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Used car review Ford Falcon EL 1996-1998

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Graham 'Smithy' Smith reviews the used Ford Falcon EL 1996-1998, its fine points, its flaws and what to watch for when you're buying it.

Ford ruled the road when the EL Falcon was launched in 1996. The company had assumed the top sales spot in the early 1980s and cruised into the 1990s still comfortably ahead of archrival Holden, which was recovering from its financial meltdown in the mid-1980s.

The EL was the last in the line of aerodynamic Falcons that began with the EA in 1988, and arguably the best. It was also the last model before the ill-fated AU, which sent Ford into a financial tailspin that rivalled Holden’s of a decade earlier.


Ford spent $40 million on what was a comprehensive facelift designed to fix the problems that had plagued the all models of the Falcon since the EA, including the EF that immediately preceded the EL.

Compared to the EF there was a number of relatively minor cosmetic changes, including new grilles, headlamps, bumpers, tail lights and wheel trims.

Thicker, tinted glass and added dash insulation reduced noise inside the Falcon, while new seats increased headroom, which made it more comfortable for taller drivers.

While the external changes were welcome the big improvements on the EL were underneath where changes to the suspension and steering dramatically improved the handling.

The EF had been criticised for a handling imbalance that made it seem as though the front and rear were having a domestic dispute and weren’t talking to each other.

The problem was that the rear suspension roll rate was markedly different to the front roll rate which manifested itself in the feeling that the car was lurching into oversteer when changing direction. The perception was worse than the reality, but it was enough for many customers to feel uncomfortable and the complaints rolled in.

Ford responded by lowering the rear roll centre and altering the geometry of the front suspension to improve the steering response. Other changes to the front suspension bushes, shock absorbers, and steering made the handling more linear.

It was a major improvement and the EL felt much more stable on the road.

Ford offered a choice of two familiar engines. There was the 4.0-litre single overhead camshaft six-cylinder engine that had an alloy cylinder head and fuel injection and produced 157 kW at 4900 revs and 357 Nm at 3000 revs.

The other was a 5.0-litre overhead valve V8. It was also fuel-injected and boasted 165 kW at 4500 revs and 388 Nm at 3000 revs.

It was possible to link the six to a five-speed manual gearbox, but most buyers opted for the four-speed auto. The only choice for V8 buyers was a four-speed auto.

On the road the Falcon six delivered heaps of torque, which made it easy to drive and great for towing, while delivering reasonable fuel consumption for the time. A GLi sedan would typically return around 12.0 L/100 km in city traffic and 8.0 L/100 km when cruising the highway, while the V8 would do 14.5 L/100 km and 9.0 L/100 km under similar conditions.

The Falcon model range kicked off with the GLi sedan and wagon, which came with a decent array of standard equipment for the time, including power mirrors, cloth trim, lumbar adjustment in the front seats and remote central locking with an engine immobiliser.

Move up the range to the Futura and you got cruise, ABS, and power front windows.

Then there was the prestige Fairmont, which came with alloy wheels, auto air, trip computer, six-speaker sound, and power windows front and rear.

Next came the Fairmont Ghia that had a more powerful, 162 kW engine, nine-speaker sound system, six-stack CD player, LSD, leather trim and lashings of chrome.


Pay $4000-$7500 for a GLi sedan, add $500 for a wagon. Add $750 for a Futura, $1000 for a Fairmont, $1500 for a Fairmont Ghia.


The EL is fundamentally sound. Without abusing them it’s really hard to kill them off, but irritating little things that stemmed from questionable build quality and development shortcomings also plagues them.

Check everything on the car to make sure they work, from lights to wipers, radio, heater, and air-conditioning.

Falcons of the era are renowned for problems with the air-conditioning controls and they’re expensive to replace so make sure all is well there.

There are also reports of the door locks opening by themselves on hot days. It was more of a problem on earlier models, but reports still come in about the EL, which suggests it too had problems.

The six-cylinder engine is prone to head gasket leaks, even with as few as 50,000 km on the odometer. Water pumps can also be a problem so check to make sure there are no signs of coolant in the oil and the temperature gauge is sitting where it should. Water pumps can give trouble, and oil leaks are common from the rear main bearing seal and the timing cover seal.

The four-speed electronic auto transmission is a problem area depending on use. The transmission carries barely enough oil for the job and it’s not uncommon to see them being rebuilt after 140,000-150,000 km. Signs of problems can be flaring on upshifts and a reluctance to engage top gear.

Brake wear is a problem. To achieve short stopping distances, most manufacturers, Ford included, fit the cars with hard brake pads and soft disc rotors. This means it’s usually necessary to replace the disc rotors at the same time the pads are replaced, which occurs at intervals of 50,000-60,000 km. Most mechanics replace the factory-fitted pads with softer equivalents, which extends the disc life and makes ongoing maintenance less expensive.


Primary safety was upgraded in the EL with the adoption of the then latest generation of Bosch ABS anti-skid brakes, which were standard on all models except the GLi where they were optional.

An important safety consideration now is that the EL Falcon was the only Australian-built car at the time to feature a driver’s airbag standard on all models, with a passenger’s side airbag available as an option.


• Squeaks and rattles in body.

• Noisy suspension.

• Floaty ride.

• Unreliable electrics.

• Auto transmission problems

• Engine oil leaks.

• Roomy interior and good boot.


• Holden Commodore – 1997-1999 – $7000-$12,500

• Toyota Camry V6 – 1997-1998 – $7500-$12,000

• Mitsubishi Magna V6 – 1996-1997 – $4000-$6000


Ageing big car with sturdy fundamentals that make them hard to kill, but they’re let down by small irritating things.



Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 26 comments

  • my 97 Futura with 300,000 on the clock was free ! bad oil leak from the sensor cost $15 and loss of a lot of skin to fix it's a great car and smooth as silk the brown interior seems to fall apart because of sunlight but was able to get all the bits for free from a wreck. The grey trims didn't have that problem so hell, the're cheap as chips cars so replace the brown bits with grey, still looks OK. Just started lossing some of the clear coat on the paint, seems to be a common fault. Got a couple of EL's and some half cars parked up for spares and they cost practically nothing as well. Laughing all the way to the pub 'cause the cars so cheap and good and i don't need to laugh all the way to the bank ! GO FORD ! this ones a little ripper !!

    Griz kitchener of NSW Posted on 16 September 2013 12:51pm
  • Whole family owns Fords because of me. Bought Mum an EBII Fairmont. Wife has a NCII and I have an EL. If I didn't know the issues with these cheap, reliable, issue ridden models, I would not buy them. I have always had Fords since 1987 and know how to check for issues and do the mechanical work myself if an issue arises.

    Ford Whisperer :-P of Brisbane Posted on 08 September 2013 10:23pm
  • for the car that won't start ,,,,It sounds like you have a flat/dead battery , try jump start it and from the crancking sound may be you can tell if it that or not if you have little experience .

    Adam Rayan of Blacktown, NSW Posted on 03 March 2013 5:11pm
  • i bought a lemon about 5 years ago. transmission problems, head gasket twice, not fixing it. probably only get$250 for it at the wreckers but still in good nick, reconditioned transmission, gas ok for next 10 years. spent alot of money on this car. grrrrr

    sharon williams of dandenong Posted on 15 February 2013 1:43pm
  • my wifes $200 EF wagon had for 5 years now has 660 000km original auto works well regularly serviced except for the sun gear noise. Smart lock computer problems are becoming annoying and expensive as sparkies need to almost fix it to find the problem hopefully it is over its problems now.

    blueovalfan of toowoomba Qld Posted on 29 January 2013 6:47pm
  • My car won't start. Starter kicks in but engine wont fire up plenty of fuel what do you think the problem is.BEM has been replaced a week ago HELP

    Comfort Valentino of Karrata WA Australia Posted on 17 December 2012 12:49pm
  • I bought my EL about 1 and a 1/2 years ago. It had 186,000 on the clock at the time. Only problems have been I had to get the exhaust replaced, air conditioning regassed, the gearbox oil topped up, and replaced the light behind the clock. Apart from that, it's been good. They're nice to drive on the highway.

    Tim Posted on 29 August 2012 5:36pm
  • if it misses in the rain you need a new coil

    derwood Posted on 27 June 2012 3:54am
  • I have a 1996 ford falcon futura it has done 312000km its has been going great until recently it just starting missing a couple of days ago.

    kris Posted on 14 March 2012 5:22pm
  • I have a 1996 sedan second hand Fairlane motor fitted new brakes 300 000 on clock great cheap car very reliable for 12 months have a electrical problem with cruise control and no brake lights working fuses switch all ok wiring is good finding info on cruise control not so good oh well another brick in the wall so to speak? as I said it was cheap!

    Redman of pinjarra Posted on 19 December 2011 12:56am
  • Very reliable vehicle, starts first time everytime. Central locking does eventually start to play up. A/c compressor eventually dies, after 12yrs use. disc rotors do eventually warp. I give this car thumbs up for hassle free driving. Good car to run on LPG, still plenty of power in the engine.

    Michel of belmont Posted on 19 November 2011 9:49am
  • I bought a wagon at 100,000km for $7000 8 years ago. Still going strong at 230,000 km. Only major items thus far are 2 coils and transmission servos, and faulty central locking. Bit thirsty around town, ok on the highway, but smooth, powerful, and can carry a big load. Probably the best of the basic falcons.

    twodoor monarch of adelaide Posted on 10 November 2011 12:21am
  • I have a '98 EL Wagon, and it has been super reliable since I bought it 5 years ago. My bigggest problem is warped brake rotors. I have machined them and replaced them, they work fine for a while then the problem comes back again. Annoying. I also had the same problem as Greg with the ventilation controls changing position when going up hills. I found a vacuum air hose had com adrift under the front of the car near the rear of the engine.

    Pete Posted on 12 October 2011 9:38am
  • I just bought 98 model. Brakes have started to squeak. AC compressor went. Replaced. Then a/c fan went. Still considering what action to take about that. It’s a dash out job. Central locking has started to spasm. I wonder why the hood lining was falling down and was pasted up just prior to my buying? Burning about 17l per 100 around town with very careful driving. Otherwise seems ok. Stay tuned …

    Steve Jones of Cairns Australia Posted on 07 September 2011 8:56pm
  • EL GLI sedan bought 3 days ago, gas 3 years new, but 320k and 3 weeks rego thought was a cheap buy, air cold, electrics good, body straight, at 1000 detailed up pretty has ford mags Bermuda green, old girl getting on, this could be risky auto flares on up shift 2nd 3rd when warm and under load mainly, risky buy with that in mind, can't see ABS but has light on dash, it is an option I see above, pity. But oh well, not the first auto EL which needs transplant or may talk to shop auto is sealed type, switches on box to clean up is common, bands to tighten perhaps I will see... wish me luck!

    peter lucas of sydney australia Posted on 25 August 2011 8:36am
  • I've had my EL since 2000 and it has been a very reliable car, the current mileage is 330,000 kms. Has always been a good starter and drives well. The only major replacements I can think of has been the radiator, front shocks and engine pipe to muffler. Unfortunately rust spots are now showing on the boot lid and skirting, no doubt from six years exposed to sea breezes. The gear selector vibrates at freeway speeds. The AC/heating does not work as well as they used to, and the air ducting has a funny habit of switching from front to demist when going up a hill, returning to normal on the slope down! The front windows are difficult to wind up easily. Rotors are prone to warping, a known fault. Air bag light has come on requiring inspection. Dual fuel has been good and only occasional spluttering when switching. Overall it has been pretty good, just keep in mind they're getting on in age as a second hand purchase.

    Greg of Wangaratta Posted on 12 July 2011 11:41pm
  • Hey I just recently bought into the 98 el fairmont range! And while bought very cheap, I can notice alot of work needs to be done! Just had a new head built, bit I'm noticing some issues as raised above , ac/ heating is on the blink( heating needs a new part) ride is very floaty and suspensions squeaks very easily! Also auto transmission has lost 3rd and 4thgear! Does anyone think that these are common and easily fixable? Or is this the sign of death? Car has done 320,000kms!!!

    Cameron thomas of ALBURY Posted on 09 July 2011 2:20pm
  • I have an EL SR6. Runs good but tracks like a dog. The previous owner who had it from new also recognised this problem and tried to fix it but no luck. Any suggestions?

    Tom Finlayson of Sydney Posted on 23 April 2011 5:55am
  • I brought a 96 EL wagon from a friend about 2-3 yrs ago, and it's had all sorts of problems since then. I paid $3K (including a brand spanking new gas conversion) and I reckon I have easily spent another $3K in work on it since then... I actually like the car, but it's not been cheap to maintain. The brakes certainly wear out fast! I just had to have the disks skimmed (again) and new pads. Plus, the radiator died and had to be replaced. The list of things that have been fixed or still need to be fixed is much longer than I want, but at the end of the day, it's cheaper to fix & maintain it than put myself $20-$40K in hock for a new car, which would cost lots to service anyway! For the most part, I'm happy with the old girl. She's pretty solid and all that extra space (wagon) is great.

    Eran of Perth Posted on 04 April 2011 12:01pm
  • I own a 97 EL , it was in perfect condition when I bought it , but doesn't like the rain. If I hit a big puddle it cough's and splutters, once it stopped all together.Does anyone know if it's a common problem?

    damon chambers of Warwick qld Posted on 28 November 2010 9:04pm
  • I agree its a cheap car, a large car , a classic car these days but also when it was new, simple to operate give it 15-40 oil every 5000ks and it will run well in to the 500,000-600,000km range and will perform like a new car, somewhere at 750,000-1000,000k "petrol only" the car starts to show some mechanical issues, but that is only the alternator, water pump, oil pump while the engine still keeps on going until it dies at 1,500,000ks or the longest one was 1,940,000ks the EFII ex taxi that died in 2009 at such high millage yet still returned 158.2kW at 4850rpm at the flywheel when tested at the dyno

    hendrix donansdson of brissy Posted on 15 October 2010 3:15pm
  • I brought my Ford Falcon wagon 98 EL a year n a half ago, I've driven it from perth to Broom and back & from Perth to Sydney n back apart from the collapsed headliner she has not missed a beat!! o n it cost me $700 what a machine

    Jeff Thompson of Perth Posted on 10 October 2010 11:13am
  • Lasted 10 years with my dad and 3 with me. Great car for its price, Fairmonts and XR6s for $5,000! You'd be mad not to buy one.

    Tim of Adelaide, SA. Posted on 29 September 2010 7:18pm
  • I would have to agree guys ive seen quite a few and never liked them til the 98 EL smile ... Oh, it was a bargain to at $500, $122 for the battery & $65 for a new coil smile

    SmurfyvSmurf of Mt Bryan, SA Posted on 07 September 2010 9:06pm
  • I own a 98 EL Falcon. It's been a great car as it has been ultra reliable for seven years and it's so easy and cheap to do basic servicing on. I love it.

    Howard Neely of Arcadia Posted on 20 April 2010 6:38am
  • You're sick... The EL Falcons are the best they ever made. 100/100

    mark of sydney Posted on 09 April 2010 10:00am
Read all 26 comments

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