By on November 1, 2010

TTAC Commentator sastexan writes:

I have another Ford Duratec question for Sajeev, knowing his enthusiasm [So to speak – SM] for this engine. My 12 1/2 year old daily driver, my first “real” car that I have been driving for 2/3 of my driving years – a ‘98.5 Contour SVT – has a major problem.

I was at Summit Point on Friday, and had oil starvation-no warning-just puff of smoke out exhaust, a loss of power and a noise, then engine quit – clutch in rolled off track just in time for oil to start gushing out.  Oil kept dripping the next hour or two.  Cannot visibly see damage, but dipstick is stuck.  Mechanic today (5 days later) tried to turn over the engine to see if it would spin and if compression – said no compression and it spun a few times then he heard a bang and it locked up.  Did zero disassembly.

Question 1 – is that an appropriate way to see if an engine is done for, especially knowing there is no oil in the crankcase?

Question 2 – is it worth finding someone to do a 3.0 upgrade (I don’t have the expertise, knowledge, time, or place to even fathom taking this on)?

Sajeev Answers:

I hate hearing the story of a treasured vehicle biting the dust. These V6 Contours are known for oil pan baffling issues at high cornering loads. But I’m fairly certain that yours threw a rod like mine when bits of catalyst from the pup cats (on the manifold) got sucked into the motor, cracked a piston and threw a rod.  Since you a Contour nut, scrapping is not an option. It’s time for a 3.0L Taurus swap.

sastexan replies:

Interesting – one of the cats has been degrading for about 9 months now – started as a CEL light (P0430), but only was an issue when temps were below 45 degrees and the car was fully warmed up.  The O2 sensor was reading right on the threshold – limit is 0.45 and it was reading 0.47. I also know it was a cat as I could hear it rattling at certain RPM – and it felt a little sluggish.  I all of a sudden noticed about 2 months ago the rattle was gone and the engine felt a little looser – guess finally got all the plates flattened.

I’m inclined to do the engine – I just got laid off, got rugrat #2 due in 5 weeks, and I have an extra car to drive around for a few months (my father-in-law’s old Grand Cherokee – he passed away 6 months ago).  But since I’m a gearhead but not much of a wrench turner, and I don’t have a garage or suitable spot to work on the car – I’m slightly leery of finding someone that is trustworthy enough to do such a job.

As a side note on the oil starvation, some have put the Escape oil pan in – which has baffles – others (like myself) have just filled to 6 quarts (factory spec is 5.5) and no issues.  I only jumped on oil starvation due to what I’ve read – the problem occurred after a low speed tight turn followed by an immediate accelerating turn that isn’t a high-G turn because of the low entry speed.  My mechanic is an instructor at Summit Point, so he was surprised that was where it happened.

I found a guy who builds 3L swaps and sells as a crate or installed.  Has done 40-50 installs and 70 or so as crate engines.  Talked to him for over an hour, he really knows the engine, issues, and install.  Offers a flat rate install (including fluids) if he has the car. He said that the oiling problem with the 2.5L is less the lack of baffles in the oil pan – that exasperates it – but that the heads don’t drain properly if you are in a long, sweeping right hand turn.  Hence, when my car puked the rod (after a long right hand turn), which probably punched the block or pan, it didn’t start spewing oil for 5 or so seconds when the oil started coming back down out of the heads.  The 3L has different heads so no oiling issue like that.

I’m going to shop transport companies, this is the best course of action – someone who really knows (and loves) the car will give it new life; I’ll get a car back for minimal (relatively) money that was worthless which I know the full history and that it is in good running order.  And it will be ready for the track again with a good amount more power and no more weight, as well as duty as my daily driver.

Sajeev replies:

Well, looks like someone doesn’t mess around! Enjoy the swap, that installer has a good reputation so I am sure it’ll be worth the time and money. I was lucky that my Cougar had a good home (with a garage full of Contour/Taurus parts) waiting for it in central Texas, otherwise I’d be in your shoes.

In less than a month, sastexan replies:

Thought I would give you an update. The 3L swap is great. The MSDS headers add to the deep baritone (notwithstanding my exhaust leaks).  Maybe in the spring, once I am gainfully employed again, I’ll spring for a full new exhaust – everything under there is in pretty sorry shape thanks to all these years of salt-eating DC roads, even with undercarriage washes. But it feels really nice, maybe even slightly smoother than stock engine, pulls really strong, great engine tone just too much of it.

Sajeev concludes:

Damn son, that was quick! About two weeks after your last email, I drove my 3L “hybrid” Cougar (Cougar heads, Taurus short block) from Luke, the guy who technically owns it after I gifted it to him, and it’s a total hoot. There’s plenty of low-end torque, with smooth and strong power all the way to 7000rpm (SVT cams). Very little torque steer, probably thanks to the Quaife in the transaxle. I can wait, but whenever I get it back, I’ll be a happy camper.

No doubt, you are gonna love spending time in your RestoMod Contour SVT. The more time you spend with it, I’m sure you’ll agree that this is precisely what SVT shoulda done from the factory.

Send your queries to [email protected]. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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14 Comments on “Piston Slap: Duratec Headache Part II: SVT RestoMod Edition...”

  • avatar

    Brings back painful memories. My 1996 Contour SE suffered from loss in compression in three cylinders after inhaling bits of catalyst. From a friend inside Ford I learned that they knew about this problem, and engineers wanted to recall the entirer 1996 model year, but bean counters only approved a recall for some cars, and mine was not included.

    I was not aware that later model years continued to suffer from this known problem.

    • 0 avatar

      2002 Cougars suffer from it. AFAIK, they all had this problem.
      If they didn’t, my buddy would have no reason to gift his to me after 77,000 Mobil-1 marinated miles on the clock. He coulda sold it for scrap for $250 or so, but instead it got a new lease on life thanks to the huge improvement gained from the 3.0L swap.

  • avatar

    A can or two of “engine restore” will not work?
    This stuff was simpler in the “old days.”
    Or just toss a small block Chevy in there.

  • avatar

    Please clue me in on the catalytic converter problem (a quick web search didn’t yield any info) – do chunks from the converter get sucked back into the engine via the exhaust ports?  I’ve never heard of this before.  I’m sure others would like to know more as well.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s precisely the problem and its not unique to Ford.  Nissan and Toyota (MR-spyders) are also in the mix.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks Sajeev!

      I did some more web searching and found that another path for the converter bits back into the engine is via the EGR system (of course, didn’t even think of that before my morning coffee).

      The really sad fact is, by the time you realize that something is wrong, the engine is toast.  What’s the OBDII code for imminent engine destruction?  Used car buyers (like me) need to be VERY aware of these types of issues.  I bought a used Civic that turned out to use a lot of oil (up to a quart every other fillup in cold-weather driving), but it has good compression so only a very careful reading of the plugs may have been the only tipoff in a pre-sale inspection (which I skipped by choice).

    • 0 avatar

      Whoa…I did not know about EGR delivery.  That’s nuts.

    • 0 avatar

      Please correct me if I am wrong, but excessive oil consumption (or engine running rich all the time) can be traced by scratching the exhaust tip and checking for carbon build-up there. If there is lots of cack – you don’t have to look any further really.

  • avatar

    Thanks for the article, Sajeev!  Clear up a few things – the “noise” comment was because the temporary fix to the rusted exhaust got knocked out on the transport, so I was running open headers straight piped underneath the car, which echoed further in the exhaust tunnel.  I cannot even begin to say how LOUD this was.  Since then, I’ve patched up that section of pipe with a little welding (friend who knows what he is doing), but there are still a few holes in other sections.  The open headers are louder, but not obscenely so.
    There was a fist-size hole in the side of the block, firewall side, so couldn’t see it before the engine was pulled.
    I have my old headers with the precats if anyone wants them.  :)
    The car really goes like stink now – I didn’t have them put in my old SVT cams but I do have them – the power characteristics are a little different.  I’ll dyno it after I replace the exhaust.
    The initial piston slap question was: am I crazy to spend all this money on an old car?  Steve Lang probably would say yes, dump it.  Sajeev (obviously) said NO, it’s a treasure.  My wife thinks I’m slightly nuts, as do many of my friends and family.

  • avatar

    The svt contour has one of the sweetest sounding intake and exhaust of any car I have ever been around.  My friend had one with a intake on it and the car just sounded spectacular.

  • avatar

    Awesome to hear that! I had a Zetec and slushbox equipped Fleet Queen 2000 ‘tour that was a hoot to thrash with little complaints from the DOHC four, other than mediocre milage. Even on the pizza cutter 14″ wheels it was a corner-carving little sedan. It rode nicely, stuck to the road, good visibility and one of the easiest cars I’ve owned to re-content. I was always envious on the forums about the 3.0 swap, and eyed mine a few times to do that, and decided to just get a V6 model and leave the 4 alone.
    I’d probably have kept it if it had the 5 speed. I hated the slushbox in it. but when I picked it up for $200 non-running thanks to a dead timing belt, and bad fuel pump, and then sold it a year later for $2,000 to a guy who walked up and threw down two grand in cash for it (all legit!)

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