1999 Ford Escort • 12,800 miles

+ 1999 Ford Escort Sedan 2.0L SPI engine with 128K miles
+ I haven't been able to get/keep the engine running since Sat-18-Aug when it died in the middle of driving.
+ no engine codes/lights/indicators
+ engine started and ran/idled for ~5min Sat-25-Aug then died (has not started/run for more than a few seconds since)
+ the engine makes a knocking/clanging sound when it starts to turn over
+ engine cranks, turns over, and sparks
+ it has new spark plugs (w/ correct gap) & spark plug cables as of 3-Sep'12
- the old spark plugs did not look so bad, just black, but gap was too small at 0.045 vs. Spec of 0.052-0.056
- new spark plugs now have correct gap at ~0.53 each
- old and new spark plug #4 shows what looks like metal dust/particles on threads when removed (they stick to plug which is slightly damp with fuel
+ battery is new as of Jan'10, reads 12.5-13V not running, and ~9.5-10V under load (during crank). This is expected to be good
+ it has new fuel filter & fuel pump as of 31-Aug'12
- both old & new pumps would turn on when key was in ON position (before cranking)
- I could blow air through tube between fuel pump and fuel filter, as well as after fuel filter to valve at fuel rail
- fuel pressure on old pump was too low for spec at ~39psi not running and same running
- fuel pump spec: 50-85psi not running & 25-25psi running
- new pump is only 5psi higher (~45psi)
- EFI system does not have a fuel pressure regulator which would return fuel to tank, but instead a fuel pressure sensor within the fuel rail which measures pressure diff between fuel rail and intake manifold and then talks to PCM (as does the temp sensor), which then [the PCM] decides the needed fuel pressure and tells pump to act accordingly.
+ I tried jumping car after new fuel filter & pump, but it was no help
+ timing belt and pulleys look OK
- timing of camshaft pulley (top) and crankshaft pulley (bottom) both line up pointing up while piston 1 is TDC
- piston/spark order is left to right 1, 2, 3, 4 and firing order is 1-3-4-2
- crankshaft turned 180deg CW shows piston#3 at top, +180deg=#4 at top, +180=#2 at top, +180=2 complete turns and #1 back on top along with cam&crank marks pointing up
- pistons don't move when pressed with screwdriver through spark plug hole
- all pistons look dark, rusty, nasty, but view is dark and limited
- Turning the crankshaft (bottom pulley) required a cheater bar and great force at some times of rotation (not sure if at each 180 or only at 360 turn.
+ I read that it can be hard to turn when a valve opens
+ replaced the drive belt (not timing belt) Tue-4-Sep; old one had underside cracks, felt brittle, and just barely starting to fray in a few spots.

HISTORY: several months ago (end of 2011-2012 winter in western Idaho) starting was rough and it sound like something broke, stripped, or jumped (it was a single loud short clank/crack sound), but it was cold & rainy and so I just went on with work that day (car started up). I checked later that day and did not see any broken pieces or anything out of the ordinary. I thought maybe a fan blade broke off, but it was fine. I had an overheating problem at about that same time, but fixed it by filling up coolant reservoir (happened at winter-to-spring transition. During this past summer I would have intermittent hard/noisy starting usually in morning when starting engine to go to work, and then frequency increased to happening also at work just before leaving to go home. Frequency increased, but I was always able to start driving and at higher speeds the rough performance/sound was not present. Saturday 18-Aug was the first time that my engine actually quit working.

SUMMARY: Engine cranks and turns over, spark is good, fuel seems OK at pump and filter, but still need to check fuel rail, pressure sensor, & injectors. See check list below:
-- check compression (I have a rental compression tester on hold in my name at autozone)
-- check fuel rail, injectors, & pressure sensor (not sure how yet, but I know specialty tools, cleaners, and test rigs exist)
-- check for vacuum leaks (spray brake cleaner around air intake tubes)
-- decide when is best to have expert look at it
-- decide on what amount of money is too much to continue working on this
-- check guts of engine?
September 5, 2012.

Start with the compression test


THanks for the quick reply. Will do today after work. You think it will be bad on cylinder #4? I heard these have a problem with dropped valve seat on #4. Which could match my metal particles I see from #4.

Sep 5, 2012.
Could be but you need to start with basics


I did a compression test tonight. Spec = 164-200psi.
Dry: cylinder 1=160psi, 2=160, 3=155, 4=0
Wet: cylinder1=200psi, 2=175, 3=160, 4=0

While testing #4 I opened oil refill cap and held hand over opening and air was noticeably pushing past fingers/gloves.

I need to do a leak down test with cylinder#4 at TDC (TDC ensures valves at closed position). Depending on where the air leaks, I will call around and see the cost of repair unless someone can give me a basic idea if I can do it myself and ballpark $$amount for parts and/or labor. If I understand right the following leaks match up with the listed problem.
1 - air out oil fill or dipstick = leak past piston rings to bottom of engine
2 - air into coolant (bubbles) = head gasket broken =
3 - air out throttle body or air intake, or out exhaust = leak past valves = broken valves

Sep 7, 2012.
Leak down test results: I only tested cylinder #1 & #4 since they are both up at the same time (I tested with piston at top at exhaust & compression cycle). #1 had a little leaking out exhaust, but #4 leaked air out the exhaust and throttle body without restriction (are the valves completely gone?). It flowed out at high pressure. Air also leaked out the oil fill opening (piston ring &/or piston damage). While I cranked the piston through it's cycles (with out spark plug or compression tester in) my son saw the piston top ROTATING up/down and told me he thought he saw a ball in there. I had him take a video while I cranked slowly and sure enough the piston top was rotating or there was something loose in there rolling around. It's definitely messed up. I'd like to take it apart to see what damage was done, but it's very low on my priority list right now.

The last 2 weeks (between compression test and leak down test) I researched cars, car buying, and how to haggle a good/fair price. We were deciding between a Dodge Durango, Honda Pilot, and Toyota Highlander to handle a family and can take us camping to remote areas while allowing for hauling a trailer or just stuffing it with lumber and construction stuff for the once in a while home projects (like the deck I just finished). The Pilot won and we got a 2008 with ~64K miles on it from a no hassle/haggle super store. We got it on a Friday and on the following Monday the pilot started giving us a CEL and miss fire codes for all 6 cylinders. Checking the owners manual revealed the CEL section was circled in pen by the previous owners, so the dealer is paying for anything to get it fixed. The nightmare continues, but we have dealer help and at least there is no performance issue and it runs fine. Must be sensors &/or computer. We already had the dealer check plugs, coils, battery, etc and also perform a Honda TSB 09-090 which adjusts valves & software upgrade, but it still gives us codes. The dealer will check it out on Monday again.

Looks like I'll start a thread on a Honda forum and close this one down. Thanks all for the comments. Old blue is no more.

Sep 22, 2012.