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Q. I have a 96 Ford Windstar van with a 3.8 liter engine.

I seem to have one problem following another, most electrical. Currently my A/C is not working. I have traced the problem to the A/C clutch cycling pressure switch located on the accumulator/drier. The problem started out as intermittent. But now the switch is always open which prevents the clutch from engaging. I have jumpered around the switch and all seems to be fine. The air temp seems to be fine. Should I suspect the switch, or should I try to add a can of refrigerant? Also can I add R-134a using my old R-12 recharge kit?

I also had the transmission fail to engage like there was no fluid once a few weeks ago. I checked the fluid and added just a little for good measure. No trouble since. Any thoughts?

Also noticed that my key can be pulled from ignition easily with the engine on. I have strange things happen sometimes while driving, like audible alert for door coming on then going back off, dome light staying on long after doors shut sometimes.

Thanks for any input, I am tired of giving my Ford dealer $200-300 for each visit, just to turn around and have something new pop up shortly.

A. You have what we call in the business a "laundry list." There's nothing here that we can't clear up in a short time.

First off, the A/C... that switch on the drier is a low pressure cut-off switch. It's there to keep the A/C compressor from coming on when the freon level gets too low. This will keep the compressor from getting damaged because the lubricating oil flows with the freon. Ford has discontinued the use of an A/C sight glass which allows you to see the freon, so there's no quick and easy way to tell if you are low. From what you describe, low freon is the problem. This begs the question; if the freon is low, where did it go? There's only one possible answer, you have a leak somewhere.

Most likely one of the "O" rings that seal the connections is bad and is allowing the freon to leak out. This is a very common problem with Fords. Adding freon without fixing the leak is not only expensive, it's against the law punishable by up to a $50,000.00 fine. The only way to correct this is to take it to a shop that has the required equipment to service the system. They can recover and recycle the remaining freon, pressure test the system to locate the leak(s) and replace the freon with the correct amount.

R-12 and R-134A are NOT interchangeable and never should be mixed. Damage to the compressor and internal components will occur. A/C service and repair is not a job for the do it yourselfer, especially now with all the EPA regulations regulating the use of freon.

As far as the transmission goes, it sounds like a good fluid and filter change are in order here. As the fluid gets old, gum and varnish can build up in the valve body of the transmission and cause the valves to stick. This will give erratic transmission operation.

As far as the ignition switch and key go, this happens when the key gets worn and doesn't sit in the tumblers properly. Having a new key cut from the old one will not solve the problem. Somewhere in the documentation that came with the car is a key number. Take that number to the dealer and they can make you a new key. If you can't find the key number, go to the dealer you bought the car from and they will have it recorded in the deal package. If all else fails, Ford can search it's database and give you the key numbers. Of course the other possibility is the lock cylinder could be bad, but I don't feel it's a strong possibility.

And last, but certainly, not least... the mysterious dome light and door warning problem. I'll never forget the first time I ran into that probelm on a car. I spent two days trying to figure out where the problem was. Needless to say I did not endear anyone concerned to me in that time.

The problem is probably not electrical, it's the door. Go out to your car and look at where the back of the door meets the body. It should sit flush and even with the body. If it's sticking out, then the door striker needs to be adjusted in. If it's sitting out to far, it will, just barely, close the door switch. Then as you drive, the body flexing will open and close it at the strangest times. This is easy enough to check out. Start the car and close the doors. Push out on the lower rear corner of the door and see if the lights and chimes come on. If it does, bingo! You found the problem. And don't limit the test to just the drivers door, all the doors can be checked this way.

Again I must rise in defense of the new car dealership. You will pay more for a repair at the dealership, there's no question about that. But you also get a lot of things that you don't see. You get quality, trained Technicians that know your car inside and out. They go to school 3 or 4 times a year to get trained on every system of your car. You get the most up to date diagnostic equipment to find out exactly what is wrong and fix it right the first time. You get an extensive nationwide support system and a direct link to the factory for service bulletins and information. Not to mention the right parts designed for your car.

You will not get this at the local garage. That is not to say that the Technicians are not just as good, they just don't have the same service support systems. Shop around for a good price on a repair, but don't skimp on quality. As my favorite tool dealer always says; "Quality is not expensive, it's priceless."

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