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Old 01-30-2013, 05:13 PM   #1
Fred4
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Killed My Focus Driving Offroad in Death Valley

My girlfriend and I were in Death Valley back in Decemeber doing some off road driving in our Ford Focus Wagon (SE with Zetec engine; we hit 100k miles right before we went offroad) which we had just bought in November. We were near Crankshaft Junction if you know where that is. Not my finest moment or brightest decision, but I’d grown bold after making the trip twice in a beat up old Saturn.

Going about 30 or 40 on a washerboarded road when I come to a ditch and am unable to slow down in time to avoid hitting the front end. Probably was going 20 mph when I hit it.

Okay, if we're being honest, in reality, I hit the front end twice in ditches, though the first time felt like just a loose rock and was milder than the second. It just really sucks to drive 20 mph on those roads because it makes you feel like your teeth are going to fall out. Again, my judgment is not the greatest sometimes.

Anyway, shortly after the second time, we get the smell of burning rubber and stop to open the engine compartment. Smoke is rising from the left of the compartment, and looking there, I see the plastic bit of the idler pully is off the bearing and the serpentine belt is wearing a notch into the side of it. The oil pan is also dented which is probably the impact that knocked it off, and the plastic scoop on the bottom of the radiator is broken off. I break off the idler pulley, hoping the belt will hold up until we can at least get back to the pavement and a payphone which is some 14 miles away.

The belt breaks right almost immediately, and I stop when I notice the temperature start to rise.

Not having many options, we decide to limp the car back to the road a little bit at a time to avoid over-heating. I push when I can and start the car to get to the top of the hills. When the gauge starts going above the middle, I turn the car off, shift to neutral and coast to a stop. I open the hood, and we wait 15 minutes to half an hour for the engine temperature to drop at least below the middle mark and repeat the process for about 13 miles.

At least once in the middle (possibly more) and once at the very end, the engine got rather hot before I was able to turn it off though it never quite got to the red (at least while the key was on). I would open the engine compartment and the coolant would be entering the reservoir in spurts as if it was boiling.

We did eventually make it back at sunset, probably 5 hours after the breakdown.

Notice in the morning that the coolant (which was check out and clean before the trip) is murky brown, and there are brown deposits on the roof of the reservoir and brown sediment in the bottom. The coolant level has not dropped a noticeable amount. The oil does not look milkshakey or out of the ordinary.

We spend two nights in the car making shadow puppets on the roof and trying to keep occupied until my girlfriend’s mom's boyfriend (who worked hocking service for a dealership for a long time) arrives at around 11 a.m. on Monday, takes a look at the damage, smells the coolant which he says smells burnt, has me turn on the car, feels the white exhaust smoke, and makes the determination that the car is in a state where continuing to drive it will result in ruining the engine even with the serpentine belt repaired. He thinks blown headgasket or some other sort of leak into the coolant.

After a side trip to Vegas, we rent a Penske truck and tow the car back to San Diego where it sits in the front yard to this day. When we got back and I was unloading the truck, I also noticed a coolant leak, I think from one of the hoses (have to recheck).

I also have a list of other recommended maintenance items given to me by a Ford Dealer right before the trip. We went to him wanting to insure that the car was in good shape before going. (We even bought a full sized spare, but you can't really prepare for stupidity.) The list includes:
1) Hoses (for which they wanted something like $500)
2) Spark plugs for 100k mile service
3) PCV valve for 100k mile service
[Sidenote: my girlfriend and the mechanic said they noticed the engine was “pulling” was the word the mechanic or my girlfriend (I’m not sure who) used; she researched and it was said that may have been the result of a faulty PCV valve)]
4) a minor oil leak that would have costed more than it was worth to me just to diagnose.
5) We also noticed a vibration at start up and when stopped which decreased over the course of a drive. Engine mounts, right? But top or bottom or both? I don’t know.

My intention is to fix it myself if I can, including the items noted by the mechanic pre-trip. Despite the bonehead move of driving so fast on a dirt road in the middle of NOWHERE, I am mechanically inclined and meticulous person. We already have the factory service manual, and I am a consummate direction reader. I have a decent set of tools. I believe I could tackle the head gasket with a little help from the pros on these forums.

Is this possibly within my ability? Where do I start?

My thought is to get the serpentine belt back on, put some cheap new coolant in, repair the leaky coolant hose (assuming it is coming from a hose), check out the exhaust for myself now that I know what I’m looking for, and use a block test kit to test for exhaust gases in the coolant. Assuming a positive test, what next? Leakdown test? Confirm the oil pickup in not compromised by the dent?

We are also close to the border with Mexico and a bunch of recycling yards where you can get a new engine installed for cheap I hear, so there’s that option as well.

Could I have a mechanic give me a good diagnosis on the problem for under $100 so I know what I’m looking at? Should I do that? Think you know the problem already?

I can go check everything on the car out closer when I get home if it’s important to your diagnosis. Also can get some pictures (though maybe not until this weekend when I am home during day light hours).

Some other notes:

The car was very well cared for by the previous owner. It was in great condition when we bought it. I have many maintenance records for it, though not the most recent (most of 2012 is missing I think).

As I remember, there were no check engine or oil pressure lights lighting up. No trouble codes reported on my UltraGauge. Just the battery light of course.

Have basic liability, so an insurance claim is out.

Any help is much appreciated, and feel free to rip into me for my dumb-assery if you like

[Edit: wow, this post is really long, and that's the short version of the story. Sorry, I'm just not sure what's relevant so I just dumped all the info I have.]


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Old 01-30-2013, 09:48 PM   #2
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Don't waste a cent on maintenance items until motor verified as still good. I've driven 40 miles before with virtually no water after a stat stuck shut, it took a while but no harm done to motor, it ran for many years after. The big kicker is you must NOT let it get near the red at all. If you got white smoke coming out and smells sweet like coolant you've popped the gasket. I'm talking smoke after motor warm and no condensation vapor coming out any longer. Compression check?

Off roading not wise, even if not hitting any dips, all it takes is a providencial rock pitched just right to snag belt and you're history.

Is the check engine light on?

We here would much rather have the long story, so many post here that they have trouble and what could it be with no other text it gets utterly depressing, like you're dressing children in the morning. Your post very detailed and a breath of fresh air.
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Old 01-30-2013, 11:13 PM   #3
Fred4
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Check engine light is not on. Oil light is not on. No trouble codes or pending trouble codes on my UltraGauge. Only warning light on is the battery which is obviously because the alternator is not charging it.

I actually just fired it up for like 5 minutes right now. Just long enough that the gauge started rising a bit, but not to the point where it was in the middle of the gauge like it is when its warmed up. I get white smoke at first, no moisture when I put my hand in front of it. The smoke gradually decreases over time until it is hard to see at all if its even there. I smelled some coolant I had in to try to see if the smell is the same as the exhaust, and it's hard to tell to be honest. The coolant doesn't seem to smell much at all and the exhaust has a smell, but I don't know if I would describe it as sweet.

So you're saying get a compression check done would be the thing to do? I already have the new idler pulley and a new belt. Should I hook it back up and take it to a mechanic for diagnosis? Perhaps even just drive it a little to see if I get a check engine light or feel it missing or weak on some cylinder? I haven't driven it anywhere really since we got back to the pavement which was also the point when it probably got the hottest.

I took a look at the coolant leak too and it seems to be coming from the upper radiator hose where it attached to the engine. It also seems quite soft as the mechanic had noted.

And as a side note the power steering pump hose is real greasy along it's whole length. What's that about?
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Old 01-31-2013, 02:25 AM   #4
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Leave the head alone.

Pull the oil pan. Your going to want to hammer the dent out (or get another pan from a wrecker) and make sure you didn't mess the oil pickup.

When you pull the pan check for water droplets in the oil, they will of course be at the bottom of the pan. If you don't see anything then your probably fine, change the coolant and buy the $45 Dorman kit that contains the thermostat and thermostat housing since that is likely shot and is where your leak is. the hose is likely not leaking, it's that joint between the housing and the head.

Of course, you could have a head gasket leak. But, look at it this way. The biggest danger of a head gasket leak is water getting into the oil, because that will destroy your mains. But if there is no water in the oil and you have repaired all other leaks in the cooling system, then you can probably drive it for a month or two and observe the coolant level. If you see the level dropping then you know you got a head gasket leak.

As for doing the head, it will cost you about $500 as you will need a gasket set, the head will need a skin mill, and you will likely need some tooling you don't have plus other misc parts like plugs. Since your near Mexico you might just be able to get a Zetec engine with significantly less than 100K miles on it for just a bit more than doing the head.
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Old 01-31-2013, 11:04 AM   #5
Fred4
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Thanks, I will look for an oil pan and swap that out, fix the belt, maybe clean the gunk out of the reservoir, thermostat, new coolant. Looks like the leak is coming from where the hose meets the water outlet (I'll post a picture when I can get one), but I guess I might as well replace the thermostat with the dorman version in either case since they're know to fail. How bout the hoses? Mechanic had said hoses were soft and old, but wanted to charge me like $500. No thanks. The upper hose at least does feel rather soft to me.

Anyone recommend a good parts source?

And one question about the belt. One of the pulleys, I believe it is the water pump (the pulley is smooth instead of grooved) has melted rubber crusted on it from when the belt broke. Is there a good way to get that off without taking the pulley out? I will take it out if I have to. Wire brush and dremmel to rough? Someone mentioned a teflon paint scraper.

What's a skin mill? My guess is it's a machine to level out the sealing surface on the head? I imagine like a machine that planes metal? Just curious.
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Old 01-31-2013, 02:19 PM   #6
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I get a fair amount of my parts from Rockauto.com, and aside from an issue with one axle, they've held up just fine. They are relatively cheap, and you can find their 5% off code online pretty easily. As for the rubber crusted on, I would just use a plastic paint scraper (any hardware store should have this), and clean off as much as I could. As for the skin mill, you are correct. Any machine shop should be able to check the head, and mill it flat (in case you warped it when the head gasket went, if it did).
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Old 02-02-2013, 03:18 AM   #7
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A skin mill is basically milling a head that is already flat. Basically a hair's width of material is taken off. This is pretty much standard practice when dealing with an aluminum head and the multilayer gasket to seat it on cast iron. You see the multilayer gasket is basically coated in teflon and when it's compressed it's compressed with the torque to yield bolts. Once put under torque to yield the head bolts essentially turn into giant springs that exert a constant force (probably thousands of pounds) on to the head, crushing it into the gasket, even when the head is expanding and contracting. That is why TTY bolts are standard on aluminum headed engines because the bolt and the block have one expansion rate and the head has a different one - meaning that if you used regular bolts when the head was hot it would expand more than the bolt, increasing torque, then when it cooled it would shrink more than the bolt, dropping torque. TTY keeps torque nice and constant and seating pressure nice and constant.

The aluminum of the head over time conforms to the gasket, sealing against it. The bottom layer of the gasket also seals against the cast iron block but cast iron is stronger and will not dimple. While the inner layer gasket is under enormous pressure it still will slip on the teflon as the aluminum head expands and contracts and the iron block expands and contracts at different rates. This grinds the gasket into the soft aluminum head.

When you pull the head off the imprint of the gasket is still in the aluminum. Even if you clean it off perfectly (almost impossible) with no scratches, the new gasket's imperfections won't be in the same places and without a skin mill you greatly increase chances that the new head gasket will not seal.

If the head is warped that's a different story. The machinist will have to take off a significant amount of material to get it flat. If the warp is bad enough then the material removal will exceed the factory specs and there is no point to milling the head, it's toasted then.

As for the melted rubber the only luck I've had on that is using a razor blade at a very low angle. If you use light pressure on the blade it will cut and scrape off the rubber and while it might scratch the plastic wheel that's OK as long as the blade doesen't dig in to the plastic wheel.

the Dorman kit is cheaper than buying the housing, the gaskets, the thermostat and the thermostat water outlet all separately. Also it's hard to find the housing-to-head gasket and the one that is already there is very likely rotted. The plastic of the housing disintegrates from the inside out, so even if the leak is not between the head and the housing, it could be from in between the housing and the water outlet.
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Old 02-02-2013, 04:03 AM   #8
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The water pump pulley itself likely made of steel, but I've cleaned plastic cam tensioner pulleys with fairly smooth grit sandpaper after the razor blade idea he mentions. Timing belt skidded on a couple when one failed prematurely, after the cleanup they continue to run even now years later...........

The 'skin' cut he mentions also will easily show just how far the head has warped, so one can get an idea of the damage there.

I have seen a popped gasket or two which leaked water into chamber to burn with none in oil at all, but not common to blow like that. You can also blow between cylinders with no water leak at all out of pipe or in oil. Compression check will show it.
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Old 02-02-2013, 12:52 PM   #9
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a good machinst should have a straightedge (measurement quality, not just any old piece of steel) and should be able to use that with feeler guages to see how bad the warp on the head is, no reason to pay for a milling machine pass to see that.

I think the between cylinder gasket failure is probably the most common.
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Old 02-03-2013, 01:42 AM   #10
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The point was that if the thin cut done use it for other advantage. I personally don't do it but I can tell if there is enough indent on head surface to warrant a cut. I haven't done a thin cut like that, well, ever, on fifty different makes of engine both bike and car. Hundreds of engines. I don't even worry about up to .003" out of flat, I could always get them to seal up. Very rare is the head that has been run for a distance that comes off engine dead flat...........

Of course, now having said that I'll run into one that needs it tomorrow, no telling what the future holds, eh?
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