Cougar Features & Options

Page Revised: 10 May 2019


Article by
Eric Dess

The Fox-chassis Mercury Cougar (along with its corporate twin, the Ford Thunderbird) was known for many things in the 1980s, but one of its best qualities was that it could be optioned out like a luxury car, but without the luxury car cost—relatively speaking, anyway. These cars commanded a price premium at the time: there was no doubt as to how much you would be stepping up from a "normal" car. Still, the amount of features and customization of options from the factory was outstanding. If you're new to these cars you're probably wanting to familiarize yourself with the options just a bit more. Or maybe you already own one but aren't sure how a feature works. This section will cover the most popular features and options available on these cars.

Standard Features Optional Features
VIN Information Auto Dim/Auto Lamp
Door Tag Information Cornering Lamps
Tire Tag Information Rear Courtesy Lamp
buildsheet Sheet Information Auto Dimming Rearview Mirror
Hood Release Power Door Locks
Parking Brake Information Power Windows
Hazard Flasher Fuel Filler Door Release/Trunk Release Buttons
Dimmer Switch / Flash-to-Pass Electronic Climate Control
Horn (Stalk Mounted) Illuminated Entry System
Wiper Switch Keyless Entry System
Headlamp Switch Programmable Memory Seat Switch (1987 20th Anniversary ONLY)
Automatic Floor Shifter
Power Antenna

VIN Information

The vehicle identification number (VIN) is a unique, sequential code given to every car manufactured in the U.S. and other countries. On the Cougar, the VIN can be found at the front driver's side corner of the dashboard (viewed through the windshield). The VIN is also printed on the driver's door tag. Beginning in 1987, the VIN number can be found on a theft-proof tag on every body panel on the car. You will need the VIN for things such as the car's title and insurance. Occasionally you may need VIN information for obtaining parts. To learn what your VIN means and how to decode it, click here.

Door Tag Information
Door Tag

Inside the driver's door jamb there is a tag affixed which includes information on the car's paint code, interior trim, spring types, rear axle code, and more. This tag is used as a reference when purchasing parts or determining the original equipment of the vehicle. As years have passed, some tags have shown premature wear from water intrusion, and some of the information may be obscured or not visible anymore. While there really is no other part of the vehicle that lists this information so concisely, you may get lucky and still have the build sheet, which repeats this information but not as succinctly.

For 1987-88 cars, there is an additional calibration code tag underneath the main tag. This corresponds to the calibration on the stock EEC-IV engine management computer, and this code is necessary if you are getting some replacement parts, particularly for the emissions system.

Tire Tag Information
Tire Tag

Inside the passenger's door jamb you will find a silver tag with tire information. This lists the tire sizes available from the factory for your model year, along with recommended tire pressure. PLEASE NOTE that these are original equipment sizes and may or may not reflect the tire size currently on your Cougar. You should use this tag when purchasing tires (if you are keeping the same size rims) or inflating them to specs. DO NOT exceed the recommended pressure listed on the tag.

Build Sheet Sheet Information
Build Sheet

Every vehicle originally came with a build sheet, which is a list of options that were available for the car at the time of manufacture. The build sheet will tell you exactly what was installed at the factory. In almost all cases you can find your build sheet on the underside of the passenger seat, between the foam and metal spring frame. To get to the sheet, you must remove the seat from the vehicle, unzip the material in back, remove the material, and then remove the foam. It is not suggested that you remove the sheet through the spring frame, as you will damage it, sometimes beyond repair. This is the most accurately-known location of the build sheet. If your Cougar does not have one in this location, it is possible that is may be somewhere else in the car (underneath the rear seat cushion, behind the rear interior panels, or even on the top side of the fuel tank), or it may have been previously removed. Also, the sheet will list codes when an option is filled. The meaning of the codes is still undetermined. If that information is ever obtained it will be posted here. Build sheets were very prized during the 1960's muscle-car era but its significance has diminished over time. Still, it is a valuable piece of information pertaining to your car and you may wish to keep it in a safe place.

Hood Release
Hood Latch

The hood release lever for 1983-84 Cougars is centered underneath the steering column. For 1985-88 models, the release lever was moved to the left kick panel, below the parking brake release. Once you've pulled the lever, the hood will pop up about an inch. To further open the hood, stand directly in front of the grille and use your hand to push up the release under the hood. The release is slightly to the left of center. Most 1983-86 Cougars do not have spring-loaded hinges, therefore you must use the prop rod, located on the radiator core support, to hold up the hood. All 1987-88 cars have spring-loaded hinges and do not require the prop rod.

Parking Brake Information
Parking Brake

The parking brake on these cars were all foot-operated, with a foot lever to the left of the driver's side footwell. There was no handbrake option available.

Some cars have the optional automatic parking brake release. When the parking brake pedal is pushed, the car is started, and the gear selector moved, the parking brake pedal will then automatically release. There is no nomenclature to determine this feature so you will have to try this to see if you have it. You may hear a hissing noise from underneath the dash as this occurs; this is the vacuum system for the lever and is considered normal. If you do not have this option, you will need to use the parking brake release lever on the lower dash. If your car is equipped with the optional push on/off pedal, there will be no release lever on the dash.

You should try to use the parking brake at least once a month with automatic cars, and every time for manual cars, and cars with the optional floor shifter. Be sure to keep the cables lubricated as this keeps the cables usable and free-moving. Freezing of emergency brake cables is a very common thing with these cars, and you never know when you're going to need the e-brake.

Hazard Flasher
Hazard Flasher

The hazard flasher button is located underneath the steering column, out of sight. It was placed here more for aesthetic reasons than practicality, so be sure to familiarize yourself with its location. The use the hazard button, simply pull down. To turn it off, push the button in. And in case you ever need to change it out, the hazard flasher pot is located on the TOP side of the fuse panel, above the regular flasher.

Dimmer Switch / Flash-To-Pass

To activate the headlight dimmer switch, pull the turn signal lever toward you until it clicks. To activate the flash-to-pass feature, briefly pull the lever toward you without making it click. All high and low beam lamps will temporarily be turned on as long as you hold the lever.

Horn (Stalk-Mounted)
Horn (Stalk-Mounted)

Owners of 1983 (and some early 1984) Cougars will find the horn button in the most inconvenient place—at the end of the turn signal stalk. You'll know this if you see a horn symbol on the end of the turn signal switch. All other Cougars from mid-1984 and up have the horn in the traditional location: the center of the steering wheel.

Wiper Switch
Wiper Switch

Ford began using the lever-activated wiper system in the early 1980's and it has been widely adopted by all car companies, in one form or another, ever since. You will find the wiper lever on the lefthand side of the steering column, behind the turn signal lever, more toward the dash. To simply turn on the wiper, push the lever up. If you have the optional delay wipers, one click will turn on the delay function; a second click will activate the low constant wipers; a third click activates the fast constant wipers. To set the delay, turn the end of the lever to the desired delay. The delay system is touchy so you must be patient, but it is infinitely variable.

Headlamp Switch
1983-84 Headlamp Switch

There were two different headlamp switches in these cars, depending on the model year. For the 1983-84 Cougars, Ford used the traditional pull knob to turn on the parking lamps and headlamps, and to adjust the dash lights and turn on the dome lamp. There was also an optional auto delay feature available that was incorporated into the same switch.

When the dash was redesigned for 1985 (and continuing through 1988), the headlamp switch was changed to a rather controversial push-on/off rocker type switch (adopted from its corporate cousin, the Lincoln Mark VII), and a separate thumbwheel was next to the switch for the dash lights and dome lamp. This headlamp switch is not as easy to find in the dark so please familiarize yourself with it.1985-88 Headlamp Switch After using it for awhile, it will become second nature to you and you'll find that it's not that bad of a design; it's just different, and sometimes different isn't necessarily better! (Incidentally, Ford went back to the traditional pull knob-type headlamp switch with 1989 redesign of the Cougar.)

Auto Dim / Auto Lamp System (Optional)
Auto Dim / Auto Lamp System (Optional)

AUTO DIM allows you to have the bright lights constantly on for nighttime driving, and they'll dim with oncoming traffic. This is handy for unlit streets or open country driving, but not so good for driving in the city with a lot of street lighting. AUTO LAMP will leave your headlamps on when you park the car for a specified interval that you set, and automatically activate the headlamps at night, without using the headlamp switch. To use any of these features, your headlamp switch must be OFF and the ignition must be ON. Owners of 1983-84 Cougars will find the autolamp feature only, as a dial on the headlamp switch. If your 1985-88 car has the optional auto dim/auto lamp system, you'll find two thumbwheels next to the headlamp switch. The key to the systems is a photoelectric sensor that measuring incoming light. On 1983-84 cars, the sensor is on top of the dashboard, driver's side and is a small dome. For 1985-88 cars, the sensor is located directly underneath the rearview mirror and looks like a small camera. Be sure to keep the windshield clean in these areas.

NOTE: You can use the AUTO DIM feature independently of the AUTO LAMP system, with the headlamp switch on, but you must manually turn the headlamp switch off.

To set the AUTO DIM feature, roll the thumbwheel upward, toward MAX. The amber AUTO DIM indicator should light up on the panel. If not, pull the dimmer switch until it clicks. You can then adjust the sensitivity of the auto dim to your tastes. The more the wheel is turned toward MAX, the earlier the brights will dim to oncoming traffic. For most situations, the wheel will probably be somewhere in the middle. You can turn off the auto dim, either by turning the wheel all the way down until the indicator turns off, or clicking the dimmer switch.

To set the AUTO LAMP /auto headlamp feature, roll the thumbwheel upward, toward MAX. The more the wheel is turned toward MAX, the longer the lights will stay on after the car is turned off (up to 4 minutes max). This also turns the headlmaps on and off automatically. You can turn off the auto lamp feature by either turning the thumbwheel all the way down to OFF, or turning on the headlamp switch.

Cornering Lamps (Optional)
Cornering Lamps (Optional)

You can easily tell if your Cougar is equipped with cornering lamps by looking at the fender molding in front of the front tires and seeing a whitish-colored lens cut into the molding. Cornering lamps are intended to illuminate the sides of the car when making a corner, so that you may see objects that could potentially become a hazard. It is a safety feature found on most premium luxury cars. Every time you use your turn signal, a cornering lamp for that side will illuminate approximately 1 second after the signal is begun. The lamp will stay constantly lit until the signal terminates, whereby the cornering lamp stays on about 1 second longer. The lamps will ONLY come on with your turn signals. They do not come on with the hazard lamps. You can access the bulb from directly underneath the lamp on the fender.

Rear Courtesy Lamps (Optional)
Rear Courtesy Lamps (Optional)

If your Cougar has the optional rear courtesy lamps, you will see two round silver bezels sunk into the rear sail panels inside the car, or on 1983 models, on the base of the console. The switch for the lamps is located on the back side of the console (or consolette). These lamps can only illuminate when the car is running, or the key is turned back to ACC, with the switch pushed. They are intended for use by rear passengers.

Auto-Dimming Rearview Mirror (Optional)
Auto-Dimming Rearview Mirror (Optional)

If your Cougar has the auto-dimming rearview mirror, you'll see a small photoreceptor cell on the bottom of the mirror, facing you. There is also another cell on the front side of the mirror. The two receptors work in conjunction to measure both oncoming and rear-entering light. If a certain amount of light is detected, the mirror will automatically turn (dim). This is handy for night driving. To use the automatic function, turn the switch to ON/AUTO and adjust the thumbwheel between the NEAR and FAR positions. A small green LED indicator will light up when the mirror is in AUTO mode. To manually adjust the mirror, turn the switch to OFF.

Power Door Locks (Optional)
Power Door Locks (Optional)

A very common option on Cougars was power door locks. Throughout the 1983-88 model year run, there were several different types of door panels used. Therefore, the location of the power door lock switch will vary. Most panels will have the switch located down the panel from the door handle, although some models can have the switch located behind the handle itself. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the location of the switch.

Power Windows (Optional)
Power Windows (Optional)

It seems like almost all Cougars from 1983-88 had power windows. On all cars with power windows, the single switch is located between the seats—there were never any window switches mounted on the door panels. For 1983-86 models, pressing toward the front of the car lowers the window. For 1987-88, pressing toward the front of the car raises the window. Be sure to follow the nomenclature printed around the switch for proper operation.

Fuel Filler Door Release/Trunk Release Buttons (Optional)
Fuel Filler Door Release/Trunk Release Buttons (Optional)

The yellow power trunk release button can be found inside the glove box, lefthand side, in all cars 1983-88. It works only with the ignition turned to ON or ACC. The orange fuel filler door release button is found below the power trunk release button (1985-88), or inside the console next to the courtesy light (1983-84). It has constant power and can be pressed anytime. There is also a manual release lever for the fuel filler door, located inside the trunk on the righthand side.

Electronic Climate Control (Optional)
Electronic Climate Control (Optional)

The electronic climate control (ECC), sometimes known as automatic temperature control or ATC, allows you to automatically adjust the interior temperature to your settings, and also adjust the location of airflow. Owners of 1983-84 cars have a simple slide lever adjustment for the desired temperature. For 1985-88 owners, the digital display will show the temperature in Farenheit (or Celcius when the E/Km button on the message center is pushed, if your car has the full digital dash cluster).

To cool the car off, press the COOL button. Each push of the COOL button will lower the interior temperature 1 degree. Or, you can hold the button in for faster incremental cooling. Release when the desired cooling temperature is reached. The display will go to 60 degrees F, which indicates maximum cooling.

To warm the car up, press the WARM button. Each push of the WARM button will raise the interior temperature 1 degree. Or, you can hold the button in for faster incremental heating. Release when the desired heating temperature is reached. The display will go to 90 degrees F, which indicates maximum heating.

To turn the system on, press the OFF/AUTO button. Press the same to turn the ECC off.

To adjust the fan speed, press LO for low speed, LO and HI simultaneously for medium speed, and HI for high speed.

To adjust the airflow, press the PANEL and/or FLOOR buttons:
Panel only: press PANEL.
Panel and Floor/Hi-Lo: press PANEL and FLOOR simultaneously.
Floor only: press FLOOR.
Defrost and floor (mix): press FLOOR and defrost (windshield icon).

To use the a/c compressor and manually override the ECC settings, press the A/C button. Note that one of the airflow buttons (PANEL, FLOOR, etc.) must also be pushed to initiate this.

To use the defroster, press the defrost button (windshield icon). This also allows air from the side window demisters.

Illuminated Entry System (Optional)
Illuminated Entry System (Optional)

You can easily tell if your car has the illuminated entry system if your outside door locks are rectangular and not round. Inside the lock is an illuminated ring that activates with the system as well. If the doors are shut and you pull the door handle up (or you activate the keypad for the keyless entry system, if so equipped), the interior lights will go on and the rings will light up. Also, when you enter the car and shut all doors, the interior lights and rings will illuminate for about 25 seconds, or until the ignition is turned on. When you exit the vehicle, the interior lights will stay on for about 25 seconds after you shut the door. This is a safety convenience feature. Should you ever need to replace the illuminated entry module, it is located on a metal panel behind the back seat on the driver's side.

Keyless Entry System (Optional)
Keyless Entry System (Optional)

If your car has the optional keyless entry system, there will be a numeric keypad directly above the driver's door handle. This allowed the driver to unlock his door, the passenger door, and the trunklid via the keypad (without using a key). There is no keypad on the passenger side. Also, the keypad gives the illusion of a possible 10 digits for security purposes. There are only 5 buttons.

To unlock just the driver's door, enter the 5-digit code on the vertical bar line on the keys. Within 5 seconds of the driver's door unlocking, press the 3/4 button to unlock the passenger door. Within 5 seconds of unlocking either, press 5/6 to unlock the trunklid. To lock all the doors, press 7/8 and 9/0 simultaneously. If you wait more than 5 seconds to enter any of the codes, or wait longer than 5 seconds between pressing keys, the system will time out and you will need to start over.

If you have purchased the vehicle and do not know its current key code, you can override that code and program your own. But first, you need the original code for the keyless entry. You can find that in four places:

1. On the outside of the computer keyless entry module in the trunk;
2. The owner warranty card;
3. On a sticker on the inside of the trunklid (usually on the righthand trunk hinge); and
4. A reminder card in the glovebox.

Enter the original code, then within 5 seconds press the 1/2 button. Then within 5 seconds of each other, enter the new 5-digit code. If you ever wish to erase your new code, enter the original code, then press 1/2 for six seconds. That will clear out the memory for that code. The original code will always work though, so you may wish to write it down or memorize it.

You can find the keyless entry module located on a metal panel behind the back seat on the driver's side. It is easier to access the panel through the trunk. Remove the cardboard liner, remove the screw on the topside of the panel, and it will swing down.

Programmable Memory Seat Switch (1987 20th Anniversary Only)
Programmable Memory Seat Switch (1987 20th Anniversary Only)

Owners of 1987 20th Anniversary Cougars will find a programmable memory seat switch located on the driver's door panel. The function of this switch is to remember driver's seat settings for up to 3 different drivers. The buttons are numbered 1 and 2, but the 3 set is activated by holding 1 and 2 simultaneously.

To program a memory position, the car mush be in either Park or Neutral, with the engine either running or off. Adjust the driver's seat to your liking. Then press the SET button. A small lamp will come on, and you then have 5 seconds to press either 1, 2, or both buttons for position 3. If you wait longer than 5 seconds, the SET lamp will go off and you must start over. Also, if you adjust a power seat during memory recall, the recall function is cancelled until reactivated.

To use the programmable seat function, simply press 1, 2, or both buttons for 3.

Automatic Floor Shifters (XR7 and other optioned models)
Automatic Floor Shifters (XR7 and optioned models)

If your car has a floor shifter for the automatic transmission, be aware that you should always use your emergency brake when parking the vehicle. These cars were manufactured before many federally-mandated changes were made to the floor shift parking system. Therefore, with a floor shifter the car can be put into gear at any time. Please exercise extreme caution when parking the car.

One thing you'll notice is that you cannot directly remove the key when the car has been parked and you shut the engine off. This is a safety feature on all Ford vehicles that have a factory floor shifter, including the Mustang. To remove your key, you must depress the white button on the left underside of the steering column, while turning the key back to the Lock position. Only then can you remove the key safely. DO NOT attempt to modify this system.

Power Antenna (Optional)
Power Antenna (Optional)

One of the more interesting features of Cougars equipped with a factory power antenna is that the antenna does not go up automatically when the radio is turned on. A better description would be a "manual power antenna". You must hold the switch (1983-84: located on the lighter panel; 1985-88: located on the dash to the right of the steering column) to either extend or retract the antenna, either with the car running or the key turned back to Accessory, and let off when fully extended or retracted. The antenna WILL NOT automatically retract when you shut the car off, so please keep this in mind when parking the car or taking it through a car wash. While it may seem a little odd that Ford did this, it is an absolutely handy feature when installing an aftermarket tape or CD deck. You can play your tape or CD with the antenna down—a nice convenience since you only use the antenna when you need it, saving the antenna motor significant wear and tear. Almost everyone agrees that this is one of the coolest functions of the car.