By on December 26, 2012

TTAC commentator Felix Hoenikker (yes, really) writes:

Dear Sajeev,

As a fellow Panther owner, I am seeking advice on the disposition of another Ford product. My 24 year old son just bought a new to him car and returned my 2000 Ford Taurus with the 3L Vulcan overhead valve engine to me. At 206K it runs great, but has one issue. Combustion gases are entering the cooling system and periodically venting through the coolant de-gassing tank.

Also, the OBDII system will ocasionally flag cylinder one for a misfire. This must be a very short lived event because the engine runs smoothly even when the CEL light is on. Two years ago, I had the car diagnosed by a AAA club recommend mechanic. He tested the coolant and found the combusion gases in the degass tank. He concluded that the engine had a head gasket leak in the vicinity of cylinder one. I should also mention that periodically, the spark plug on the cylinder number one gets coated with a white mineral. None of the other spark plugs have this type of deposit. So we know that coolant is getting into this cylinder. The car uses about one pint of coolant per thousand miles. Since there are no leaks, I assume it all ends up in cylinder one. At around 10K miles, the spark plug fouls with minerals, and I replace it. It’s a bear to get at since it is on the firewall side of the engine.

In March of 2010, I bit the bullet and replaced both head gaskets and resurfaced the valves. While the engine ran as smooth as silk, this job did not fix the coolant leak into number one cylinder. I believe that the cylinder head has a very small leak in this piston even though I could not find any evidence of it when I replaced the cylinder head gasket. It could also be a warped head. I am considering replacing the cylinder head with a rebuilt one from Advance Auto since I plan to give this car to #2 son who is a feshman in college.

Before I invest a $200 and a whole days work, I want to ask you and the B&B if you agree with my diagnosis. Has anyone heard of a cracked block doing this? When I replaced the head gasket, the block was shinny and smooth with no evidence of a coolant leak between it and the head gasket.

Sajeev answers:

Fellow Panther owner?  I only got Foxes, Panthers are just the logical extension of my madness!  My avatar don’t lie, son! But I digress…

Normally your OBD-II code and PCV (i.e. combustion gases) problem are the same concern. A bad PCV valve, worn out vacuum lines, etc can cause a code, but having these gases wind up in the coolant without it turning milky with oil contamination?

Maybe it isn’t the head, maybe the coolant expansion tank has an air leak…maybe at the cap?  That makes more sense than needing to change the head, do machine work, etc on a Vulcan V6 that otherwise drives perfectly. Of course that doesn’t explain the spark plug issue…or was that resolved after the new gaskets and machine work? Now I’m seriously confused.

Confused by one of the most basic engines in modern history!  Oh boy.

The other concern: how the hell did your son overheat/abuse a Vulcan V6 to the point it warped the head/block?  This all-iron motor is about as bulletproof as it gets. Maybe the Taurus forums can help, because I’m drawing at straws.

Get your Vulcan On, Best and Brightest.


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13 Comments on “Piston Slap: Mad Vulcan Powah?...”

  • avatar

    It could be a crack in the block, maybe something tiny right through to the water jacket in that #1 cylinder. Cast iron is tough, but if it was run real hot, that’s likely as not, and may not be obvious to the naked eye.

  • avatar

    I’m not a Vulcan expert, but consuming a pint of coolant every thousand miles is a lot.

    The CEL is caused by coolant also entering the exhaust. Your leak doesn’t have to include contamination of the oil system if the piston rings are fairly intact. With that kind of mileage, it sounds like the car is driven a fair bit, which may permit any water entering the oil system to just boil off without turning the oil to mayonaise.

    The block could have a crack that opens up when warm, making it hard to detect when cold. The head could be the same way. Your leak could be entering via a pathway in or near the intake manifold also – check there as well.

    I hope you checked the block for flatness and resurfaced the head when it was off. Normally, warp specs are less than 0.004″ for either component and requires careful checking.

    No matter what, you’ll have to remove the head again. An engine shop can pressure-check the head for cooling leaks. Look very carefully at the cylinder bore for a vertical crack.

    In any case, I wouldn’t return the car to service until it’s fixed.

    Here’s another thought: Many people want to “drive it ’till it dies”. If a head refurb doesn’t fix this problem, you may have reached that point. Depending on where you live, a 13-year-old Taurus may be filled with rust and/or electrical problems, to say nothing of the weak transmissions these cars had. If the repair starts creeping over $1k, it might be time to consider putting the money into another car.

  • avatar

    More likely a cracked or warped head than a cracked block. If he gasket leaked at cylinder #1, this may have led to a cracked head. You re-did the gasket, but probably needed to address the head itself. Not the worst problem in the world to fix yourself. You can always try Moroso ceramic engine seal, it will work on minor cracks.

    • 0 avatar

      It sounds like it had a persistant leak when your son owned it. At some point, he did not keep up with the coolant level and it ran hot; which caused the head to crack. Vulcans are simple, durable engines; but do not like to be overheated. It would make sense the rear head cracked.

      I had a freeze damaged Vulcan engine rebuilt about six years ago. A year later, I must have not kept up with the coolant level because it ran hot, blowing the head gasket. I refused to believe a rebuilt engine was broken once again and continued driving it until the head cracked.

      Four years later, the cracked head was replaced, and the other head resurfaced. New head gaskets were installed; and parts of the fuel system had to be replaced because it sat up for so long. But, it has been running fine for a year now. (Can’t tell you the 0-60 for it; but does get as high as 27 MPG on the highway.)

      I believe either the coolant bottle or the water pump gasket was the original culprit for the collant leak. I later replaced the radiator, and finally added some leak stop tablets to take care of the remaining leak. I check all the fluid levels weekly now to make sure it never happens again.

  • avatar

    “The other concern: how the hell did your son overheat/abuse a Vulcan V6 to the point it warped the head/block?”

    Despite all the things that are done now, from centrifuges to pressure casting, one is still pouring liquid metal into a mold. As such, sometimes despite all efforts, voids and faults still occur.

    There’s a reason that critical castings are still checked with ultrasound/xrays/magnaflux. The flaw may be fine for thousands of cycles, but that 3001st cycle may be failure point.

    Depending on your personal time/money equation, either source a head at the local PnP, or get the rebuild exchange for $200-ish. Not worth wasting any more time on.

    While you’ve got the head off, do run a machinist’s straight-edge across the top of that cylinder area. If you have a friend with a granite level block (bka surface plate), lay the removed head out on it and feeler around the sides and look for light. The goal is to rule out block deformation as causality.

    The block would be the main concern, because if there is a flaw at #1, a fresh head won’t help keep that gasket squished flat enough not to leak. If it’s only a few 10 thousandths out, you can rig it to run another 30K with a copper gasket.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I had the same problem with my 87 T-Bird with the 3.8 Essex. I never had any engine related issues with this car. Normal maintenance with regular oil and coolant changes, replaced sensors, EGR etc. One of the most reliable cars I’ve ever owned. At 187k the car started idling roughly and the expansion tank was overflowing. Combustion gases were entering the cooling system. After the diagnosis I did not want to spending time to tear down the engine and take the chance that it was a cracked head or block. So I sold the car to a wrecking yard who were quite happy to rebuild it, dump a 5.0 in it or part it out. A Taurus with 206k is a dicey proposition you could get by with just a remanufactured heads and gasket job and get another 100k out of it but you might have to dump money into suspension work etc.

  • avatar

    I loved the Essex in the Taurus/Sable, but unfortunately EVERY single one I ever saw or heard of somebody close owning had at least one headgasket failure. The 3.0 Vulcan was kinda sluggish (I had 3 [taurii?] with this motor), but also didnt die after 4000rpm like the Essex tended to. Still, for its stated purpose (grocery getter) the 3.8 served much better, too bad it was so poorly designed.

    On another note, I have no idea if the mechanic I spoke to knew what he was talking about, but he claimed he saw a lot more HG failures in Vulcans than one might expect. Not to the levels of the Essex, of course. Still, pretty shocking if true.

    • 0 avatar

      I never heard from a reputable source that Vulcans were known to eat headgaskets…any car might with overheating, but Vulcans are pretty damn durable.

      gslippy is correct: small amounts of leakage may not show up in the oil.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s not unusual for a Vulcan to pop a head gasket around 180-200k miles. Usually you just replace and and you’re good for another 150k or so. I’m guessing a warped or cracked head. It would have been a good idea to check the head for warping or magnafluxed in 2010 when the gasket was replaced, but it’s too late for that now.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s not unusual for all sorsta cars to kill a head gasket at 10+ years/200K miles.

        Measure the head warp on a granite machinists’ block and check the block with a machinists’ level.

        This really is engine rebuilding 101.

  • avatar

    In my opinion, the car is at the end of its useful life. 200K from a Taurus is well above average for that line. I’d send it to the scrapyard.

  • avatar

    i would put a can of these block sealant into the coolant system, u may wanna pinch off the heater core, these can cause blockage in heater core.
    the one i bought called ceramic a long plastic tube, next day or so when i go to local parts place i can look u the name for u.

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