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Old 03-24-2018, 09:09 PM   #1
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Head Gasket at 157K?

Hey all. I'm new to the forum and new to Ford vans. I hate to start my post career off with a plea for help, but so it goes. I picked up a 1999 E250 with the 5.4L and 157K from its first owner in January and have spent nearly every free second of the past two months gutting and starting a camper build out from scratch. Although far from finished, she was slated for her inaugural trip starting tomorrow. Until, that is ...

On a quick run to the store she started blowing white smoke, coolant tank was dry, oil cap all milky. That spells only one thing to me, but Id love to hear thoughts from folks with more experience with these engines.

I've driven her perhaps 1200 miles since owning her with no running or idling issues, minus a couple very short stutters that I presumed to be just some gunk in the lines finding its way through. Temp gauge has been rock solid at about 1/3, and remains to be. It hasn't gone up a hair with these new developments, although I've only put on maybe 5 miles to get her back home and a bit of idling while the scanner did its thing. (P1151 and P1152 stored codes for oxygen sensor, nothing else.)

The only things that stick out to me from the past few months was an initially low coolant level (not drastically so - like a slightly leaking hose connection amount) and cabin heat that wasn't as warm as it should be. No external leaks that I've seen.

Obviously she needs a compression check at the very least, but I thought I'd throw this out to you folks while I'm waiting to get to it. I'm decent with hacking my way through my own repairs but I'm very slow and currently don't have the available time or space to tackle something quite that involved. Cursory research into the cost of a head gasket replacement has me looking an engine swap as a possible option should this ultimately be the bad news.

I'd love to hear what you folks have to say if you have a minute. I'll start my forum search for engine swap details before asking too much on that. Plus, I'd rather not get too ahead of myself ...
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Old 03-24-2018, 09:46 PM   #2
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Check the engine oil cooler. Some of the '99 and early '00 had known bad oil coolers, so Ford issued a TSB offering post-warranty replacements (I think only up to 10 years however).

Triton motors don't just lose head gaskets, and even a couple overheating events won't usually do it either. They have a fail-safe cooling system which shuts off half the cylinders, so you can limp home on half-power.
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Old 03-24-2018, 09:54 PM   #3
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Thank you, I'll check that out. Still on the steep face of the learning curve. In that case though, how would the coolant be entering the cylinders? The exhaust is sweet as can be and white as the day is long once it gets up to temp. A sudden change from how it has been.
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Old 03-24-2018, 11:16 PM   #4
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You might try a combustion leak detection kit like this. Hopefully it's not the head gasket, but it sort of sounds like it. Best of luck.

https://www.amazon.com/UVIEW-560000-.../dp/B000NPDL76
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Old 03-25-2018, 02:22 AM   #5
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I just might, arctictraveller. Seems strange that such a failure would come out the clear blue sky as it did, but I suppose that's how it goes. One of the posts I came across on here earlier made mention of a farmer exclaiming upon discovering his cow dead, "Funny, she never did that before." And who the heck knows what the PO did or did not do.

This is a real kick in the gut after all the time and money I've sunk into this thing so far though. I thought I'd done so well in moving away from German vehicles but it would appear that my car troubles had no problem hopping across the pond ...
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Old 03-25-2018, 07:21 AM   #6
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I've never heard of a Triton blowing a head gasket. Cracked head? Anything could happen if it got hot a few times.

I had a scare with my old 460 where I couldn't track down overheating but it was a faulty fan clutch paired with a clogged coolant overflow tank hose. Your case, though, sounds pretty much like you are past that. Sounds like a head gasket for sure now. I know you don't want to think of this but another 5.4 from a salvage yard should be cheap. It might be cheaper and almost simpler to swap than to spend the money trying to get yours right.

Keep us posted
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Old 03-25-2018, 07:53 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lcrosson View Post
Thank you, I'll check that out. Still on the steep face of the learning curve. In that case though, how would the coolant be entering the cylinders? The exhaust is sweet as can be and white as the day is long once it gets up to temp. A sudden change from how it has been.
Coolant can enter through a cracked intake manifold, although I think it's unlikely you have both a bad intake and a bad oil cooler at the same time.

That said... My van started puking oil into the coolant a few years ago. Changed oil cooler, no change. Couple weeks later, oil dumping on the ground.... Turned out my PCV valve stuck, and the crankcase pressure was forcing oil through the cooler into the oil, but eventually it launched the PVC valve out of the valve cover, causing the mass oil leak. It launched the PCV valve when the coolant tank got full, and there was not where else for the excess pressure to go. I could easily see this same event cracking the intake manifold.

So yeah, I'd definitely do a compression test before writing off the head gasket...
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Old 03-25-2018, 11:45 AM   #8
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Thanks again, guys. Chemical combustion leak test turned up negative. However, my upper radiator hose feels like she’s full of air and thus isn’t heating up at temp the way I’d expect, so that might be throwing it. I might try and purge that and test it again before cracking into the compression testing.
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Old 03-25-2018, 12:17 PM   #9
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Pointing her downhill and massaging the upper hose in order to draw coolant in through the overflow seemed to do the trick. Upper hose is now filled and to temp and leak test remains negative.
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Old 03-25-2018, 12:45 PM   #10
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Good news so far...........
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