Page Revised: 31 August 2020
Like many vehicles from the 1980s, we are at the point where some things on our cars might need replacement and there's no better example of that than with the weatherstripping. These rubber pieces are all that keep the rain and elements out of the car, while keeping comfortable air in. And generally our cars tended to have good weatherstripping from the factory; the water channeled out in key areas, and the cars were quiet enough for their time. But maybe you've noticed some air or water infiltration. Or perhaps some parts are torn or missing. This section should help you make informed decisions about replacing the weatherstripping across your car. We'll start toward the front of the vehicle then move toward the back. The information below is for all 1983-88 Cougars and Thunderbirds, except where noted.Weatherstripping is expensive—we're talking maybe more than what you paid for your entire car.
A word of caution before starting: as generally seems to be the case with all vehicles, weatherstripping is expensive. Like, we're talking maybe more than what you paid for your entire car. Unfortunately there seems to be no magic shortcut or good deals on replacement weatherstripping. It is going to cost you. As long as you are prepared for this going forward, the sticker shock will be a little more tolerable.
You should have two main seals in the hood area. One is the hood-to-header panel seal, an approx. 1" thin, semi-rigid piece that's held on the header panel with several screws (Ford p/n E3SZ-8326-A). A lot of times this piece will rip or tear near the latch area. Or sometimes it's missing altogether, as the screw holes are fiberglass and can snap off. Or perhaps the header panel was replaced and the piece is just plain gone. Technically it's an air deflector that helps funnel air back to the radiator; however, water will just drip out of the front bumper cover without it. But it does keep the headlight wiring protected from excess water and ice. You should consider having this piece if possible. New replacement seals are available at various places listed on this page.
The other main seal is the hood-to-cowl seal and again, its job is to keep water from running into the engine bay from the windshield and cowl area. There are about 12 nylon pins that hold it to the hood, and they can easily rip the weatherstrip. These pieces are available new, and the same one was used on the Cougar, Thunderbird, and Mark VII.
There are some other, smaller pieces under the hood as well. The hood-to-fender pieces keep water from getting around the hinges near the cowl area (original part numbers were E3SZ-16071-B and E3SZ-16072-B). These pieces are available new.
Also, you have a few front fender apron seals and front fender splash shields hanging around your lower front engine compartment. They are technically not "seals" but they do keep water and road grime front getting into the engine bay from the wheel wells. These rarely deteriorate or tear, but they can go missing due to lost fasteners. These are also available new (some minor trimming may possibly be needed).
Last, there are four hood bumpers that slide into slots on the hood. They keep the hood floating above the fenders. Again, they rarely go bad or missing, but new ones are available and should be identical to those used on Fox Mustangs.
Front Door, Outer
The beltline molding (aka "dew wipe") is one of the most commonly broken pieces of weatherstripping on the entire car, mainly because it's the only one that's really on the outside and relatively unprotected. Water, ice, and sun damage are very common. The main function of this piece is to keep water out of the door as much as possible. With each time the window is rolled up or down, this piece will "wipe" the outer window and wick water away. Some water, in normal use, will still drip into the door itself and find its way out of the drain holes; that's considered normal. But with broken weatherstripping here, you can imagine what happens—excess water will lay in the bottom of the door and cause rust rather quickly. And that can be downright disastrous.
For 1983-86 cars there is some good news: you can indeed restore your dew wipes to (roughly) factory condition. You can remove your beltline trim piece and take off the old outer molding. From the factory it's held on by staples; on replacement it will likely need held on by pop rivets, which may mean drilling some holes, but they won't be seen in normal use. And it doesn't matter if you have a vent window or not—the molding can be modified for either door style. Replacement beltline molding varies; we still have not come across the exact factory style, although there is some good universal stuff out there that will do the job. A few people have mentioned the Fairchild brand from Rock Auto, and we've also used this style before with acceptable results. It's a universal piece that's cut-to-fit. Of all the weatherstripping on the entire car, this piece seems to be the most inexpensive to replace using this universal piece.
We've also discovered beltline kits offered by Restoration Specialties & Supply, Inc. for a pretty decent overall price, considering it's an 8-piece kit.
Unfortunately for 1987-88 owners, the dew wipe is molded into the beltline trim piece and cannot be separated, like on earlier cars. To be technically correct, replacing the dew wipe requires replacing the entire beltline trim. We do not know of anyone selling these new; therefore you would need to find good, used pieces to replace yours in your car's style, or luck out and find NOS pieces (and don't hold your breath for that).
However...if you can cut the factory wipe section off your trim in a clean manner, it should be possible to install the same kits mentioned above on your trim. We know of several people that have done just that with good success.
Front Door, Inner
The window channel run which is exactly what it says: a channel inside which the window glass slides up and down. This part is unique in that it is exposed on both the exterior and interior, therefore there's double the chance that it can rot. We've seen some photos of this piece from cars in the southern U.S. and beyond, and the cracking is just unbelievable.
Right now there is no brand new channel run that we know about, that is specific for our cars. Again, this part is identical to the Mark VII (1983-86: Ford p/n E4SZ-6321597/6-C) but searching for that doesn't really help. The good news is that it can be adapted from other Ford cars of various model years.
Reader Doug has reported that he used 2008-11 Ford Focus channel runs (Ford p/n 8S4Z-6320556-B and 8S4Z-6320557-B) for his '86 Thunderbird with decent results. He says that they're not as long where they go down into the door as the stock pieces, but they're long enough to keep the window glass in place. He also states that they're not 100% perfect but they do seal well and function decently enough.
Other Ford cars might offer some solutions as well. Fox Mustang channel runs are a bit short but can likely work. Similarly, Ford Tempo/Mercury Topaz 2-door channel runs can work but only if you have the optional vent window, because it's also a tad shorter. Personally, we've used early Ford Ranger channel runs before with great results in our vent window car.
Universal channel run can be used. The trick is in the upper corner, where a 90-degree cut-and-glue is needed. That's the part that scares most people and rightly so. However, it can be done successfully, and the length can be tailored to match the factory pieces.
Right now there are a few people on the Facebook group pages that are working on some exclusive channel run solutions and when/if we get new info, we'll be sure to post that here.
Speaking of the vent window, there is a unique perimeter seal around the glass that is more or less one-piece in nature. We are unsure if that part is separate or part of the entire assembly. Replacement may need to be with the entire glass structure. More info here as it becomes available. See the Vent Window Latch Repair section for additional details.
Next we have the drip rail molding which channels water away from the interior and also makes sure you don't get a sudden downpour of water when you open the door. Generally they hold up well, although they can tear with age and extended use. Drip rails are available new.
The inner belt molding is just like the outer beltline molding except on the interior of the car. It's easily identifiable by the chrome strip running down the full length. This piece easily pops out of the door when the window is down, and is only held in by built-in clips. These inner belt moldings are available new, usually as a pair.
There is an upper door seal which is clipped in the front portion of the door, where it meets the A-pillar. Again, these usually do not get damaged but can rarely pop out and go missing. They are available new and are frightfully expensive. This part was also shared with the Mark VII.
And there is a lower door seal on the underside of the door that's held in by about 10 nylon pins. This seal keeps water and air from intruding through the lower door gap and into the car. Sometimes it can get torn, or even go missing if it's kicked enough times. It is available new and was shared with the Mark VII.
Finally, you can indeed get a door seal kit from Steele Rubber which includes the more popular weatherstrip parts mentioned above. That might save you some time and effort. (You may also need to sell your plasma and firstborn child to afford it).
Perhaps the most important inner seal, the inside door perimeter seal is the main barrier between the outside and your interior. The door closes upon it, after all. Therefore it's very susceptible to rips and tears, particularly where your feet will swipe the sill plate upon entry/exit from the car. Sometimes minor rips and tears and even some holes can be repaired using a good weatherstrip adhesive, and that's fine. But if yours is beyond that sort of help, there's good news: new perimeter seal weatherstrip is available. It's not cheap, we will again iterate. It was a common part used in the Cougar, Thunderbird, and Mark VII.
If you have a factory sunroof (flip up only), there is a sunroof seal that greatly helps with water and air infiltration (Ford p/n E3SZ-6351346-A). Also there is a seal that goes on the body that's identical to those used on other Fords of the era, including the Mustang. Please see the Glass Restoration & Replacement section for more details.
Similarly, you may want to replace your factory power moonroof seal. It is also available new through Sunroof Doctor. They also have a limited number of aftermarket power moonroof parts available, depending on the brand.
Last, we have found a new trunk seal to help tremendously with water intrusion. Generally they don't normally get all torn up but they can compress over time, which leads to air and water infiltration in some cases. We've found news ones at several places listed on this page, and for a decent price.
There are seals between the taillights and the rear attachment panel. The seals are circular in shape, pre-molded, and are considered part of the taillight housing assembly. On rare occasions they can fail and let water into the taillights. Sometimes they're just distorted but other times they will split at the factory seam. We have seen them sold separately but can't seem to find any part numbers or vendors at this point. If you need to replace them, you might consider getting new taillight housings and swapping those seals into yours.
Other miscellaneous rubber parts, like the hood, trunk, and door bumpers, are available new and are generally inexpensive. They're not really seals, but they do help keep things quiet and performing like new.
Where To Buy
So where exactly can you find these new parts? Until a few years ago, finding weatherstripping was pretty difficult and scattered amongst vendors on the Internet. That is, until Steele Rubber Products came along and started producing pieces for our cars. Because the general shape of a majority of the weatherstripping was similar to other Fords of the era, it was probably easy enough to get them into production (in particular, we likely have the Mark VII to thank for parts availability here). Steele seems to carry pretty much all of the weatherstripping mentioned above. We have no affiliation with them, just want everyone to know that they're a long-known trusted name in the auto restoration business that has finally begun to fill a need for our cars.
Interstingly, a company called Classique Cars Unlimited seems to sell the identical parts as Steele but for a bit less cost. And they take Paypal.
A lot of people have had success with used, but good, weatherstripping from eBay, swap meets, or the local salvage yard (see article below). That would certainly cost less and might be worth the time and effort to hunt them down.
Some of the other odds-and-ends vendors have been linked in the sections above, as required. Should you find another vendor for weatherstripping please don't be afraid to let us know.
Our friend and longtime contributor Zach passed along info from his own weatherstrip replacement, for both the window channel run and outer belt molding:
"Because my car (1986 Cougar XR-7) was in Florida for 20 years, ALL of the trim around the windows was totally destroyed. The dew wipes were especially bad, but it all had to be replaced. Pulling on the trim would result in it shattering in my hands. It hardly served a purpose anymore. The glass would rattle whenever the doors were shut!
"My biggest problem was the window weatherstripping that goes around the top and side of the rest of the window frame. I went to the junkyard to look for a possible replacement. I spent an hour looking at Lincolns until I stumbled onto an unexpected find: A 2-door 1992 Mercury Topaz. When I examined the window channel trim, it seemed like a close enough match. I had no idea how perfect it was. This stuff fit absolutely PERFECT into the window frame. Absolutely everything matched up. In fact, I believe that if the '86 had normal windows, the entire piece would likely fit perfectly. This is good news for people who have full glass or vent windows.
"Simply crank down the windows and begin to work out the weatherstripping. Begin at the top and work to the back corner. There will some extra weather stripping that goes down inside the door. This is so the glass doesn't work its way out of the channel. Install the weather stripping just like it is in the Tempo/Topaz. If you have vent windows, you can simply cut off what you don't need and trim it to meet up with the vent channel felt. The best part is that it's the nice, soft, pliable rubber.
"I ordered the beltline weather stripping (dew wipes) and the vent window channel trim from JC Whitney. The vent window channel trim simply gets snugged right into the channel, then some minor trimming of the material is required.
"The vent window channel trim simply gets snugged right into the channel, then some minor trimming of the material is required. The dew wipes had to be pop riveted to the trim piece with careful measurement, but they seem to be very solid and correct for the design.
"These windows are AIR TIGHT now. It's amazing!"