By on December 27, 2012

TTAC commentator Felix Hoenikker writes:

Thanks for the post. At the end of March, I bit the bullet and replaced the right cylinder head with a rebuilt one from Advance Auto. With my on line discount and a new head gasket, the total parts cost was under $200 plus a day’s labor.

The rebuilt head solved the coolant leak problem. I have over 2500 miles on the Taurus with the new head, and the CEL light has not come on once. Also, the #1 spark plug no longer has a brownish deposit as before. I examined the old head with a light and magnifying glass but could not find the source of the coolant leak into the cylinder. My older soon said he found info on one of the internet forums that Ford had a problem with porous head casting around the time the car was made. So, I’m assuming that was the problem with the cylinder head. The odd thing was how slowly the problem developed. It took over 60K for it to get bad enough for me to get a handle on it.

My next and final repair will be to replace the leaking heater core and AC evaporator before I hand the car over to #2 son.

Sajeev answers:

Wow, that’s pretty cheap for a reconditioned head!  Good for you!

Your query definitely made me scratch my head. (Get it?) Vulcan’s aren’t known for casting problems because of that Neanderthal choice of material (cast iron) but shit happens over the course of production.  Especially from the beancounted era of Jac Nasser’s reign in Dearborn. Guess I’m not surprised.

Another non-surprise: since this IS a Vulcan, it took 60,000 miles out of over 200,000 TOTAL miles for this to happen. Which says a lot about the Vulcan’s bulletproof nature, casting mistakes and Jac Nasser be damned. Most Vulcan owners wouldn’t own the car long enough to see this!

Thanks for sharing, it’s nice to hear that someone with such mechanical acumen still exists in today’s throwaway society.


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32 Comments on “Piston Slap: Mad Vulcan Powah? (Part II)...”

  • avatar

    “Another non-surprise: since this IS a Vulcan, it took 60,000 miles out of over 200,000 TOTAL miles for this to happen. Which says a lot about the Vulcan’s bulletproof nature…”

    Umm, what it says that they aren’t very bulletproof. Or spitwad proof. At least the price to fix it was right.

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t forget Ford’s cheapening out during this era: interiors inferior to those made in the early 1990s, cheap (Temperature “C” rated) Firestone tires, Piston Slap in 5.4L trucks…and apparently a bad casting on the Vulcan.

      The Vulcan went to 200k even with Jac Nasser at the helm. Maybe not bulletproof, but…

      • 0 avatar

        Fair enough, Nasser did drag Ford quality down to almost GM levels.

      • 0 avatar

        200K is 200K. There are plenty of far more expensive engines failing at much lower mileages and at far, far greater frequency. Jac or not, this engine owes no one an apology. Generally speaking it will outlast the car. And despite all the bull hate that goes on here from posters who probably never owned one, the cars can withstand the test of time…even if that test comes with a bunch of broken plastic interior bits and bad rear springs…

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        Absolutely, the interior in my 95 T-Bird, though well furnished you can hear the occasional creak from a rear panel or the console. My 87 T-Bird was tight as a drum.

      • 0 avatar

        Did the Lincolns suffer from this spotty design/construction as well?

  • avatar

    While not nearly as fragile as aluminum, cast iron heads do warp under normal use due to heating/cooling cycles. They normally don’t warp enough to cause any problems, but overheat one severely enough and they will warp severely and can crack. Small block chevy cast iron heads will crack in the combustion chamber between the valves when badly overheated. $200.00 for a reconditioned cast iron head sounds about right, that is the normal rate they go for in my area.

  • avatar

    I would have pitched this car by now. There are plenty more interesting beaters out there.

  • avatar

    Vulcan Taurus? Ouch My beater is a 94 SHO MTX and for $1,500, I’ll take its temperamental-ness over a Taurus with Mad Vulcan Powah!

    Replacing a heater core is a chore. The A/C evaporator not so much. Either way, I’d ditch the car and find another beater for your son.

  • avatar

    The repair cost for this one is what makes it a good first car for both sons – as long as Dad is footing the bill to repair them; Vulcan powered Tauri are cheap to repair, and parts are easy to find.

    Son won’t wrap himself around a tree showing off that “mad vulcan powah” to his friends. He will either learn how to keep it running, or kill it from neglect. Once he has had his first round of fender benders and the Taurus is dead at last; he can get the car of his dreams; hopefully older and wiser by then.

  • avatar

    Glad to hear it worked out.

    Another controversial subject – if you haven’t serviced the transmission, it’s not to late to do so (fluid and filter).

    Sajeev – the writer says he did this repair in March; is this problem really that old, and if so, of what use is the B&B input when the story is already concluded?

    • 0 avatar

      At the end of the day, I am writing to entertain and inform. Partially by choice, partially because of personal constraints. What does that mean?

      It means I only publish 2 Piston Slaps a week, usually. And when you have over 80 emails sitting in the queue, they get old. If someone writes me with ASAP all over it, it is published ASAP.

      Not defending my system, just saying that’s all I got.

  • avatar

    Assuming that the right cylinder head is cylinders 4-6 it’s pretty common. Seen it several times on the Vulcan, problem is usually around cylinder 5.

    Supposedly they used thinner castings in the later heads, more prone to fail.

    The torquing sequence is a real PITA.

    I wouldn’t keep it that long, after they fail the first time they don’t always stay fixed, particularly if you couldn’t verify the reason for the fail.

    You can drive a long time before the problem becomes evident, my last Vulcan never overheated and stranded me but eventually I pulled the head and there was a pinhole in the gasket.

  • avatar

    I’d like to know if anyone else knows that pictures from”Midtown Madness 2″.

    As for fixing the Vulcan, I’d say to do it if you really like the car, Taurus’s don’t exactly sell high from what I know.

  • avatar

    Midtown Madness 2, or Midtown Madness? Looked for screen shots online; and I think it is the latter. Anyway, I did not know; thanks.

  • avatar

    I’ve exactly same problem on my ’01SE with Vulcan “powah” (just over 100,000 miles = 163,500 km), but CEL indicates misfire in cylinder two. I took my car to 4 mechanics. Last one did compression check, said it was fine, checked for leaks in vacuum lines and concluded that it must be a head gasket. And he said it would be cheaper to put another engine ($1,200 installed) than to do the gasket. I also have a coolant leak on intake gasket on the other bank of cylinders, but no noticeable coolant loss and clean oil. Since salty Ontario roads were not kind to my car, I opted to drive it as is.

    Regarding a heater core replacement, it’s not really that hard. I’ve done in in the past on my car. Since e-mail for Part 1 was sent in March, I’m not sure if you already swapped you heater core or not. But, if you need detailed instructions on how to do it, please reply and I will guide you.

  • avatar

    What a timely topic! The AAA just towed into my driveway this very afternoon a 1996 Taurus GL with the 3.0 engine and 219K miles on the clock. My wife’s friend was just starting a road trip when the serpentine belt idler pulley decided it wasn’t going to turn any longer. Belt came off and she drove for an unknown amount of time/miles before pulling over (with battery light on and high coolant temp).

    $22 for a new idler pulley, will top off the coolant, and then we’ll see if there is any lasting damage. It starts and runs just fine but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a small leak or crack. I don’t think I’ll even bother pulling the plugs at this point in time.

    But as mentioned above, at its mileage on the original engine and transmission, it has provided almost 17 years’ worth of reliable motoring. Additional miles are purely in the bonus category!

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker


    The reason I sent this to Sajeev was to show that the “experts” can be just as wrong with a diagnosis as the amateur that I am. To my knowledge, the engine on my Taurus Vulcan was never over heated. The coolant level never dropped enough for that. The whole problem came down to economics. Namely, is it better to spend a few hundred on the devil yow know or to punt and buy another beater with unknown issues. I choose the devil I know. Now that the beast is running great, I will stick out other small repairs (heater core) to get the beast back in full service.
    As other commenters said, parts for this car are cheap. I can supply the labor despite my wife’s protests to the contrary.

    • 0 avatar

      Do you need help with heater core replacement? You don’t have to take whole dash out, just to lift it out of the way. I can describe exactly what has to be done. Local big box store quoted me 5 hrs of labour, I’ve done everything in half the time (1st time doing it) at near freezing temperature.

    • 0 avatar

      If you like the car its best to “go with the devil”, when you look at other beaters its anyones guess as to what problems they’re going to have.

  • avatar

    If happy with the Taurus that is great. But most folks do not have the talent/tools/space/time to repair them. Go to a shop to get a cyl head fixed? Car is essentially ‘totaled’.

    There are much better ‘beaters’ out there still running that are simple and painless for a 1st car. And yeah, while a 1997 biege Camry is ‘boring’, getting towed and fixing it in cold temps is no fun either.

  • avatar

    It’s gratifying to own a car, or otherwise, that’s relatively reliable, simple to work on, uses inexpensive parts, and is a known quantity. The result is a vehicle that is more old friend than mere conveyance.

  • avatar

    Cool. Getting them fixed just plain feels good, doesn’t it?

  • avatar
    Andy D

    You Ford guys are just as scary as the guys on the Ranger Station with all this talk of cracking heads. and intake troubles. I have a 94 Ranger with a 4.0 V6. It is my first Ford in 30 yrs. What have I gotten myself into?

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