thunderbird, the demand for this new version was unprecedented.  The first of the new 2002s were offered through a special promotion with Ford and the upscale retailer, Neiman-Marcus.  200 of this limited-edition Thunderbird sold out in under two hours, with thousands on a waiting list, hoping for a chance to get one.

Fast forward to 2016 …

The last of the 2005 Thunderbird rolled off the Wixom, Michigan assembly lines in the Summer of 2005, marking the end of a short four-year production run of just 68,095 vehicles.

Many prospective buyers were discouraged by high dealer mark-ups and limited supplies, on top of an already high list price of over $ 40,000 for a fully-optioned car.  As with all used cars, market values of 2002-2005 Thunderbirds have dropped considerably over the past ten years. Notwithstanding a handful of extremely low-mileage examples that have brought close to original sticker price at collector auctions,  most 2002-2005 Thunderbirds are selling for between $ 10,000 and $ 20,000, depending on mileage, condition, and rarity.

Is the 2002-2005 Thunderbird a future collectible?

The answer to that question depends on whom you ask.  Some people think the 11th generation Thunderbird is just another ‘used car’ that will continue to drop in value over the years.  Others think that the ‘new’ Thunderbird is one of a handful of future classics … one that will appreciate handsomely in coming years.  The latter sentiment has been echoed by Fox News and Hagerty, who call the 2002-2005 Thunderbird “a future Blue Chipper,” to ‘The Fast Lane Car. com’ that writes:  “A nice example can not only maintain the price, but is likely to appreciate.”

Whether you’re planning to buy because of potential future value, or you’ve just wanted to own a Thunderbird since you first caught a glimpse of a classic 1957 but couldn’t afford one, there are some important things to know before you buy.  We’ve put together a list of the most important questions you need to ask before you take the plunge.

Ten things you must know before buying a used 2002-2005 Thunderbird

This checklist doesn’t cover everything, but it does cover the most important factors to consider when buying a used 2002-2005 Thunderbird.

  1. Have the car inspected by your own mechanic or a Ford dealer.  Unless you’re an experienced mechanic and know what to look for, have a qualified mechanic conduct a thorough inspection of the car.  If the car you’re looking at is being sold by a dealer, ask them if you can have your mechanic check it out before you buy.
  2. Does the car come with any kind of warranty? – If the car is being sold by a dealer, ask if it includes a warranty.  Some used car dealers offer only a 30-day limited warranty that covers major mechanical components only. Ford dealers may offer the car as a ‘Certified Pre-Owned, vehicle, which indicates that it has been checked out and inspected prior to being offered for sale.  Some 2002-2005 Thunderbird have Ford ESP (Extended Service Plans) warranties and are transferrable to the new owner.  Ford ESPs are among the best and most comprehensive.  If the car you’re looking at has one, great.  If not, ask the dealer if he’ll include one as part of the purchase.
  3. Have the tires been replaced recently? – This is very important.  Many 2002-2005 Thunderbird have relatively low mileage and may still have the original tires.  Even if the tires have a lot of tread left, if they’re over five years old they’ll probably need to be replaced.  Old tires are dangerous and can blow out even if they look good.  If you’re buying from a private party, and the tires are old, factor the cost of a new set into the price.  If you’re buying from a dealer, make sure the car has new rubber. And don’t forget to check the compact spare tire!   Most 2002-2005 Thunderbirds still have the original compact spare tire.  Even if it’s never been used, these old tires can be dry-rotted and may explode while in the trunk.  Even if the spare tire looks good, if it’s the original spare, it probably won’t hold up long once you put it on the car. Get a new one!
  4. How old is the battery? – A bad battery on a 2002-2005 Thunderbird can cause a lot more problems than just not starting.  Many electrical components and modules depend on a strong battery.  If the battery is more than a few years old, ask if it has a warranty, and if it’s more than five years old, you’ll probably need a new one soon.  Also, the 2002-2005 Thunderbird uses a special vented battery, due to its location in the trunk.  Make sure the car you’re looking at has the correct vented battery.  Ford Motorcraft is the safest bet, but vented batteries are available from other manufacturers.
  5. Have the COPs (coil on plugs) been replaced? – Bad COPs, or ignition coils, are one of the most common problems with all 2002-2005 Thunderbirds.  In fact, Ford issued a TSB or ‘Technical Service Bulletin’ on them for all 2002-2005 Thunderbirds and offered free replacements to owners (the 2002 Thunderbird was not part of this recall). If the original COPs haven’t been replaced, you’ll probably have to replace them soon.  Typically, COPs begin to go bad after about 20,000 miles, but sometimes sooner.  If the seller can’t confirm and document that they’ve been replaced, factor the cost into the price you’re willing to pay for the car.  Replacement of all eight COPs can cost $ 1,000 or more when done by a Ford dealer.  If you’re a good mechanic, you’ll save some money, but you’ll still need to buy the parts, and you should factor in the value of your labor.
  6. What’s the car’s service history? – Whether you’re buying from a dealer or a private party, ask for the car’s service records.  This will give you a good indication how well the car was maintained.  If you’re buying from a Ford dealer, have them run the ‘OASIS’ history on the car.  Maintenance and repair work done at Ford or Lincoln dealerships is documented on a nationwide computer system.  Ask for the service records!
  7. Check ALL the accessories. – Test the power windows, power seats, power mirrors, radio, CD changer, lights, door locks and climate control system.  Make sure the air conditioning is blowing cold air and that the LED functions on the unit are displaying correctly.  Check the remote key fob,  security alarm, windshield wipers and washer, brake lights, side marker lights and supplemental parking lights.
  8. Did you take it for a thorough road test? – In the excitement of getting a’ new’ used car, some buyers don’t even take a test drive.  And when they do, it’s often only a short, ‘around the block’ drive … hardly sufficient to tell you much, other than to confirm the car runs.  Dealers will sometimes allow you to take the car home overnight for an extended ‘test drive.’  That won’t be possible with a private seller, but be sure you drive it at both street and highway speeds to check for smooth acceleration, shifting, and good braking.  Listen for squeaks, rattles or other noises, which might indicate a problem.
  9. Check the condition and operation of the convertible soft top – If the Thunderbird you’re looking at has the hardtop on, be sure to remove it and check the condition and operation of the soft top.  Raise and lower the soft top to check for proper operation and inspect the top itself for excessive wear, rips, tears, or other damage.
  10. Ask for a CarFax report – Not all 2002-2005 Thunderbirds come with a CarFax, but you should ask for one … especially if you’re buying from a dealer.  A CarFax report will reveal past accidents, damage, and other important information about the car. A CarFax won’t always tell you everything, but it’s a very good start, and could save you from some unpleasant and expensive surprises down the road.

Once you’ve purchased your 2002-2005 Thunderbird,  you’ll  probably want to add some custom touches and accessories, and you’ll need a reliable source for OEM replacement parts too.  Powersport/Thunderbird Specialties offers the largest selection of aftermarket accessories, OEM replacement parts, performance upgrades and collectibles for the 2002-2005 Thunderbird available anywhere!  Visit our online store at: or call us at:  310-589-1000.  We’ll be happy to answer any questions you have about your new Thunderbird and help you find that special accessory you’re looking for.

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