If you own a 1998 to 2003 Ford Windstar, watch out because the rear axle on your minivan may be in danger of breaking. After receiving numerous complaints from the owners of 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003 Ford Windstar minivans regarding rear axle failures, a recall has been issued that covers nearly half a million minivans. Vehicle owners are urged to take their vehicle to a Ford dealer to have the rear axle inspected, and repaired or replaced if necessary. You can call Ford at 1-866-436-7332 for further details.
Here is the official NHTSA recall notice (10V385000):
The amazing thing about this recall is that rear axles almost NEVER fail. Rear axles and other major structural components in the vehicle's chassis and suspension are supposed to be engineered to withstand the normal loads and rigors of everyday driving for the life of the vehicle. Apparently, the rear axles on Windstars were either under-engineered for use under a minivan, or there was a defect in the grade of steel used to manufacture the axles.
From the photos I've seen of broken rear axles on Windstars, it is obvious to me that the axles are failing as a result of metal fatigue, not corrosion. The break occurs in the middle portion of the axle, where flex is greatest. Like bending a steel paperclip back and forth repeatedly, eventually the metal fatigues, cracks and breaks. In the case of the rear axle on the Windstar, the cumulative effect of driving on rough roads and hitting bumps and potholes causes the axle to flex and bend in the middle. After tens of thousands of miles of driving, a crack starts to form. The crack propagates and eventually causes the axle to snap in half.
If the rear axle breaks while you are driving your Windstar, the results could be very serious because it may cause you to lose control. A rollover or crash is a very real possibility.
Do NOT put off having your rear axle inspected. Have it inspected as soon as possible. If you cannot get your minivan to a Ford dealer, take it to an independent repair shop, tire store or other automotive service facility and have someone check the axle for cracks. A bright shop light should be used to inspect the entire axle. Pay close attention to the center section of the axle, looking for small hairline cracks on any surface.
If the axle is cracked, your minivan is unsafe to drive and should NOT be driven on the highway or in heavy traffic due to the possibility the axle may suddenly fail without warning.
The fix for a cracked axle is to replace it, preferably with a new one from Ford. The cost to replace the old axle with a new one may be as much as $1000 when you figure in parts and labor. The rear axle for the Ford Windstar is part number 2F2Z4B435AA and the list price is $497.82. Labor to replace the axle is about 4 hours @$100/hour.
A repair shop might be able to find a used axle from a salvage yard for around $150 to $200, plus labor to install it at their hourly labor rate (which is usually somewhat less than a dealership). But there is no guarantee a used axle may not crack. Personally, I would avoid installing a high mileage used axle because of the metal fatigue issue. The only way to know if a used axle is crack-free would be to have it Magnafluxed (a test procedure that uses a strong magnetic field and steel powder to detect small invisible cracks).