By on March 4, 2014

TTAC Commentator Modestholdings writes:

Best from the West, young man,

The Boss has a pretty nice ’94 Escort LX wagon sourced by yours truly, and it happens to have found the sweet spot betwixt my picking it and her loving it. A grand for this one-owner handshaker and she’s managed to put about 23K on it in the last year — points of interest are far and few between here in Wyoming.

At 140,000 I figured it would be good prophylaxis to go ahead and do that timing belt (1.9 four-potter) after what was eventually determined to be the tensioner began yapping.

New clutch at buy, pretty new shoes and a windshield are our investments beyond regular upkeep. (When it rains, it hails.) Some forum s̶k̶u̶l̶d̶u̶g̶g̶e̶r̶y̶ ̶ spelunking has turned up the possibility of new valve seats as the next major preventative maintenance. My question for you, the B&B, et al, is whether that makes sense, or drive it until it pops (er, drops) and then plop a junkyard mill in? The current motivator is pretty tight for being good to vote and everything, and I’d like to keep the Green Machine rolling at least until she’s old enough to buy me beer.

Sajeev answers:

Yes, new valve seats could be in your future.  Or her future.  Or the Escort’s future.  Whatever…

The questions presented here are when and how to replace it: wait until it drops and sell the Escort?  Wait and replace with a junkyard motor?  Replace the valve seats now, either by yourself (if you are that awesome) or with a rebuilt head swap?

As I get earn more gray hair on my dome and less flexibility in my joints in cold weather, my answer goes to the path of least resistance:  the somewhat stress free and kinda cheap path.  So don’t wait for the entire motor to grenade, as that (probably) ruins both the cylinder head and the block.  Junkyard motors are 3-4 times more than a rebuilt head, and do you believe the valve “fix” was applied to whatever you buy? Or will it fail again, probably after the junkyard warranty expires?

Ignorance isn’t bliss, nor is an in-n-out motor swap.  Time to find the answer in the shades of gray.

The smarter move is a few hundred spent at a place like this, or something similar on eBay. In the 1.9L Escort’s case, a rebuilt cylinder head fixes the bad component and a fresh set of gaskets/fluids with someone smart enough to swap it all around is needed.  And if you must pay for the labor, it’s still a smarter long-term position than replacing the entire motor.

A possible final question: is it stupid to want to fix the problem before it actually is a problem?

When the problem can hurt the entire engine and replacement engines may be no better, the answer is absolutely yes.

Off to you, Best and Brightest.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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41 Comments on “Piston Slap: Escort Wagon Spelunking?...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    WTF is that picture? Wait never-mind, I don’t want to know.

    Rebuilt head is the way to go.

  • avatar
    Tinker

    I don’t know nuthin’ about birthin’ no babes!

    Yes, with all deliberate speed, replace the head on your/her escort.
    I’d find a good independent shop and ask them to do it, just because I’m an independent guy.

  • avatar
    raph

    Yeah… ummm… hmmmm. Talk about a hoohaw-wagon.

  • avatar
    JKC

    Since you’re in Wyoming, I assume the car hasn’t got any serious rust issues. It’s worth a new head. Enjoy the car.

  • avatar
    N8iveVA

    First, leave the wordsmithing to the professionals. Then go get a rebuilt head put on and drive it for another 140K

  • avatar
    raresleeper

    It’s an Escort… you want to keep driving that thing?

    Drive it until the engine gives. Then run like hell to a Civic.

    The Escort IS the ultimate throw-away vehicle. The old ones- obscure throw-aways. Don’t nurse the damned thing.

    I had a 2000. Slushbox. Beautiful metallic blue, on such a cheap car- it was shocking.

    Bargain basement gray cloth with *power nothing*.

    Replaced a crap load of ignition parts, went through spark plugs like nobody’s business, two starters, then the engine crapped out at 150K.

    This is all from 120K miles on…

    Let it die.

    • 0 avatar
      salguod

      I’ve had two, a stripped down ’93 LX and now my daughter’s ’98 SE. Thesea re pretty reliable cars and cheap because most don’t think they are. Her’s has needed a coil a PCM (fried when the coil went) and the typical for Escorts rear springs over 20K, but has otherwise been good. Mine needed an intake gasket, the rear springs and very little else over about 160K.

      I picked up hers for $2K with 110K on it. A $2K Civic is a few years older and at least another 100K miles. Hard to beat the value.

      • 0 avatar
        raresleeper

        Good value- yes, it is certainly cheap- albeit, shorter-term- transportation. So long as the internals hold up.

        All this talk of new heads, et cetera… no, Sir. Discard.

        Likely won’t have to worry about the tranny though, if so equipped with the auto. Not enough power generated to do any serious harm to the granny box.

        As a side note, where in the hell do you find a low-mileaged, well-preserved Escort? I didn’t know such things existed.

        Quite the anomally here.

        • 0 avatar
          salguod

          There were plenty of them around here, although maybe not quite well preserved. This one looked great on the outside (until she hit the deer), but the rear springs were broken (a common Escort problem) and, as I noted in my other comment which seems to have been eaten by the TAC machine, it had some serious floor rust which I did not catch at purchase. A home made patch panel, some caulk, sheetmetal screws and paint and it should be good to get her through college.

      • 0 avatar
        greaseyknight

        Bingo, pick the unloved cars/brands. They may be only 90% as good as the equivalent Honda or Toyota, but those cars are in great demand and get stolen. Its a great deal for those inclined to do their own wrenching, cheap to purchase, maintain, and find parts for.

        • 0 avatar
          matador

          Bingo! I would personally say that a Buick LeSabre is cheaper and more reliable than a Honda Accord. I boughtmy 95 LeSabre for $700 and drove it for 30,000 miles trouble-free.

          I think Honda’s just get parts to keep going, where a Buick would be junked for the same issue.

          Plus, Japanese cars never really did anything for me. I’ll trade my 10% reliability difference for Dynaride any day!

          • 0 avatar
            raresleeper

            “I would personally say that a Buick LeSabre is cheaper and more reliable than a Honda Accord.”

            That, Sir, is quite optimistic of you.

          • 0 avatar
            golden2husky

            It is certainly not as reliable, but even with added repair costs, you bet a car like that Buick is cheaper over the long haul if you drive them to their deaths. The dollar delta between the two will pay for a lot of repairs, and chances are you will have a lot fewer repairs that most think you will…

          • 0 avatar
            matador

            Exactly. You can apply money for repairs and still be ahead. Now, my logic:

            Look at who purchased Buicks and Hondas new. Originally, a LeSabre was a premium grade car, that would be well cared for. Civics and Accords were targeted to lower-budget clients, and therefore likely received a lower grade of care.

            Find a LeSabre with 200k and an Accord with 200k, from roughly the same year. The Buick will likely be better maintained, whilst the Honda has likely received more of a beating.

            The Honda Platform may be more reliable, and probably is. That isn’t the only metric on a used car, though. Honda’s in our area are often beat up, and still command a high-dollar. Nobody wants a LeSabre- I picked mine up for very cheap.

            I then drove it 30k miles without much of a hitch at all. I had a friend who bought a 94 Accord and drove about the same. Same driving style, similar distances. His Honda broke 4 times, stranding him once. My Buick- it needed a radiator about 15k miles ago. And that’s it. I was able to limp it home with ease. And, my Buick has 50k more miles than the Accord.

            Honda makes a fine product, but I see the Buick as being of equal quality.

            My friends Honda- it went to the Crusher. My Buick- I’ll be making some minor repairs this spring.

            Oh, and my friend- he now drives an Oldsmobile 88.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    An old GF had one those with a stick. Nice little car, think it was mostly a Mazda.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    Chelsea Christian. Worth the click. Oh yeah, this has something about cars, right? Lost my train of thought. My resident photographer would understand, but she views cars as appliances. As to the Ford, fiscal sensibility says reman the head. Buy a Harbor Freight torque wrench and do it in the garage. Have a good machine shop do the knurling, etc. and go for it. It will burn a little more oil, but that is normal. A $300 gamble on your dexterity – surely that’s acceptable.

  • avatar
    Aquineas

    That is a seriously disturbing photo; it unfortunately reminds me of a meme a couple of years ago about some person wanting to experience what it was like being inside a Tauntaun, and, being unable to find a tauntaun, she used a horse. I’m not providing a link; it’s out there if you want it, but be warned, your mind cannot “unsee” something it’s seen. With regards to the article, Sajeev nailed it. I’m firmly in the “gray hair, path of least resistance” manner of thinking as well.

  • avatar
    SayMyName

    Yeah, that photo definitely seems like something we’d have seen during the former E-I-C’s reign of terror and troll-shaming.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Since these Escorts get no love it would prob be easier to get a low miled junkyard engine/trans and plop it in.

    • 0 avatar
      raresleeper

      Live with it for a while then let me know if you want to keep it going.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Living with it is a whole other thing than just keeping it going :)

        • 0 avatar
          raresleeper

          Then you KNOW that the 1.9L reaching the higher-end of its powerband- in all of it’s 88 horsepower sweetness- it music to the ears. :)

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            The Saturn 1.9 I4 is 120hp in DOHC and something like 100 in SOHC. I have the DOHC thankfully but its only 32hp more than the awesome Escort.

          • 0 avatar
            TMA1

            I had a SOHC Saturn coupe in college. It was only 100hp, but weighing less than my current Miata it was still kind of a fun car. And that thing wouldn’t die, no matter how much I neglected it (though everything on the inside broke).

          • 0 avatar
            SayMyName

            The Saturn 1.9L SOHC offered 85hp to start, with Wikipedia saying that was raised to 100hp in 1995. The DOHC stayed at 124hp throughout its run.

  • avatar

    These Escort wagons are somehow more reliable than the sedans and coupes. Maybe they were made at a different plant. When Ford redesigned the plain/handsome 91 era Protege, they really uglied it up with bubble styling and wierd tail lights. The wagon fixes more than half of that. Also, the cars are somehow feel bigger on the inside than the larger Tempos/Contours. I am not sure how much of the Protege’s handling was retained, but it has to be decently fun to drive. I seriously want one, but we already have 3 cars. It would be a good Ranger replacement, as long as you don’t want to move refrigerators or big couches.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    “A possible final question: is it stupid to want to fix the problem before it actually is a problem?”

    This is a question I always ask myself when I hear the “drive it until it dies” folks who think that preventive maintenance is a fools errand. I’d personally rather continue to do the checks and minor repairs before something catastophic happens.

    Had my brother, or rather the former owners, dealt with his Cavalier it might still be on the road. When he got it, thankfully only paying $500 on it, the oil was thicker than pudding and there were 280k miles on it. This car was 8 years old at the time. The timing chain snapped and destroyed the block.

    Back to the poster’s question: if it’s worth it to your friend to keep driving the car, fix it. Not everybody is interested in perpetually getting new(er)/different cars.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I’m glad he doesn’t write articles for this site. I could barely stand reading through his email letter.

  • avatar
    salguod

    In addition to the risk of a dropped valve seat, look out for rust. I’ve had two, a ’93 5 door and a ’98 SE, and both have had rust issues. They are related to the Protege after all.

    Rust also typically claims the rear springs by this mileage and freezes up the parking brake assy. if not used regularly. The springs can be had for $60 a pair, but no replacement parts are available for the parking brake. A lot of penetrating oil and elbow grease will bring it back.

    • 0 avatar
      NoGoYo

      Haha…yeah, I know first hand how badly Escorts rust. My mom owned an ’84 Escort wagon and it had to be forcibly retired because the whole floorpan was ready to fall out due to serious rust.

      • 0 avatar
        raresleeper

        My mother had an 84 also.

        Couldn’t kill the bastard. Handed down from her, then to my sister, then to my brother in law for 9 years. Four speed, IIRC?

        Dark gray over red interior.

        NO air conditining. It would get hotter than an oven in there… the sunroof did little to help that. And that’s when cars had the big huge (scalding hot) metal door handles, door locks, and huge metal belt buckles.

        Damn. Burns my skin just thinking about it.

        • 0 avatar
          NoGoYo

          My mom’s was two tone blue with…blue cloth interior? Yeah, I think it had blue cloth interior. Definitely was an automatic, my mom has never owned a stick in my lifetime.

          It ran fine and didn’t look rusty from the outside, but I guess the floors weren’t properly rustproofed. Someone forgot to spring for the…whatever that famous rustproofing service is.

          • 0 avatar
            raresleeper

            Ziebart “Tidy Car”? Lol.

            I’ve seen way too many of those shield-looking stickers peering out of the windows of 80′s cars as a child.

            Not sure if it prevented the body cancer or not.

        • 0 avatar
          NoGoYo

          I’m gonna go with “maybe”. It might have prevented rust for 10 years, only for the cars to completely rot out before making it to the 21st century. Would explain why 80s cars are rather rare here in the brine-y Northeast.

          Then again, maybe I just live in an area where people don’t still own 80s cars in large numbers.

  • avatar
    matador

    I’ll give my 2 cents. We live in Northwest Wyoming, and owned a 1993 Escort LX sedan. The car served us reliably from 1993-2007 (We bought new). It lasted until 354k miles, when the head went out. We hated that little car, but it lasted forever. We didn’t have much money back then, so it had to keep running, and it did.

    We never could afford “extra” repairs. We broke about 4 or 5 timing belts on it. They always seemed to break near home, so a tow chain and our 1987 Chevrolet would drag it home. The engine ticked on forever.

    We didn’t maintain anything else either. Tires were replaced when the steel cord showed, the transmission was worn out, timing belt replacements became a way of life, and we abused that little car. Escorts and our Wyoming gravel roads don’t mix.

    After all of this, I think I can safely say that the 1.9 SEFI (At least ours) is unkillable… except for heads.

    I’d probably replace the head. Our car never stranded us more than 2 miles from home. I wouldn’t want to risk it, though. Replace it in your yard, and enjoy your frugal, uneventful, slow, underpowered motoring!

  • avatar
    CapVandal

    The short answer is that it makes no financial sense to spend that kind of money on preventative maintenance on an asymptomatic, $1,000 car. This is far from the ‘drive it til it drops’ philosophy. I would fix anything I can see or hear or is cheap and easy.

    If it is a question of your relationship to the driver — follow your bliss.

  • avatar
    alainrw

    my grandpa had one of these and we put my dads 14″ na miata wheels on it. looked pretty nice.


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