Ford Focus RS Mk3 Buyer’s Guide & History

The different generations of the Ford Focus RS are some of the most exciting hot hatches of their respective periods and the third-generation model continued this trend. The Focus RS Mk3 was widely lauded by motoring journalists from all across the globe for not only being an excellent performance car, but also a great as an everyday driver for daily commutes and longer distance trips.

In this guide we are going to be looking at everything you need to know about buying a Ford Focus RS Mk3, from its history and specifications to common problems and how to get yourself the best deal on one.

How to use this Ford Focus RS Mk3 Buyer’s Guide

To give you a bit of background information about the Ford Focus RS Mk3 we will be covering the history and specifications of the car first. Following this we will be diving into the buyer’s guide portion of this article and then we will look at more general used car purchasing advice. Check out the table of contents below to skip to the section you want to read (or just read it all).

The History of the Ford Focus RS Mk3

Credit: Ford

With the second-generation Ford Focus RS being such a hit (you can read our buyer’s guide here), there was little doubt that a Mk3 model would follow at some point. Ford would base the third generation Focus on their global C-car platform, with the majority of the design work taking place at the company’s development centre in Cologne, Germany.

The new platform was said to be one of the largest platform programs in history at the time, with the Focus sharing about 60 percent of its components with the Volvo S40 and V50, and the Mazda 3.

Ford introduced the new Focus at the 2010 North American Auto Show with production beginning in December of the same year. The company would introduce a face-lifted version of the third generation Focus at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show.

This updated Focus would come with a raft of changes to both the interior and the exterior. Ford’s designers altered the headlights to be thinner and sharper, and combined them with a new trapezoidal grille that gave the Focus a much sportier appearance.

On the inside, the old button centric centre console and dashboard was replaced with an all-new unit with an eight-inch touchscreen. Ford also improved the quality of the plastics on the inside and the steering wheel was changed to a three-spoke design.

Hints of the RS

The third iteration of the Focus RS was talked about as far back as August 2011, when Ford’s global boss for small cars, Gunnar Herrmann, revealed that the car was in the works. In December 2014, Ford reconfirmed that the RS was coming and would be powered by an engine from their EcoBoost range. The following month Ford released a teaser video of the new RS with a message confirming that the car would be previewed on the third of February.

The Ford Focus RS Appears

Ford’s furious four-wheel drive, turbocharged hot hatch made its official debut during a web-streaming event from Cologne. While details were initially quite light, it was confirmed that the Focus RS would essentially feature the same 2.3-litre Ecoboost engine found in the Mustang, but with a new twin-scroll turbo and a larger intercooler. Ford’s engineers also cast the engine’s head from a tougher alloy and fitted an uprated radiator and exhaust system.

The powerful four-cylinder engine was combined with a six-speed manual transmission and a bespoke all-wheel drive system that is capable of continuously varying the torque balance both front-to-back. Rather than opting for a traditional limited slip differential or e-diff, Ford decided to go with a unique mechanical solution.

Ford Performance director, Dave Pericak, said at the time “We’re using an all-wheel drive system we believe no one else is. The RDU has a clutch at the front and twin clutches at the back, one on either side of the diff. So we can control the torque front-to-back but also side-to-side. We push the car around the corner, we don’t slow the car down.”

“It’s an all-new AWD system designed specifically for the RS. The capability is unbelievable. It’ll shock you when you get behind the wheel. We didn’t want to do a warmed-over version of the last RS. We wanted a new level.”

The new system was a radical departure from the old front-wheel drive setup that the previous Ford Focus RS had, which despite its much lauded ‘RevoKnuckle’ front suspension, still had oodles of torque steer. Ford’s engineers also worked their magic on the chassis and suspension, giving the RS stiffer spring rates, bushes and anti-roll bars. A two-mode damper system was introduced to allow drivers to switch between road and track use.

To the disappointment of some, the new RS featured toned down styling when compared to the previous gen. However, it was still instantly recognisable as a fast Ford, with its 19-inch alloys, massive rear wing, gaping mouth, and sporty tailpipe and diffuser arrangement. While a number of parts were different, Ford’s designers decided to keep the standard car’s bonnet and front and rear wings.

On the inside, the RS featured several upgrades over the standard car, including Recaro sports seats, alloy pedals, a flat-bottomed, leather-clad steering wheel, and a simpler dashboard layout, which included a standard 8-inch colour touchscreen and Ford’s Sync2 connectivity system.

The Focus RS Goes to Geneva

Ford unveiled the full production version of the Focus RS Mk3 at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show. They announced that the car would produce as much as 345 bhp (257 kW) at 6,000 rpm and 470 Nm (346 lb-ft) of torque at 3,200 rpm. With all this power, 0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) was done and dusted in as little as 4.7 seconds and the furious little Ford could keep on pulling up to around 266 km/h (165 mph).

Final Year of the Focus RS Mk3

Credit: Ford

As with previous generations of the Focus RS, the Mk3 didn’t stick around long. 2018 marked the final model year for the car and Ford decided to release a special ‘Final Edition’ RS that featured a new Quaife mechanical limited-slip differential. Despite being the last hurrah of the Mk3, no power and torque upgrades were made to the car.

Ford only sold the RS Final Edition in two colours, Race Red and Nitrous Blue. Other notable features of the special edition RS included a gloss black roof, spoiler, and mirror caps. Only 1,000 of these cars were made available in the United States, while Canada would have to make do with half that number.

As a treat for its loyal United Kingdom based customers, Ford decided to create a special edition just for the British market. The Heritage Edition was not only finished in a unique Deep Orange colour, but it was also fitted from the factory with the Mountune FPM 375 package, which boosted power to as much as 375 bhp (280 kW), 30 more horsepower than the standard RS. Only 50 of these Heritage Edition RS models were produced and they were fitted with the Quaife limited slip differential.

By the end of production, over 34,000 RS Mk3s were manufactured for sale, more than three times the number of Mk2s that were built.

Ford Focus RS Mk3 Specifications

ModelFord Focus RS Mk3
Model Years2016 – 2018
Production Years2015 – 2018
LayoutFront-engine, Four-wheel drive
Engine/Engines3.2-litre 24-valve V6
Power345 bhp (257 kW) at 6,000 rpm

375 bhp (280 kW) – Heritage Edition

Torque470 Nm (346 lb-ft) at 3,200 rpm
Gearbox6-speed manual
Brakes FrontBrembo four-piston monoblock caliper with 350 x 25 mm ventilated discs
Brakes RearIntegrated park-brake, floating caliper with 302 x 11 solid disc
Tyres Standard – Michelin Pilot Super Sport 235/35 R19

Optional – Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 235/35 R19

WheelsStandard 8 x 19 RS Design 20-spoke cast alloy

Optional 8 x 19 RS Design 10-spoke forged alloy

Suspension FrontMacPherson strut with semi-isolated subframe
Suspension RearSLA independent rear axle with control blade
Weight1,560 kg (3,439 lbs)
Top speed266 km/h (165 mph)
0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)4.7 seconds

4.5 seconds with the 375 Mountune pack


Ford Focus RS Mk3 Buyer’s Guide

Credit: Ford

Now that we have covered the history and specifications of the Ford Focus RS MkIII, let’s take a look at what you need to know about buying one of these crazy hatches.

Setting Up an Inspection of a Mk3 RS

Below we have listed some things to think about when setting up an inspection of a Ford Focus RS Mk3:

If possible, view the RS Mk3 at the seller’s house or place of business – This way you can get a bit of an idea of how and where the RS you are interested in has been stored. Additionally, you will be able to check the roads that the car is regularly driven on. If they are really rough and full of potholes, the suspension and steering components, wheels, and tyres may have taken a beating.

Try to view the Focus RS in person or get a reliable third party to do so for you – While you may get lucky purchasing one of these cars sight unseen, you may also open yourself up to a wallet wounding experience. If you can’t view the RS yourself, try to get a reliable friend or third party to do so for you. Some auction services and websites vet their cars prior to purchase, which does somewhat reduce the risk of buying sight unseen.

Bring along a helper – Two pairs of eyes, ears and hands are always better than one when it comes to a used car inspection.

Set up in inspection for a time in the morning if you can – While this really depends on you and the seller’s schedule, it is usually a good idea to view a used car in the morning rather than later in the day. This is because it will give the seller less time to clean up any potential issues such as a big oil leak. Additionally, it will also give them less time to warm up their Focus RS prior to your arrival – make sure the engine is cold when you get there and let them know you don’t want the car warmed/driven prior to your arrival. If the car is being sold by a dealer, we recommend that you just turn up for the first inspection and don’t let them know you are coming.

Don’t inspect a used Focus RS in the rain – Water on the bodywork and paint can cover up numerous different issues that may have been easy to spot on a sunny, dry day. While you can’t control the weather, you can go back for a second viewing of the Focus RS Mk3 if it happened to be raining during your first inspection.

Be cautious of freshly washed cars – While most sellers will probably wash their Focus RS Mk3 prior to your arrival, you do have to be careful for the reasons mentioned above (if there is still water on the bodywork). Additionally, some sellers will wash the engine bay, underside of the vehicle and any other components to cover up an issue such as an oil leak.

Get the seller or owner to move their RS Mk3 outside if it is in a showroom or garage – The lighting in places such as showrooms and garages can hide problems with the body/paintwork.

Where is the Best Place to Find a Ford Focus RS Mk3 for Sale?

Credit: Ford

Ford sold quite a few of these cars, so they are much easier to find for sale than pervious generations. Auction/classifieds websites and dealers are probably going to be where you want to start your hunt for a Focus RS Mk3. However, we do recommend that you check out if there are any Ford/Focus RS clubs in your area. The people in these sorts of clubs are usually a lot more enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their cars and tend to maintain them better. Here are a few examples of Focus RS clubs:

Mk3 Focus RS ClubClub dedicated to the Focus RS Mk3. Quite an active community with lots of knowledgeable owners.

Focus RS OCThis forum based community was started way back in 2008 and covers all RS models including the Mk3.

How Much Should I Pay for a Ford Focus RS Mk3?

This really depends on several different factors from the condition of the car to its specifications, where it is being sold and more. For example, a mint condition Heritage Edition Focus RS Mk3 is going to be worth a lot more than a standard model that has seen a lot of abuse.

To find out roughly how much money you need for a Focus RS Mk3 we recommend that you check out your local auction/classifieds websites and dealers. You can then use the prices from these places to work out roughly what you need to spend for a specific condition and spec level.

Is the Ford Focus RS Mk3 Expensive to Maintain & Run?

If you go in with the idea that you are only going to be spending Toyota Corolla money on running and maintenance costs you are going to get a nasty surprise. As with any performance car, maintenance and running costs can add up. Fuel efficiency isn’t the RS Mk3s strongest selling point and as these cars encourage spirited driving, the efficiency only gets worse.

The warranties will have expired on some of these cars or will be expiring soon, so be mindful of that when purchasing one (especially if you are going private sale). While maintenance can be expensive on these cars, it is really not that bad if they are looked after properly (as with any car a dog can leave you penniless). Avoiding dealers and taking an RS to a competent Ford specialist or mechanic will usually save you money in the long run.

Should I Get a Mechanic to Inspect a Focus RS Mk3 Prior to Purchase

It is not completely necessary to get a Ford mechanic or specialist to inspect a Focus RS Mk3 prior to purchase, but we feel it is generally a good idea. An experienced mechanic who is familiar with the Focus RS may be able to spot something you missed during your inspection and they will be able to run more tests than you can.

Even if you do not plan to take the car to a mechanic before buying it, we recommend that you ask the seller if you can. If they seem funny or hesitant about it, it could be a sign that they are trying to hide an issue.

Checking the VIN

The VIN on a Ford Focus RS Mk3 should look something like this – WF0DP3TH5GXXXXXXX (X indicates a digit), with the last seven digits being the same as the engine number. The VIN can tell you quite a bit of information about the Focus RS Mk3 you are looking at and it is usually worth checking the VIN on a decoder website or with Ford prior to purchase.


Credit: Ford

Ford’s 2.3-litre EcoBoost power unit in the Focus RS Mk3 is a bit of a beast, however, there have been some problems with it and a poorly maintained one is surely going to cause a few headaches.

To start your inspection of the engine, move to the front of the Mk3 and open the bonnet/hood. Make sure that it holds, and the struts have not failed. Also check to make sure the catch works as intended as a problem here could be a sign of frontend damage.

Once you have done this, check the engine bay for any standout issues such as broken or missing components, obvious leaks, etc. before moving onto a more thorough inspection. Another thing to watch out for is any modifications. Warranty approved modifications are usually a safer bet than ones that void the warranty (even if the warranty has expired).

In the UK there are plenty of RS Mk3s fitted with the FPM375 kit, however, they do tend to command a higher price as they are more sought after (Mountune also fitted cars with a M400R power upgrade kit as well). If the owner/seller can’t provide any paperwork for the modifications or tell you who did them, we would be very cautious. Additionally, watch out for Mk3s that are running excessive amounts of power.

A completely spotless engine bay is usually a good sign, however, it may also be a sign of a seller/owner who is trying to cover something up like a big oil leak (especially so if the engine bay looks like it has just been washed).

Having a Look at the Fluids

Quite a few people overlook checking the fluids when doing a used car inspection, but we feel it is an important thing to do. The engine oil, coolant, and other fluids can give you a good indication of the health of a particular Focus RS Mk3 and how it has been looked after. Additionally, if the fluid levels are too high or low it can lead to increased wear and possibly even engine/component failure.

The dipstick fitted to the RS Mk3’s EcoBoost engine can cause some confusion. There are two holes (an upper and a lower), but there is also a cross hatch pattern that ends about halfway between them. The ideal level is the top of this cross hatch pattern and not the top hole, so keep that in mind when checking the oil level.

When you have a look at the engine oil/dipstick, watch out for any metallic particles or grit, which could indicate some very serious issues. Another thing to watch out for is any foam in the oil. This could be caused by a range of different issues from condensation in the oil, to a leaking gasket (especially if it is thick and white), or an engine that has been overfilled with oil.

Talk to the seller about their Ford’s service history and don’t forget to check the service history itself and any accompanying documents. These cars are new enough that the seller should have the full-service history. If they don’t have the service history or won’t let you see it, be very cautious.

The Focus RS Mk3 is equipped with an “Intelligent Oil Life Monitor”, but many owners will tell you it is anything but intelligent. An oil change message/light will usually come on at anywhere from 12,000 to 16,000 km (7,500 to 10,000 miles), but the message can come up as required or under 5,000 km (3,000) miles under special conditions. If oil changes/filter changes have been left much longer than 16,000 km or they have not been done at least once a year, we would probably be a bit cautious. Some owners like to replace the oil every 8,000 km (5,000 miles) or so regardless of what the indicator light tells them.

Checking for Oil Leaks

Unfortunately, the RS Mk3’s EcoBoost engine seems to be a bit susceptible to leaks around the turbo lines. The leaking issue can often stem from the oil feed line, which should have been fixed with the head gasket recall work (more on that down below). Ford created a new oil feed line, but it was not fitted to all cars during the recall.

If it is not the oil line that is causing the problems, it could be the timing valve cover/head joint. Leaks from the timing cover/head joint have appeared on more than a few Focus RS Mk3s since the head gasket recall work was carried out. Ford amended the recall to specifically state that silicon needed to be used on distinct parts of the head gasket to ensure a proper seal. However, not all technicians followed this or knew about it, so leaks started occurring soon after the recall work was done.

If you do notice a leak around the turbo lines, timing cover, head/block joint, and or banjo bolt below, it is important to take the RS to a competent Ford specialist, mechanic or dealer who can dye and pressure test it prior to purchase. Additionally, make sure you give the car a good amount of throttle during a test drive to see if the leak gets much worse. If it is a leak from around the head, the gasket replacement procedure needs to be done again.

Later cars from July 2017 onwards had a revised engine that largely fixed the head gasket issues. Leaks tend to be less common on these cars and ones with the revised recall work, but it is still important to look for them.

FSA 17B32 Recall Work

In early 2018 Ford finally admitted that there was an issue with some Focus RS Mk3 head gaskets. They announced Customer Satisfaction Program 17B32, which stated that the cylinder gasket may develop a coolant leak into the engine combustion chamber. The problem could also lead to cracks developing in the block between cylinders one and two.

As part of the recall, Ford announced that they would replace the head gasket and perform a pressure test on all affected cars. If the pressure tests fail, Ford stated that they would also replace the cylinder head. All work was done free of charge, with the program in effect until 31st January 2019. The recall covers all Focus RS Mk3 vehicles produced from the start of production until 6th July 2017, so make sure this has been actioned upon. If the recall work has not been done (will be pretty unlikely), we recommend that you move onto another Focus RS Mk3. You can check this website for outstanding service actions.

The majority of cars simply received a replacement head gasket (along with some other parts), but some Mk3s were given a whole new engine. If a new engine has been fitted, you should be able to find the engine build date on a sticker on the driver’s side of the block.

Some owners have complained about timing issues since the recall work was done, so watch out for poor running/idling, strange ticking noises, and/or a car that won’t start or dies during idle. Note: the EcoBoost engine inside these cars uses a timing chain, so it does not have a service interval. A replacement of the chain and/or chain tensioners may be necessary as these cars age, but it should not be a problem for a long time. Below we have linked to a good video that goes through the details of the FSA 17B32 recall.

Making Sure the Cooling System is in Good Working Order

As head gasket issues have been such a big problem on these cars, it is important to make sure the cooling system works as intended. Here are some of the main parts of the cooling system:

  • Radiator – removes heat from the water/coolant
  • Thermostat – sends water/coolant that is hotter than the target temperature to the radiator to be cooled
  • Water Pump – belt that is driven from a pulley. Pushes water/coolant through the engine
  • Overflow or Expansion tank – removes air from the system and provides a filling point for the coolant
  • Coolant Lines – hoses that allow water/coolant to remain contained as it moves through the engine/cooling system

Have a good look at the expansion/coolant tank and coolant lines (what bits you can see at least) and check for any leaks or crusted coolant (may signal a past issue). Some owners have experienced coolant leaks from the hose underneath the tank, but without removing the tank this is pretty much impossible to see (unless you bring along something like a borescope inspection camera).

Quite a few owners like to cover the coolant tank and other parts of the engine bay with carbon fibre covers like these ones. If the seller has fitted these, you may have to remove them to get a better look at what’s going on underneath.

Don’t forget to check for coolant leaks both before and after a test drive, and watch out for any changes in the coolant level (especially big ones). Following a test drive, turn the RS Mk3 off and wait for around 10 to 15 minutes. Once you have done this, recheck for any coolant leaks and make sure you have a look under the car as well. A sniff test is always a good idea as while you may not be able to see a leak, you may be able to smell it (sweet aroma).

Signs of Overheating

Below we have listed some of the signs that may indicate that the Ford Focus RS you are looking at is overheating/suffering from some sort of issues such as failed head gasket:

  • Temperature gauge on that is on the high side
  • Bubbles in the radiator or coolant overflow tank
  • White and milky oil
  • Spark plugs that are fouled (if you or probably a mechanic can get a look at them)
  • Low cooling system integrity
  • Smell of coolant from the oil
  • Sweet smelling exhaust
  • White smoke from the exhaust pipe (especially if you see lots of it)
  • Steam from the front of the car

If you notice any of the above be very cautious and if you notice more than one walk away. If for whatever reason you are still interested in a Focus RS Mk3 that is displaying these issues, do not purchase the car until you can get it checked out (these issues are personally a no from us).

Check the Exhaust

Credit: Ford

There shouldn’t be any issues with the exhaust system, but it is worth giving it a thorough inspection anyway. Make sure it is in good condition and there is no damage, leaks, etc. Strange hissing noises could indicate a leak, while rattling sounds may be a sign of a loose/misaligned component (note: these cars do bang and pop a bit by design).

A wide range of aftermarket exhaust upgrades are available for the Focus RS Mk3 from companies like Cobra, Milltek, and Mountune. There is nothing wrong with buying a Mk3 with an aftermarket exhaust, just make sure it is from a good brand/builder. We recommend that you check out this guide for more information on aftermarket exhausts and the options that are available.

Catalytic Converter and O2 Sensor Failure

Once again shouldn’t be too much of an issue, but some owners have experienced failure of the cats/O2 sensors (at low mileages as well). A P0420 code and a CEL are going to be the main signs of this issue, however, it is worth keeping an eye out for the following symptoms if you believe the catalytic converter has gone bad.

  • Smell of sulphur or rotten eggs from the exhaust
  • Reduced acceleration and sluggish engine performance
  • Excessive heat from underneath the RS Mk3
  • Dark smoke from the Ford’s exhaust
  • CEL (Check Engine Light)

Some owners believe the cause of the failing cats is due to the popping/banging sounds that the exhaust produces and the fact that many cars have experienced head gasket issues, so coolant has made its way through the exhaust.

Starting a Focus RS Mk3 for the First Time

When inspecting a used car, we always recommend that you get the owner/seller to start the vehicle for you for the first time. We recommend this for a couple of reasons:

  • So you can see what comes out the back of the Focus RS
  • If the seller gives the car a load of throttle when the engine is cold you know to walk away

Remember to turn on the RS yourself at a later point during the test drive/inspection. Make sure that the start up warning lights appear on the dash (CEL, ABS, etc.). If they don’t appear it may be a sign that they have been disconnected to hide an issue. On the other hand, if something like the CEL light stays on you need to find the cause of the issue before purchasing the car (this is where getting the codes read comes in handy).

What is the Correct Idle Speed for the Focus RS Mk3?

The idle speed should sit around 800 rpm, but expect it to go up and down a bit (+- 50 rpm). If the RS you are looking at has poor idle and/or stalls, it could be caused by a range of different issues from something simple like bad/incorrect spark plugs to a more serious problem such as a bad O2 sensor or incorrect timing due to the head gasket recall (hopefully this would have been sorted by know, but you never know). If the idle/stalling issues seem very bad make sure you get the car checked out by a specialist before proceeding further (or just move onto another RS).  

Another thing to do is to bring the car up to 1,500 rpm or so and listen to the engine. Keep an ear out for any misfires or signs of trouble, and check how the car feels (does it shake, excessively, etc.)

Tips While on a Test Drive

When you head out on a test drive, make sure you wait until the Focus RS is fully warmed up before giving it a load of throttle. Check the engine through the entire rev range and see how the RS responds under both light and hard acceleration. It is a good idea to keep the windows open, so you can get a better listen to the engine as you are driving along.

Failed Engine/Gearbox Mounts

It is pretty well known that the engine and gearbox mounts on the Mk3 Focus are weak. More than a few Mk3s (other models including the RS) have experienced failure of these mounts, so it is something to watch out for. While the problem shouldn’t be too much of an issue on many Mk3 RSs at the moment, we do except mount failure to occur more frequently as mileage creeps up and these cars age. Here are some of the main things to watch out for:

  • Clunking, banging, or other impact sounds that are a result of engine movement
  • Excessive vibrations
  • Engine movement – rev the car and see if the engine moves excessively

Smoke from a Ford Focus RS Mk3

Credit: Ford

As we mentioned earlier, get the seller to start the Focus for you for the first time. Before they switch the car RS Mk3 on, position yourself at the rear of the vehicle and hold up a white piece of paper or cloth in front of the exhaust. Once the engine has been started, check to see how much soot is on the paper/cloth. These cars do seem to produce a bit of soot as they run quite rich and dump fuel into the exhaust, so a small amount is perfectly fine. However, if there is loads of soot it could be a sign of an issue. Additionally, don’t worry too much if you notice a bit of soot around and in the tailpipes as this is quite normal.

A small amount of vapour on engine start is perfectly normal as well and is usually just caused by condensation in the exhaust (more noticeable on a cold day). If you notice a large amount of vapour or smoke, move onto another Focus RS Mk3. Here are what the different colours of smoke may indicate:

White smoke – Lots of thick white/grey smoke from a RS Mk3s’s exhaust indicates that water has made its way into the cylinders due to a blown/leaking head gasket. Give the exhaust a good whiff and if it smells sweet, it is probably coolant. Obviously, this is a big one to watch out for on Focus RS Mk3s as despite the recall, this problem is still occurring on a number of cars. If the smoke is very thick and doesn’t dissipate quickly it could be sign that the block or cylinder head is cracked/broken.

Blue/Grey smoke – This colour smoke could be caused by a whole range of things including warn pistons rings, valve seals and more. The smoke occurs because oil gets into the cylinders and burns with the air/fuel mixture. To test for this colour smoke during a drive, get somebody to follow you while you are in the RS Mk3. Take the engine through its rev range and see what comes out the back. If you don’t have a helper, get the owner to drive for a bit while you look out the back.

Black smoke – This sort of smoke is usually a sign that the engine is running too rich and burning too much fuel. There are quite a few things that could be causing this issue from something like dirty intake components to incorrect spark timing, problems with the fuel injectors and more. If the exhaust smells of fuel, the engine is almost certainly running too rich.

Should I Get a Compression Test Prior to Purchase?

While compression/leakdown testing a used car prior to purchase is not completely necessary, we do feel it is a good idea. These tests can help give you an indication of what sort of health the engine is in, which could save you money in the future. If you are taking one of these cars to a mechanic or specialist prior to purchase, we recommend that you get them to do a test.

Some owners will get a compression test done before sale and put the results in the advertisement. The most important thing with the results is to make sure that they are all roughly the same (within around 10% of each other).

If you are looking at getting a compression or a leakdown test done by a mechanic, we also recommend that you get a test done on the cooling system as well. A failure here could indicate a broken with the head gasket, etc.


Credit: Ford

The 6-speed manual transmission needs to be tested thoroughly at both low and high engine speeds. It should have a nice smooth and precise action, with no grinding, graunching or other strange sounds. Some owners have experienced mushy, clunky shifts with the transmission on their Focus RS Mk3. This is often due to incorrect adjustment of the cable, but it could be something more serious. If the RS won’t go into gear or shifts are very stiff, we would move onto another car.

Synchro wear will start to occur as these cars age and get up there in terms of mileage, so check for any graunching or grinding on both up and downshifts. Synchro wear can often be a sign that the car has been repeatedly thrashed or subjected to hard gear changes (the RS Mk3 does encourage hard driving). Alternatively, it may simply be due to mileage/age.

If possible, try to find a bit of an incline and see how the transmission and clutch performs during a hill start. Additionally, don’t forget to check reverse as well.


A number of RS Mk3 owners have complained about clutch failure and their pedals sticking to the floor. This problem is usually caused by the clutch master cylinder, where the end of the piston inside distorts a tiny bit at the end of the pedal travel. Fluid can then get past the seal and the pedal stays down. If this happens during a test drive you should be able to pull the pedal up, but we would probably walk away from an RS with this problem. An early warning sign of this issue is trouble shifting and a very inconsistent pedal feel. Here are some things to watch out for when testing the clutch on a RS Mk3:

Clutch Engagement – The first step is to make sure the engagement is good. To do this put the RS Mk3 you are inspecting into gear on a level surface and let the clutch out slowly. It should engage around 7 to 10 cm (2.5 to 4 inches) from the floor. Engagement that is early or too late indicates a problem.

Clutch Slippage – The best way to test for this problem is to shift into a gear that is too high for the speed you are going. You should notice that the engine bogs down a bit (don’t do this on a regular basis). The next thing to do is to accelerate. If you notice that the tachometer goes up out of relation to the speedometer and/or you notice jerkiness it suggests that the clutch is slipping.

Clutch Drag – Get the Focus on a flat surface and press the clutch pedal to the floor (do this while you are stationary). Rev the car hard (once it is warm) and see If it moves. If the car does move, the clutch is not disengaging when you shift and parts will wear prematurely.

Clutch Shudder – This is usually noticeable when you accelerate from a stop. A small amount is perfectly normal, but an excessive amount is a sign that the release bearings need to be lubricated.

If the clutch does need replacing it is quite an expensive job (into the four figures), so make sure you get a good discount if you still want to purchase the Focus RS.

Steering & Suspension

Credit: Ford

Unless you are looking at a really high mileage example, you shouldn’t expect too many issues with the suspension and steering componentry. Despite that it is still worth checking everything thoroughly as some owners have experienced premature strut failure, etc. Here’s a quick list of things to watch out for:

  • Dipping and swerving when the brakes are applied
  • Excessive Rear-end squat during acceleration and rear end wobble over bumps (trailing arm bushes)
  • Tipping during cornering
  • High speed instability
  • Delayed or longer stopping distances
  • Uneven tyre wear
  • Excessive bounce after hitting a bump or when pushing down on the suspension (trailing arm bushes)
  • Leaking fluid on the exterior of the shock/strut
  • Sagging or uneven suspension
  • Knocking, clunking or creaking sounds during a test drive – usually the front bushings or wheel bearings – watch out for the front lower arm suspension bushes, upper wishbones, and anti-roll bar bushes.
  • Rattles – drive over some bumps – there should be no noise from the suspension components (however, you may hear some rattles from something in the cabin).
  • Clicking sounds (especially at full lock) – usually a bad CV joint. However, clicking sounds may also indicate something like a bad wheel bearing as well

Make sure you visually inspect as many of the suspension and steering components as possible. Check for leaks, damage, wear and modifications. A torch/flashlight and a mirror can come in handy here.

While the stock suspension is more than adequate for road and the occasional track use, some owners want more. Suspension upgrade kits like these ones are available from a number of different companies. If the Focus RS Mk3 you are looking at has been fitted with aftermarket suspension, make sure you are happy with the ride as you may find it too harsh for normal road use. Additionally, make sure the suspension is from a good brand and check with the owner to see if they have the original suspension components.

Revised Dampers

Ford upgraded/revised the dampers to improve the RS Mk3’s handling performance and ride. Here are the part numbers for the different iterations of the RS’s dampers:

Original Front Struts

  • G1FZ-18124-A (Right)
  • G1FZ-18124-B (Left)

Revision 1 Front – produced after 28/4/2017

  • G1FZ-18124-C (Right)
  • G1FZ-18124-D (Left)

Revision 2 Front – produced after 08/11/2017

  • G1FZ-18124-E (Right)
  • G1FZ-18124-F (Left)

Original Rear Shocks – same on both sides

  • G1FZ 18125-A

Revision 1 Rear – produced after 28/04/2017

  • G1FZ-18125-B

Owners have found that the revised suspension improved not only the ride, but also the cornering grip as well. Quite a few owners have swapped out the front struts and rear shocks on their early cars, so check to see if this has been done as it is an added bonus. If you purchase a Focus RS Mk3 with the old suspension, it is recommended that you look at swapping in the revised components (You can do it yourself with a torque wrench and a couple of jacks).

Checking the Wheel Alignment

Find yourself a nice flat, straight section of tarmac and test the wheel alignment. Make sure the RS Mk3 runs straight with minimal wheel corrections. Incorrect wheel alignment can lead to excessive/uneven tyre wear, which can lead to more frequent tyre changes (costing you money). Additionally, it can also lead to a less safe, less enjoyable driving experience.

Most of the time a simple realignment is all that is needed, however, in some cases bad wheel alignment can be a sign of serious suspension/steering issues or even accident damage.

The RS Mk3 does have a problem with veering steering (side to side), so be mindful of this when checking for wheel alignment issues. This issue usually occurs under hard acceleration with new tyres, so it is recommended that you take it easy until the tyres are scrubbed in.

Checking the Wheels and Tyres

Don’t forget to have a good look at the wheels and tyres to make sure they are in good condition and not showing excessive signs of wear or damage. Don’t be too surprised to find the odd scrape and scratch on the rims, but lots of curb damage indicates a careless driver. If it’s only the paint that is damaged (the paint is quite weak on the rims of these cars) it shouldn’t be too difficult or expensive to fix, but if the wheel itself it could be quite expensive to repair depending on the severity.

If the Focus RS Mk3 you are looking at is running aftermarket wheels, check with the seller to see if they have the originals. Not only do we think the originals look great, but they will also add value to the Focus RS if you decide to sell it in the future (use this as a bargaining point). Here are the two sets of wheels that the car was sold with:

  • Standard – 8 x 19 RS Design 20-spoke cast alloy
  • Optional – 8 x 19 RS Design 10-spoke forged alloy

It is also important to check the tyres for the following:

  • Amount of tread – If there is minimal tread left try to get a discount as you will need to get the tyres replaced in the near future.
  • Uneven wear – Wear should be even between the right and left tyres on the Ford Focus RS Mk3. Additionally, make sure wear is even across the tyre itself.
  • Brand – They should be from a good or well-reviewed brand – if they are from a poorly reviewed brand it suggests that the owner has cheaped out on maintenance.
  • Same tyre – in terms of tyre make, type and tread pattern on each axle (preferably on all four wheels) – mismatched tyres can lead to poor handling performance and may even be dangerous.

Two tyre options were fitted to the RS Mk3:

  • Standard – Michelin Pilot Super Sport 235/35 R19
  • Optional – Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 235/35 R19


Credit: Ford

To help control the immense amount of power from the 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine, Ford’s engineers fitted Brembo four-piston calipers with 350 mm ventilated discs at the front, while the rear received 302 mm solid discs. These brakes should be more than adequate for road and light track use, so if they feel weak or spongy there is a problem that needs to be investigated. If you do need a bit more from the brakes, Carbotech or Mountune pads come highly recommended.

Like with the suspension and steering components, remember to visually inspect as many of the brake parts as you can get a look at.  If the pads and discs need to be replaced anytime soon make sure you get a discount on the vehicle or make the seller replace them for you. The brake fluid should have been replaced every 2 years or so.

Remember to test the brakes under both light and hard conditions. Do some repeated high to low-speed runs and see how the brakes feel. If you notice a shuddering/shaking through the steering wheel of the RS Mk3 you are driving it could be a sign of a warped disc. This usually becomes first apparent under high speed braking.

Make sure the handbrake works as intended and see how it performs on a steep incline (if you can find one). Additionally, listen out for any squealing, rumbling or clunking sounds when the brakes are in use as this could indicate anything from worn/bad pads to disc issues and more.

Seized/stuck brakes is a possibility, especially if the RS has not been driven after being washed. Here are some signs of the problem:

  • Focus RS Mk3 pulls to one side (may even happen when the brakes are not in use)
  • Car feels low on power as if the parking/handbrake is on (could also be a sign of something else as well)
  • Brakes get extremely hot and produce a distinctive acrid smell and in some cases smoke
  • You find that the Focus doesn’t want to move at all
  • Loud thud-like noise when pulling away for the first time

Body & Exterior

Credit: Ford

The standard colours that the RS Mk3 was finished in include Shadow Black, Frozen White, Magnetic Grey, Stealth Grey and Nitrous Blue. Heritage Edition models were finished in a Deep Orange colour.

It is important to inspect the body and exterior thoroughly as a problem here could be extremely expensive to fix. Here are some things to watch out for.


Yes, surprisingly some owners have experienced issues with rust/corrosion on their Focus RS Mk3s. While the rust issue seems to be fairly limited, it is important that you check for it. The big area to watch out for is behind the driver’s side bonnet hinge on the inner wing area. It appears that the plastic tubing that is clipped onto the bonnet hinge rubs against the body, causing the paint to wear away and rust to form. Not a major issue if you catch it early, but something to be aware of, especially as these cars age. It is a good idea to put some protective film on this area to prevent this issue occurring.

Another good place to look is the engine bay brace. While this area doesn’t seem to be too much of a problem, some owners have reported rust formation. Apart from those two main places, check the rest of the car for rust (shouldn’t be a problem at all, but still worth doing).

Here are Some Things that Can Make Rust More Likely to Occur

  • Vehicle has spent time in countries or areas with salted roads (UK, Parts of North America, etc.)
  • Car has spent time in countries or areas with very harsh winters
  • Vehicle is often parked/stored by the sea for significant periods of time
  • Always kept outside (never garaged)
  • Accident damage (stone chips or more significant damage)
  • Parts or things rubbing on the bodywork (as we mentioned above for the Focus RS Mk3)
  • Old or no underseal

Accident Damage

This is undoubtedly going to be your biggest concern when it comes to the bodywork/exterior of a third generation Focus RS. The car encourages enthusiastic driving and as such they tend to be more likely to come into contact with things they shouldn’t have been in contact with.

Many owners and sellers will lie and try to cover up accident damage. In some cases, people will even claim that their vehicle hasn’t been in an accident when it clearly has. Here are some of the main things to watch out for:

  • Misaligned panels or large panel gaps – Check that the bonnet lines up correctly and fits as it should. Additionally, check the bonnet catches as if they look new the car has probably been in an accident. You should also check the doors and the lights for any damage or signs of past damage.
  • Doors that drop or don’t close properly – If the doors drop or don’t open/close properly the Focus RS Mk3 you are inspecting may have been in an accident.
  • Inconsistencies such as waving, rippling or different coloured panels – Indicates a respray which may have been conducted as a result of accident damage or rust.
  • If the bonnet/hood looks like it is popped when it is not – This may indicate that the Ford Focus RS you are inspecting at has been crashed into something (even a light knock can cause this problem).
  • Damage to the mounting supports for the headlights – This is very difficult to fix if the car has been in an accident, so watch out for this.
  • Bent or broken parts underneath the car – Check to see if everything is straight underneath the Focus RS Mk3 and watch out for any replaced parts. Take a good look at all the suspension, steering and exhaust components for damage.
  • Rust in strange locations – Is often a sign of crash damage on a used car (especially a modern one).
  • Paint runs or overspray – Could be a factory issue, but more likely due to a respray.
  • Missing badges or trim – Could be due to repair work (body shop couldn’t find replacements) or a number of other things (stolen, etc.).

Don’t necessarily let accident damage turn you off a Focus RS Mk3 immediately unless the crash was obviously very serious and/or the resultant repairs were very poor. Light to moderate damage that was repaired by a skilled panel beater/body shop is usually fine. However, the repairs do need to be inspected closely and it may be worth contacting whoever did them to see if they can tell you more about the incident. If you are looking at purchasing an RS Mk3 with some accident damage/repairs, make sure you get a nice discount.

If the owner/seller tries to cover up or lie about the accident it suggests that the problem is worse than first appears. Alternatively, if the owner can’t tell you much about the accident/damage it may have happened when a previous person owner the vehicle.

Dimples in the Pillars

A common issue to watch out for is dimples in the pillars thar run each side along the side of the roof (just above the rear doors). This seems to be a factory issue and some owners got the dents/dimples fixed free of charge.

Check the Sunroof

It is a good idea to check the sunroof as leaks can occur if the drain holes become blocked. Also make sure that it opens and closes properly. The sunroof was a pretty unpopular option when the RS Mk3 was being sold new, so it may take you a bit of time to find a used Focus RS with a sunroof if you want one.


Credit: Ford

There’s not too much to say here apart from the usually used car interior related things. Make sure the seats are in good condition and watch out for any wear, rips and/or stains. Additionally, check to make sure the seats are nice and firm and have not collapsed and the adjustments work as intended. If the seats move during acceleration or braking it is incredibly dangerous and will be an MOT/WOF failure. The optional Recaro shell sports seats are better than the standard Recaros, so check to see if the car was fitted with those.

Excessive wear on the seats, steering wheel, shifter and carpets for the mileage may be a sign that the Focus RS Mk3 you are inspecting has had a hard life.

Have a good look for any leaks/dampness in the cabin and the boot, especially if you are looking at a Focus RS with a sunroof. Water ingress can lead to a whole range of issues from nasty smells to problems with the electronics and more. Another thing to check is the underside of the floor mats. If they have water residue on them it could be a sign of a past or present leak.

Make sure you have a look at the headlining above the driver’s seat. If it is a slightly different colour it may be a sign that the Ford Focus RS Mk3 you are inspecting has been owned by a smoker. A smell test will also help you determine whether or not this is the case as well.

Electronics, Air Con and Other Things

Credit: Ford

Check that all of the electronics work as intended. Have a play with the different knobs, dials and switches around the cabin. If you do come across an electrical issue it could be expensive to fix. Additionally, check that all the locks, windows and keys work properly as well (also check that the owner has the original keys the car came with.

Make sure that the different AWD system modes work as intended. There are four modes, Drift, Sport, Track and Normal with the latter being the softest (although still quite firm). Sport mode leaves the dampers and the stability/traction control settings at the same as Normal, but the engine is opened up a bit, the steering is sharper and the exhaust has a bit more bite.

If you switch to track mode you should find that the dampers are stiffened up a bit, which should reduce body roll. Front end grip should also be improved as well when switching to Track mode.

It is worth having the Lux Pack, so check to see if the RS you are looking at was fitted with it. The Lux Pack offered the following upgrades:

  • Dual-zone aircon
  • Keyless start
  • Tyre pressure monitoring
  • Rear parking sensors
  • Automatic lights/wipers
  • Power fold door mirrors

Don’t forget to check that the air conditioning works as intended and that plenty of cold air comes out of the system. If it doesn’t, don’t let the seller convince you it just needs a re-gas as it may be something like the compressor (expensive fix).

General Car Buying Advice for a Ford Focus RS Mk3

How to Get the Best Deal on a Focus RS Mk3

This information applies to both dealers and private sealers. Knowledge is power and it can save you a lot of money when purchasing a vehicle.

  1. Research heavily – Prior to starting your search for a Focus RS Mk3, figure out what specs and condition you are happy with. Do you want a low mileage last year model or do you not mind an earlier version of the RS Mk3
  2. Shop around – It is always best to shop around a bit before you make a purchase. Ford sold quite a lot of Focus RS Mk3s so there are plenty out there in different levels of condition and mileage, so don’t limit yourself to one seller, dealer, area or auction platform.
  3. Go look at and test drive multiple RS Mk3s – It is a good idea to test drive a many cars as possible, so you know what makes a good and what makes a bad Ford Focus RS Mk3.
  4. Adjust your attitude – Never rush into a purchase. If you are desperate to buy a car you are more likely to get ripped off. Take your time when looking for a Focus RS Mk3 for sale and only go for promising looking cars.
  5. Use any issues with the car to your advantage – Take a mental note of any issues you find with the vehicle. When it comes to discussing the price, use these problems to try and drive down the price. For example, if the car needs new tyres or brake pads make a point of it and try to get the seller to reduce the price.
  6. Don’t trust the owner – While some owners/sellers are honest about their cars, many will lie to get a quick sale. Take in what the owner has to say but back it up with a thorough inspection.
  7. Go between sellers/dealers – If you are looking at multiple RS Mk3s, let the owner/seller know. This way they will know that you have other options and they may try to undercut the price.
  8. Be prepared to walk away – If you are not happy with the deal, simply walk away. You may miss out on the car or the seller may get back to you with a better offer.

Mileage vs Condition 

Mileage vs condition is always a hot topic for debate, but we feel that it is always better to buy on condition and then on mileage. Lots of owners make the mistake of believing that they are preserving their car by not driving it. In reality, this is completely false and not driving a vehicle can actually do more damage than good.

Short distance trips do not allow the engine to warm up properly, which can lead to increased component wear and reduced engine life.

Rubber seals and plastic parts will fail regardless of mileage and can even deteriorate quicker on cars that don’t get used often. Letting a car sit will not prevent rust or stop the electronics from failing.

Service History and Other Documentation

It is incredibly important to check any vehicle’s service history and any additional paperwork that goes along with it. While the servicing doesn’t need to be done at a dealer, it should be carried out by a competent Ford specialist or mechanic (especially for major repair work).

The service history will give you a good idea of how the Focus RS Mk3 you are inspecting has been maintained. In addition to this, receipts and paperwork for modifications (if the car has any) can help you determine whether they have been done by an experienced tuner or a bad one.

If the owner can’t or won’t let you see the service history, you should probably pass on the vehicle. A complete service history will only add value to any vehicle your purchase and will make it easier to sell the car in the future.

Additionally, you can check websites such as CarFax (USA) and CarJam (NZ) for more information about the car you are thinking of purchasing. These sort of websites can be incredibly useful, but there is usually a cost associated with them.

Questions That You Should Ask the Seller/Owner 

  • Has the recall work been done (for early cars)?
  • How often do you drive the car?
  • When was the last service and who was it serviced by?
  • How much oil does it use?
  • What oil do you use in the car?
  • What parts have been replaced?
  • When were the coils, spark plugs, leads changed?
  • What’s the compression like?
  • What modifications have been made to the vehicle?
  • Has the vehicle overheated at any point or has the head gasket failed?
  • Has the car been in any major or minor accidents? Is so, what repairs were made?
  • Is there any money owing on the car?
  • Have you got any information on the previous owners and how they treated the vehicle?
  • How are the speakers
  • Is there any rust?
  • Has rust been removed at any point?
  • When were the brake pads replaced and have the calipers seized at any point in time?
  • Where do you store/park the car usually?

There are loads more questions you can ask the seller, but we feel these are some of the most important.

Things That Would Make Us Walk Away from a Focus RS Mk3

Credit: Ford

Here are some things that would make as walk away from one of these cars. While you may be happy with a vehicle with these problems, we are not.

  • Overheating problems or blown head gasket
  • Significant Crash Damage or poorly repaired roof
  • Money owing on the car
  • Stanced
  • Modifications with no paperwork or carried out by a poorly reviewed tuner
  • Excessive amounts of power
  • Bad compression
  • Bad resprays
  • Significant rust problems
  • Engine swaps with non-standard engines
  • Significant track use
  • Major engine or transmission issues
  • Owner who is not forthcoming with information (could be trying to hide something)

Notes on the Owner 

The owner is one of the most important things to think about when viewing any vehicle. You need to ask them plenty of questions when inspecting their Focus RS Mk3 (however, don’t trust their answers completely). Remember, it is your problem if you wind up buying an absolute lemon. Here are some things to watch out for.

  • How long have they owned the vehicle? If it is less than 6 months it tends to suggest that the car needs major work done to it that they can’t afford. It also could be a sign that they deal cars as well.
  • Do they thrash the car when it is cold or continually launch the vehicle? If so, you are better to walk away.
  • Why are they selling the vehicle? Could be a genuine reason or they may be trying to offload their problem onto an unsuspecting buyer.
  • What sort of area do they live in? Is it a good area or a complete dump?
  • How do they respond when you ask them simple questions?
  • Do they know anything about the RS Mk3 and the model they are selling.
  • What can they tell you about previous owners?
  • Do they have lots of cars on their drive? If they do it may mean they are a dealer.
  • What is their reaction when you ask them about money owing on the car? Tell them you are going to do a check and see how they respond.
  • What is their reaction to you asking for details for HPi check?
  • How do they react if you ask to do a compression test on the vehicle?
  • How do they respond when you ask them to show you the service history and paperwork for the car?

If you get a bad feeling about the owner, you are better off moving onto another Ford Focus RS Mk3.


  • Ben

    From his early days playing the original Gran Turismo and with his Hot Wheels car set, Ben has had a long interest in all things automotive. His first foray into the world of automotive journalism was way back in 2009 and since then he has only grown more interested in the industry. Ben also runs and heads up the video production side of Garage Dreams, focusing on small informative documentaries about some of the world's most legendary cars.

    View all posts

Leave a Comment