First, make sure your water pump is functional. There are many customer complaints on the original OEM water pump having plastic fins. These fins tend to break around 70,000 miles. If you’re around or past 70,000 miles, it’s recommended that you have the water pump replaced with one that has aluminum fins. If you think the water pump is not at fault, you should check the thermostat and make sure it isn’t defective. Note: If the needle in the temperature gauge instantly makes its way into hot (red) area right after starting a cold engine, it’s most likely a defective sending unit.

If you have double-checked or replaced the water pump, thermostat, radiator, sending units, and coolant and your Contour’s temperature reaches as high as the “L” in the NORMAL band, you probably shouldn’t worry, just as long as it doesn’t go past the “L”. A Ford service bulletin claims that the temperature gauge in the Contour reports high in the normal band. Typically, normal operating temperature would have the needle constantly centered in the normal band.

The temperature gauge in my Contour reports high in the normal band as well. During the summer months, the needle will quickly make its way to the “AL” area in NORMAL within 10-15 minutes. While idling in traffic, the fan will start to come on once the needle reaches the “L”. That is, if the air conditioner is off. As long as I keep the car moving, the pointer will slowly move back down. If there is little stop and go traffic and level terrain, the needle will usually stay at the “M” in NORMAL.

Starting a cold engine during 60-70 degree weather, the needle will typically stay in the middle of the NORMAL band after it warms up and the thermostat has opened. After several minutes, the needle will start moving closer to the high-end of the normal band.

During the cold winter months, the needle usually won’t go past the middle of the NORMAL band. Once I got it down from the “R” almost to the “N”. Wind chills were very low and I did a lot of coasting.

Note: Model years 1998.5, 1999, and 2000 do not have the word NORMAL written in the normal band.