Problem On the “IN”-side

         The tow truck came around the corner of my shop with a 2003 Focus strapped down on the bed. Its Stacey’s daughter’s car, Stacey is the office manager at the bodyshop just down the street from the shop.   Her daughter’s little Ford had given up at a stop sign for a trip on the back of a tow truck.  Now it was up to me to find out what’s going on with it. 
         The tow driver brought the keys in to Katie
(my daughter and office manager), she had already
talked to Stacey and had the work order filled out.
Katie asked the tow driver, “Where did you drop it at?
Stacey said it won’t start.”  “It started for me,”
the tow driver said, “I put it along the side of the
building for ya.”

         I found the car right where he left it and I’ll
have to admit… it did start up, but I wouldn’t call it
great.  I made it into the service bay with it bucking,
jerking, and coughing like crazy, along with a terrible
rotten egg smell coming from each end of the car. 
The service light was on so I thought I would start with finding out what trouble codes were stored.  P0300, P0301, P0302, P0303, P0304, and P0316 all misfire codes.  It’s a good thing it didn’t have any more cylinders because I’d bet it would have added them onto its list of trouble codes too.   Rather than get into looking at the actual data logger section of the IDS I figured I’ll open the hood and see what’s going on.

         The car has the 2.0 liter ZETEC engine under the hood.    It’s a fairly easy engine to pull the spark plugs on so I thought I would at least take a look at them.  The odometer shows 184,000 miles on the little pavement pounder, so I was thinking the worst, that many miles… hey, anything is possible.  As I pulled the first sparkplug boot off, a splash of coolant came out of the cavity.  Well, that’s a little different, didn’t quite expect that.  I pulled #2, same thing. Then the next one, again more coolant…, onto # 4, and more coolant came flying out of the hole. 

         Peering down between the cam covers all I could see was a sea of coolant and only the very tops of the spark plugs was sticking out.  There were no signs of any kind of leaks anywhere on the engine, in fact, the reservoir was full and the engine showed no outward signs of overheating. It just didn’t make any sense how all this coolant could end up in there. 

         I blew all the coolant out, dried all the plug wires off, and re-installed them. After giving the key a turn the little engine came back to life and purred like new. Amazing, simply amazing how well it ran after how badly it came into the shop, but within 15 minutes or so the engine started to act up.  It coughed and chugged, shacked and stuttered, and then it finally died.  Now it won’t restart, what the…?  What’s going on here?  Time to check a little further… 

         I pulled the no#1 spark plug.  It was bone dry, actually “very dry” and “very hot”.  Exhaust gasses I’ll bet.  I let the car set for about another 15 minutes and try it again.  A quick turn of the key and it ran like new just as before, but this time I was ready for it.  I had it hooked up to the scanner and checked out the O2 sensor readings.  It was just as I suspected. The front O2 readings were a complete mess.  There was no pretty oscillating wave going up and down on the screen, more like a jagged old saw blade with half its teeth missing.  I watched the scope patterns for several minutes, soon the engine started to cough and die just as it did before.   I checked the compression this time.  Well over 200 PSI, yikes! Looks like all those misfires added up to a lot of raw gas going into the converter.  With all the plugs firing now the converter was only getting even more cooked than before. 

         I filled Katie in on everything I had found.  She can handle it from here. I was expecting Katie to come out and tell me to order a converter, or send it to the exhaust shop, or drop what I’m doing because it was going to be more than she wanted to spend on it… something like that, but that didn’t happen. Somehow the word “IN” had more meaning to it than originally intended. 

         Before I knew it a call came from Stacey, she was going to have a new engine installed.  Huh? I didn’t know I was putting a motor in … I think I missed something here…. So how in the world did a clogged converter turn into a new engine? 

         It was the very first thing Katie had told Stacey.  Katie said to her, “He found coolant in the spark plug area.”   Even though she mentioned that I blew off all the coolant that was on the sparkplugs somehow it got turned into a leaking headgasket. (I think the guys at the bodyshop were helping out with the diagnostics.)  It took the better part of the afternoon to get the whole thing straightened out.

         Katie asked Stacey how the coolant ended up in the spark plug area. It was from a coolant hose that split about 2 weeks earlier. Stacey’s daughter had someone change the hose for her but they never thought about looking for any coolant getting trapped on top the engine.  My guess is it probably took a day or so before it ever started to miss. About then the service light would have come on and the real trouble would have started to build.  I’ll bet she drove around with it misfiring for a week or so before she told her mom how bad it was. 

         Katie explained the mix-up to me and how everyone had the wrong idea about the engine’s condition.  I can’t blame anyone for all of this… in most cases when someone hears there is coolant “in” the engine they assume it’s a bad deal and most likely in the combustion chamber causing major problems.  Well, in this case, it was only “ON” the engine and not “IN” the engine. 
A new converter installed and everything is back “IN” great shape again.

         I gotta make a point of explaining things a little better next time. My bad, I made the assumption that everyone knew what I meant when I said there was coolant in the spark plug area. (I should have said “On top of the engine.)  Katie knew what I meant, but as the phone conversations went on the word “IN” just kept pushing the coolant deeper and deeper inside this little Ford.   Katie… a wonderful gal, I got to hand it to her; she did a great job of explaining things.  I’m a lucky guy to be able to work with my daughter in a family business, and even luckier to have her as an asset “IN” the office especially when she can explain things to a customer and get good old dad “OUT” of a jam.