Engine 1998 Ford Escort SE wont idle

Discussion in 'Tech & Repair' started by Untitledone, Jul 3, 2013.


  1. Untitledone

    Untitledone FEOA Member

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    Hello guys, my 1998 Ford Escort SE SPI 2000 automatic wont idle. I went to the gas station yesterday and forgot my wallet. On my way back the car started to idle very roughly but was still running. In the middle of the turn onto my street the engine died. I rolled to a stop and went to restart it. It did not want to start. I gave it some gas and got it going and pulled into my yard.

    The engine will barely start when you crank it over and maybe fire a couple of times. If you give it a slight bit of throttle it will run. It runs much better at higher RPM's but you can tell something is not right. If you let off and let it return to idle it will run really rough for a few seconds and die. What I mean by running rough is the whole car is shaking and the engine is practically bouncing.

    When you give the throttle a slight blip (not flooring it, but maybe a 500-100o RPM jump quickly) I get this nasty mechanical sound like it is knocking or something but as soon as the RPM stabilizes that sound goes away.

    There is no check engine light.

    In March I did an oil change, oil filter, upper and lower radiator hose, water pump, 2 gallons of coolant, timing belt, timing belt auto-tensioner, spark plugs, spark plug wires, coil pack, and heater hose plus the little intake preheat hose off of the heater hose. So all of these parts only have about 3000 miles on them so far.

    The coolant level is normal and the color is correct. The oil is full and pretty clean for 3000 miles. There are no fluids coming out of the exhaust. Spark plugs from Cylinders 1-3 are clean and still white. The spark plug from cylinder 4 appears to be pretty brown. There is no damage to any of the spark plugs.

    I pulled the idle air control valve and and cleaned it out and sprayed a little bit of silicone lubricant into it. Nothing changed. I will be taking the timing cover off next and checking the timing marks to see if it jumped a tooth.

    I am hoping this is not the dreaded valve seat drop. I got this car at 252,xxx miles from my friend's auto shop. It was in for a dropped valve seat and the shop ended up getting it and fixing it up. The car currently has 319,xxx miles on it. I have put 67,xxx miles on it with very few problems. I smogged it last year, and it blew perfect numbers. On one test the limit was 110 PPM and the California average was 17 PPM, my Escort blew 1 PPM.

    If anyone has any ideas, or things I should start checking please let me know. I have some time to fix it but once college starts up again in about a month and a half I will be screwed without a car. The cheaper the tests I can run the better. I am not mechanically shy. If it needs the head pulled after I have exhausted all other tests and inspections I will gladly pull the head. I don't have a lot of tools, but I can get a hold of others if they are not too exotic.

    Thank you.
  2. millball

    millball FEOA Donator

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    Should have done a compression test while the plugs were out.
    Still need to do one. Verify that the timing is correct first.
    Never use silicone products anywhere that they might be aspirated into the engine.
    Silicones combust into silica, a hard, very abrasive substance, and if thats not bad enough, the silica also coats the o2 sensors rendering them less sensitive and often outright ruining them.
    The silicone brake fluids are the real deal for unassisted hydraulic brake systems on antique and classic cars, but can be doom for anything with a vacuum booster.
    Saw a friend ruin a high dollar GTO engine when brake booster/master cylinder failure aspirated his trick silicone brake fluid into his engine:banghead:.
  3. Untitledone

    Untitledone FEOA Member

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    I do not have a compression tester right now. I will have to borrow one from a friend. Checking the valve timing is my next test when I have the time. I didn't use much silicone in it and drained it before bolting it on again. It was the spray kind that mists the part and drips away. I just wanted something light in there to loosen it up.
  4. Untitledone

    Untitledone FEOA Member

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    Looks like it is a head gasket. I ran a compression test on all Cylinders. #1: 180 psi, #2: 154 psi, #3: 15 psi, #4: 15 psi. Two cylinders down indicates to me that the head gasket between cylinders #3 and #4 has failed. Now I know why it is running like a paint shaker. 1 cylinder down would still have the motor relatively balanced, but 2 cylinders down is way too many for it to stay in balance.

    I will check the Valve timing when I have the time, but I think it should be fine. I put a new timing belt and new auto-tensioner 3,000 miles ago. It was a sealed Gates timing belt and tensioner kit.
  5. Untitledone

    Untitledone FEOA Member

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    Well, I forgot to do an update. It was a head gasket. It blew between #3 and #4 like I thought. I have a picture somewhere but I don't feel like looking for it now. A large chunk of the gasket peeled back leaving a 1/2" wide, 1/8" tall direct hole between the two cylinders. I had the head machined flat. It was outside of specs a bit. The machine shop said .004" was in spec and the head was at .008" warpage. The 260*F melt plug was melted good, indicating that it overheated. The machine shop informed me that the head probably got well into the 300*F range for the plug to melt that bad. I blame the thermostat which appeared to be the factory thermostat. Everything is back together.

    I cleaned it out very well. It is running great. I bought the Felpro complete cylinder head gasket set with head bolts, head gasket, and intake,exhaust,EGR, throttle body, thermostat housing, vavle cover, etc gaskets. I replaced everything but the cam seal since it didn't appear to have been leaking and seemed like a pain in the ass to remove without the tool.

    When I get the time and money I will be installing a T or Y fitting on the thermostat housing where the stock temp sensor is located and install a second aftermarket temp sensor and gauge. The stock sensor and gauge gave me no warning of an overheat. The only thing I can think of is that it did get hotter than usual the day before the gasket blew, but the stock gauge/sensor combo never went past 3/4 of the way to H. It was when I was cresting a steep hill on a 114*F day. It wasn't long (30 seconds to 1 minute of hill climb). After I crested the hill it was a mile or two of downhill. The engine cooled down almost instantly and gave no warning signs and drove normally for the 10 miles after the hill.
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2013
  6. Intuit

    Intuit FEOA Member

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    Ordinarily avoid commenting on modified setups, but was the head pressure-tested ??

    For a stock system to heat up and cool down that rapidly I'd guess either there was already some h-gasket leakage (doesn't have to be big) or there is restriction(s) in the cooling system.
  7. Untitledone

    Untitledone FEOA Member

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    My setup is bone stock. I have not modified anything at this time. Yes the head was pressure tested. I had that done by the machine shop when I had the head surfaced. I don't have any data on how the head performed but they told me it passed very well.

    It does get hot sometimes however this is in a few specific parts of my drive. I have been paying attention now. It only happens on the few 6-7% grades I have to climb and it only happens on hot days (100*F+) and when I am going fast (65MPH). So far, those three specific conditions (hot day, big hill, high speed) must be met for my temperatures to rise to a point that I notice it (still no where near the temperature where it was when I believe I blew the head gasket). When I slow down to 50-55MPH on these hills the temperature is at a more comfortable level. Turning on the heater full blast last time I climbed the hills kept my temps down. So obviously the cooling system alone just isn't keeping up with the increased load during the hill climb. However for 90% of my 32 mile (64 round trip) daily drive it is rock solid and never moves. It is just the two or three miles of steep hill climb that does it in.

    I just got an aftermarket temperature gauge with actual Fahrenheit and Celsius readings and a brass T-fitting to keep the stock sensor in place. I will be installing it as soon as I can.

    I will be doing more experimentation once I get the aftermarket gauge in place. I cant really make any concrete conclusions until I have a better gauge installed with actual temperature readings rather than the C---|-----H crap. I have a few things I am going to try for the time being to get through the last part of the summer. One thing I am going to try is to dilute the coolant down with some distilled water to somewhere in the 30%-40% glycol range to get some more specific heat density (since water>glycol at moving heat). Going from 50% to 30% increases heat capacity by almost 10% and lowers viscosity by nearly 30% at operating temperature. Even at 30%-40% I don't lose much on the boiling point range (265*F->259*F only 7 degrees), and on the freezing point I go from about -35*F up to about -7*F which is still well below the lowest freezing point I have seen here (15*F). Usual winters don't get below 20*F. I have a cheap freezing point tester I will be using so I wont just be randomly guessing at what my freezing point is. The other cheap thing I will be trying is to slap an external pusher fan on the front. I already have the wiring and fan to try, its just the matter of an hour or so of mounting and wiring it. I will probably just put it on a toggle and flip it before the hill climbs or whenever the temps start getting up. I would rather not get blasted by the heater on the 100*F+ days so that is why I am considering these redneck patches for the time being until I get the cash for more replacements.

    I don't have the cash right now to replace the radiator and cooling fan. When I have the money I am going to replace the radiator ($85, not too bad), and if the problem persists I will replace the cooling fan ($124 a bit harder to do). If those don't work, the only thing I really have left to try is removing the A/C cooler on the front which is beat up but still has about 60-70% of its fins straight.

    Anyways, sorry for the long response. I type a lot.
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2013
  8. Untitledone

    Untitledone FEOA Member

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    New radiator and radiator cap installed today. I will know Monday if my problem is fixed. I installed an aftermarket temperature sensor on a brass T-fitting with the temperature sender (the one that sends to the ECU, not the stock cluster gauge sensor) last weekend. I have not installed the new gauge or run the wiring to the gauge yet.
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2013
  9. rbailin

    rbailin FEOA Member

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    Was the water pump replaced when the timing belt was last changed? If that's the original pump, the impeller could be worn.

    Also, you should have checked the thermostat housing when you replaced the thermostat. There's a small plastic ball in the bypass that's designed to melt when the engine overheats. If it's melted, the engine will take longer to heat up in cold weather and may run cooler than normal.
  10. Untitledone

    Untitledone FEOA Member

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    The water pump was replaced when the timing belt was changed. Approximately 4,000 miles ago (at approximately 316,000 miles, I am around 320,500 miles now). I don't think it was the original water pump. Although a lot of things on this car seem factory despite having over 320,000 miles on it. I did not check the ball in the bypass. At this point I am not really concerned about it. If I ever feel like throwing in the 180*F thermostat I bought I will check for it.

    Also, the overheating problem is fixed. It was the radiator. I have a week on the new radiator and it has not even come close to overheating despite pushing the car far past what it would normally be subjected to while testing it. Temperatures are in-fact rock solid once again and the gauge doesn't seem to move even under heavy load. I am also running about 25% Ethylene Glycol 75% distilled water mixture at the moment which could also explain why temperatures are very good.
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2013
  11. Intuit

    Intuit FEOA Member

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    Good feedback; will help others. Stock thermostat is 190F.
  12. Untitledone

    Untitledone FEOA Member

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    I have the stock 192*F thermostat installed right now. I bought a 180*F thermostat for a second gen afterwards that I want to eventually try out.
  13. Intuit

    Intuit FEOA Member

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    I've been running 160F for ~1~2 years (don't remember precisely at the moment). This was to address the issues with head gasket; by limiting operating/non-operating temp ranges it decreases the amount of aluminum-head vs iron-block expansion and thus takes longer to scrub-up the head gasket. Fine during the mild and warmer months, a bit too cold for the more frigid weeks and months of Winter. Peaked 35mpg so far this Summer and have troughed 27mpg during the Winter. Average is about 30~32, higher with my malfunctioning EGR system disabled via unplug DPFE sensor. Plan to fix it not because have to but think lowering emissions is a good idea.
  14. Untitledone

    Untitledone FEOA Member

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    I usually get around 36-38MPG at 60-65MPH with hill climbs as a rough average over the course of about 70k miles. A few tanks I was curious enough to try cruise control at 55 MPH. I recorded 42 MPG on the two tanks I used 55 MPH with cruise control. Although that is before I did this head-gasket. It seems like I am getting a bit better mileage but I need more tanks to really see. I cleaned the hell out of the intake, various ports, EGR, and scraped out everything when I had the head off. I used about 3 cans of engine greaser and 6 cans of carb cleaner in the process. After I replaced the radiator I ran the hell out of it trying to see if it would overheat. That week I got 34.5MPG on that tank with 65-75MPH driving and some aggressive hill climbing. That is what makes me think that I am getting better mileage after flogging it like that and still getting above the EPA rated 34MPG.


    It also helps that I did a tune up 4,500 miles ago (Water pump, radiator hoses, radiator cap, timing belt/tensioner, plugs, plug wires, coil pack, etc). So this motor should be running pretty damn clean with all that and the cleaning job I did on the head/intake and other stuff. I should be good until 380K-400K miles for the timing belt, and most of the other stuff I replaced should last me into the 400K-500K mile range. For having 321K miles this thing has been great. Until this year I haven't had to do anything other than oil changes and tires/brakes in the 5 years and 70K miles I have put on it. I still need to cut the old radiator open to see why it blocked up and overheated taking out my head gasket.

    I usually don't notice much difference between summer and winter blends. My driving habits seem to have more of an effect. Then again I am in California and the winters are not to bad up in the hills here. They may not even change fuel blends in my area. That could explain the lack of difference in some months.

    The 3rd gens only seem to have the 192*F thermostat option. I knew that the 1.9L 2nd gen thermostat housing was the same so I had the parts store look up what I could get for those. Lo and behold I had a couple more options: the 160*F, 180*F, and the usual 192*F.

    A port and polish is definitely on the the to-do list later on when I get a spare vehicle on the road.

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