2004 Ford Freestar Limited
2004 Ford Freestar Limited. Click image to enlarge

By Chris Chase; Photos by Greg Wilson

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Ford’s Windstar was a latecomer to the minivan class when it arrived on the market in 1995 and was sold alongside the truck-ish, rear-wheel drive/AWD Aerostar that had been available since the mid-80s.

For 2004, Ford re-named the Windstar the Freestar, and gave it new third-row seats that folded flat into the floor, and a new powertrain: a 4.2-litre V6 making 200 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. Otherwise, changes were cosmetic, amounting to revised styling inside and out.

Slow Freestar sales have prompted Ford to announce plans to drop the Freestar in the spring of 2007. Instead, the company wants to concentrate on more “crossover-ish” designs, like the Edge and a forthcoming “people mover” based on the Fairlane concept introduced at the Detroit auto show in January 2005, that should go into production in early 2008.

2004 Ford Freestar Limited
2004 Ford Freestar Limited. Click image to enlarge

While the Windstar suffered from a long list of reliability issues, many of these appeared to have been addressed in the Freestar. The new engine doesn’t seem to suffer from the faulty head gaskets that the old 3.8-litre motor did, and transmission and air conditioning problems are less frequent. One poster in the Freestar forum at Edmunds.com, however, says the key to avoiding transmission problems is to make sure to have the transmission fluid changed frequently, at least once every 50,000 kilometres, which should amount to once every two years for many drivers. According to Consumer Reports, Freestars still have brake issues, though we couldn’t find specifics.

Like its Windstar predecessor, the Freestar earned very good safety ratings. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the Freestar near perfect ratings in its frontal and side impact tests; the only non-five star rating came in front-seat occupant protection in side impacts, where the Freestar got four stars. The Freestar earned a “good” rating in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) frontal offset test, though side impact results aren’t as strong.

2004 Ford Freestar Limited
2004 Ford Freestar Limited. Click image to enlarge

With the optional side airbags, the Freestar earned an “acceptable” rating, and a “poor” rating without the side airbags, which were optional on all trim levels, except the top-line Limited model, which got them as standard equipment.

The Freestar’s bigger engine meant bigger fuel consumption numbers. Expect a Freestar to use more than 14 L/100 km in city driving, and about 9.5 L/100 km on the highway. While the old Windstar’s 3.8-litre engine used about the same amount of fuel on the highway, city consumption was better, at 13.5 L/100 km.

Pricing is an interesting topic with the Freestar. For 2006, Ford cut prices by $5,000 to $6,000, depending on the trim level in question, a decision that likely had a negative effect on resale values for used Freestars. In any event, Canadian Red Book lists Freestar values ranging from $13,025 for a base 2004 model, to $27,400 for a 2006 Limited model. Somewhere in the middle is a 2004 Freestar Limited, valued at $19,200.

2004 Ford Freestar Limited
2004 Ford Freestar Limited
2004 Ford Freestar Limited. Click image to enlarge

Going by Freestars for sale on AutoTrader.com, real world prices seem to stick pretty closely to Red Book values, so make sure you don’t overpay.

While the Dodge Caravan is still the champ of the minivan market in terms of sales, the Freestar seems to enjoy a better reliability record, even if it can’t match that of some import models. The torquey engine might make the Freestar a better choice than other minivans for light-duty towing for those buyers who’d rather not move up to an SUV. While the Freestar doesn’t excite us (what minivan does, really?), we do think it’s a reasonably dependable minivan at attractive prices.

Online resources

  • Ford-Forums.com – The Freestar gets its own forum here, but it doesn’t look like there’s a ton of specific info to be had.
  • FordForums.com – Here (note the non-hyphenated url), the Freestar gets lumped into a forum with other Ford vans, so be prepared to dig for the info you want
  • Ford Freestar forum at Edmunds.com – The forums at Edmunds.com are a good resource, with lots of information and advice posted by real-world owners.

Related stories on Autos

  • Test Drive: 2004 Ford Freestar Limited
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2004 Ford Freestar
  • Auto Tech: Ford borrows Volvo safety expertise

Manufacturer’s Website

  • Ford of Canada


Transport Canada Recall Number: 2005130; Units affected: 19

2004-2005: Certain Ford Freestar vehicles modified for wheelchair accessibility by Liberty Motor Company Inc. do not comply with the requirements of CMVSS 210. The second row bench seat only has one set of lower universal anchors (UAS) instead of the required two sets. Also, certain vehicles do not have tether anchor brackets for the bench’s two outboard seating positions. This non-compliance would prevent proper installation of a child seat to an outboard seating position. Correction: Owners should contact Liberty Motor Company and then bring their vehicles to a trusted service shop or Ford dealership to have two tether anchors and two UAS brackets installed.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004319; Units affected: 3,854

2004: On certain vehicles, the front wheel hub assemblies were not heat treated correctly. This condition may lead to the development of small cracks in the hub. If the cracks were to progress, this could eventually result in wheel separation. Wheel separation may lead to loss of vehicle control, and potentially result in a vehicle crash. Correction: Dealers will replace the front wheel hub and rotor assemblies.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004170; Units affected: 192,621

2004: Certain vehicles do not comply with the requirements of CMVSS 120. The Standard specifies that for vehicles other than passenger cars, the label information shall display after each GAWR, the size designation and, if applicable, the type designation of rims. This information was inadvertently omitted from the compliance label affixed to the affected vehicles. Correction: Since this does not pose any safety risk, no corrective action is required.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2003272; Units affected: 5,424

2004: On certain vehicles, the low-pressure power steering return line connection may not have been fully seated at the steering gear during vehicle assembly. If the return line is not fully seated, a power steering fluid leak may occur. A power steering fluid leak may create the potential for power steering fluid to come in contact with the exhaust system, which could result in smoke or fire. Correction: Dealer will inspect the power steering return line connection.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2006055; Units affected: 3,229

2005-2006: On certain vehicles equipped with Power Liftgate option, in the event of a liftgate strut malfunction, the liftgate may fall freely without warning after the liftgate is powered open. If the vehicle operator or passenger is standing beneath the liftgate when it falls, an injury may result. Correction: Dealers will reprogram the power liftgate module. The latest software version allows the motor to sense a falling liftgate and activate an un-commanded power close mode to control lowering of the liftgate in the event that a strut failure occurs.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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