By on January 24, 2020

TTAC Commentator Halftruth writes:

Hey Sajeev,

I’m trying to help my aunt out with her Mercury Sable, which has a 3.0-liter Duratec engine. It has an oil leak from the front passenger side which I believe is coming from the timing chain cover. How hard is this repair and what else should I look for if, say, the leak is not the cover or oil pan? I have checked the valve covers, oil press sender, and cam sensors — all dry.

Sajeev replies:

I agree with your assessment, it sounds a lot like a leaky timing chain cover, especially considering the age of any Mercury Sable equipped with a 3.0L Duratec. You will have to remove all the accessories, the CV shaft, and anything needed to get to those things before getting to the cover. If I read between the lines on the internet correctly, it’s a 9-ish hour job for a pro.

Certainly not for the faint of heart, but it isn’t the water pump on this engine’s successor. (shivers) 

Your thoughts on this?

Halftruth responds:

Unfortunately I think we’re both right and the timing cover is more than likely the culprit. The leak is def sourcing from above the oil pan. I can do it but I think I am past driveway engine dismantling/repair at this point in my life. I will find a mechanic to look at it.

I may even see if I can pull some stuff out of the way, clean it up and simply silicone it from the outside. I have done that before with some success — just looking for a couple more years out of this car.

Weeks later, Halftruth adds:

On a whim I decided to use Lucas oil treatment. The leak slowed but now it’s coming from the other side where the transmission mates to the engine. At least the leak has been greatly reduced at this point, so not all bad. Def think the leak is starting high up somewhere but can’t see it yet. Might be time for some dye. Anyways, thought I’d give you an update!

Sajeev replies:

Sounds like it might be the engine’s rear main seal. And that’s a repair nobody wants to do on a newer car, much less a fully depreciated Mercury sedan. Even worse, since this isn’t a Sable that I want to appreciate for the rest of my days, I can’t be of any further help!

What say you, Best and Brightest?  LS4-FTW?

[Image: Ford Motor Company]

Send your queries to [email protected]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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27 Comments on “Piston Slap: The Sable Preservation Society? (Part II)...”

  • avatar

    3.0 Duratecs are pretty decent motors, but they are known for oil leaks on high mileage ones. Mine had a leak that looked like the front of the oil pan so I had that replaced. Well it decreased the problem by half. Turned out that the oil pan doesn’t bolt to the bottom of the block but to a spacer or girdle, and the leak was higher up where that girdle mounts to the bottom of the block. I just left it as replacing the oil pan gasket got rid enough of the leak.

  • avatar

    It’s a $400 dealer repair. I have the same engine in my Escape which had/has the same leak. After a year the leak has returned, it’s so minor that I have decided to live with it then to fork out another $400

  • avatar

    If its running fine, live with the leak. Buy a drip pan. In removing all that stuff to get to the timing cover and/or rear main seal, the mechanic is likely to find other issues or damage something else due to the age of the vehicle. Wait to fix the rear main seal until the trans goes out. Fix the timing cover leak when there are other significant repairs on the front of the engine that must be performed.

  • avatar


    The oil leak has slowed even more to the point where there is no more burnt oil smell or noticeable loss of oil week to week. While I am not crazy about adding snake oils to fix leaks, it worked and worked well. Seeing as she only wants to get another year or two out of the car, I would call this a win.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed, let it be.

      As N8iveVA noted above, these engines have a tendency to leak from the lower block, between the main engine block and the girdle. That’s immediately what I thought of when I read the post. If that’s it, I used to recommend those people invest in cardboard to park over. Not worth the engine out ordeal.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll have to give Lucas a try. I just don’t like the oil drips on the driveway and cardboard blows away

    • 0 avatar


    • 0 avatar

      “Seeing as she only wants to get another year or two out of the car…”

      Yea, I wouldn’t fiddle with it too much then.

    • 0 avatar
      Mike Beranek

      Don’t beat yourself up. On a beater car, you have to do a cost-benefit analysis on every repair- it is usually better to go with the quick-and-dirty solution, as long as it’s not safety-related. I’d say an oil leak would have to surpass a half-quart a week before dumping 50-100% of the car’s value for new rear main seal.

  • avatar

    The auto trans on these (and Taurus) are the worst mankind has ever seen and will likely grenade in the next 2 years. It’s probably been replaced twice, but I agree just drive it ’til it dies.

    • 0 avatar

      Probably not, because they fixed a lot of the issues by 2002 (IIRC) and most pre-2002 Sables are already crushed.

      • 0 avatar

        I think by the last generation of these the SOHC cars didn’t have enough power to kill the trans and the DOHC cars would eat their transmissions if not properly cared for.

        I always wanted a DOHC wagon but would have invested in a trans cooler and frequent fluid changes

        • 0 avatar

          I had a 1996 DOHC Mercury Sable wagon! Silver with gray leather interior. Astonishingly luxe: everything that wasn’t leather was covered in convincing fake leather, including the door panels and the dash, from which eerie vacuum-fluorescent digital displays glowed. It road low on polished alloys, with dual exhausts poking unexpectedly out the back. We called it The Whale. Alas, it was more impressive to behold than to drive. The wheels could have used about two inches more travel. And the unloved Vulcan was probably a better engine for these things: sure, the Vulcan had already delivered 100% of its modest power in the first third of pedal travel, but the Duratec–as a multivalve engine in an era before variable valve timing, when transmissions had only 4 speeds–required a hard stomp to the floor to prompt a kickdown into the power zone, where it roared and knocked as it pinned the color-matched Weimaraner to the oval back window. I loved it but I don’t miss it, if that makes sense. I’m sure it would have worked better with the V8 and suspension from the short-lived oval SHO, and always fantasized about making that transplant, but never got the chance.

    • 0 avatar

      The horrible automatic is the AXOD/AX4S. With the Duratec, these have the AX4N, which is substantially better.

      • 0 avatar

        As Peter said this week “I concur”. I had both AXOD and AX4N. AXOD was headache especially clutch piston problem no one was able to fix. AX4N had zero problems. Engine also had no leaks or other problems, I traded it in at 175,000 miles. It was a great commuter car, very comfortable even though somewhat noisy compared with Camry XLE, but Camry with V6 cost like 10 grands more. Car I am talking about is exactly that 2002 Sable, even the same color.

    • 0 avatar

      I have had 3 Taurus/Sable wagons – the first two with the 3.0 SOHC Vulcan engine had the transmissions replaced. The last one, a 2004 Sable SW with the 3.0 Duratec started shifting abruptly occasionally when hot at around 240K miles.

  • avatar

    Uugh. May I ask, how much oil is being added between oil changes?

    More than 1/2 a quart every 3,000 miles?

    • 0 avatar

      I was going to post this separately but since you asked:

      It was getting so bad that the smell and smoke were making it near undriveable.
      I would say it was losing at min a quart per month (under 1000 miles per month). It was also leaking right on to the exhaust as it curls under the front of the motor on the passenger side. Once the Lucas was added, the leak moved to the other side! Now it is just a couple of drops here and there. Weekly checks of the oil level show no loss after a mid Dec oil change. Mind you, the additive that was put in is no longer in the oil after the oil change.

  • avatar

    Either live with it, or burn it to the ground. The leak at the front will be a bear to fix, and if it’s the rear main seal, the split-block seal pocket may no longer be a circle, and a new seal might not fix it.

  • avatar

    To add a thought I might have tried Marvel Mystery Oil in every oil change before doing the Lucas Treatment. Marvel helped me on an Olds V8 with a small oil burning problem. (quart every 3,000 miles)

    Switching my 67 Mustang over to “High Mileage” oil has helped oil burning and oil leaks as well.

  • avatar

    If you can get to any of the cover bolts, try snugging them up.

  • avatar

    Some “High Mileage” oil that has seal condition, and go up a grade or two in oil thickness, and a cardboard under the car to catch the oil.

    10w40 Valvoline MaxLife, and don’t do any repair for that old of a Sable, the transmission may fail right after and you lost all the labor cost fixing this oil leak.

  • avatar

    Dye + glasses + UV light kit is your friend – check it at night.

    The “no snake oil” statute of limitations has run out on this vehicle – time for “better living through chemistry.”

    Try a bottle of “STP High Mileage Oil Treatment + Stop Leak” (it includes the ‘seal conditioners’/’seal swell’ stuff others have mentioned).

    When my family had an XJ Cherokee, I heard the theory that full-synthetic motor oil is ‘so slippery’ that it would ‘find its way out’ of the seals on that engine – so we ran conventional oil in that vehicle. If you are currently using synthetic, it would be worth a shot to go back to conventional motor oil (and as others have mentioned, go thicker viscosity if anything).

    Also, take it for a road trip so it gets a workout and feels appreciated.

  • avatar

    I have the Jaguar version of the Duratech in my X Type, so take this with a grain of salt if the Ford version is different – and there are major differences, but the basic block is similar.

    On mine, the leak was from the serpentine belt tensioner. There is one hole for the bolt that holds the tensioner to the block, and that’s blind. The other hole is for the locating pin and that was through drilled and then had a plug installed. The plug leaked, so I took off the tensioner, cleaned everything, and put a bit of silicone in the hole and so far that has cured the leak.

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