3.8L Ford headgasket


Old 05-02-02, 08:22 PM
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3.8L Ford headgasket

95 Windstar 3.8L. Head gasket failed at 176,00 mi. for second time. 1st failure at 80K mi. was repaired by Ford under warranty. Drive train is trouble-free otherwise.

I noticed the overheating and stopped immediately. Got water and limped about 5 miles home - stopping when the gauge got near the top to cool and add water. Next morning I started it up - white smoke. Shut off and pressurized cooling system with 15 PSI air. Removed left bank plugs and cyl #1 has coolant in it and air can be heard leaking from #1 plug hole.

Also oil inside valve cover is chocolate colored and foamy so coolant got in the oil. Synthetic oil is used in this van.

I would like to repair it for my daughter. I have factory manual and tools and have R&R heads in the past on other vehicles.

1. Are the bearings and journals ruined by coolant in oil? It ran less than 15 min total during limp home and diagnosis. Do I need a complete rebuild?
2. If not, what should I do to clean out the crankcase and oil passages? I remember some Gunk stuff that you run for 5 min and then drain it.
3. If I find the right bank gasket is good, should I change it anyway?
4. Is there any particular brand or style of head gasket that is best for this troublesome motor. (I figure the Ford part lasted 96K so I might try it again)
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Old 05-02-02, 10:11 PM
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1. Bearings are not necessarily automatically ruined, but it'll be worth your while to remove the oil pan and inspect or replace them. At 176K, I'd probably just plan on replacing them.

2. Since you'll have the pan off to check the bearings, you can clean it out with a good cleaner such as Castrol Super Clean. Make sure you remove & clean the oil pump pick up tube while you have the pan off.

Once the engine is assembled, fill the crankcase with fresh 5W30 or 10W30 motor oil. Run the engine until the cooling fan cycles on & off twice, then change the oil & oil filter.

Don't use the GUNK stuff...it usually loosens deposits that otherwise wouldn't cause a problem. These deposits then accumulate in the pan & clog the pickup screen.

3. Change both gaskets. Windstars are not especially fun to work on & you don't want to do this job again 6 months from now.

4. The redesigned Ford gasket and Fel-Pro gaskets are both excellent.

Take the heads to a good automotive machine shop & have them carefully inspected for warpage & cracks. Now would also be a good time to replace the valve stem seals.

Make sure you use new head bolts as they are Torque To Yield bolts & will fail if used again. Also make sure you follow the revised torque pattern and procedure.
Old 05-03-02, 03:48 AM
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Thumbs up

Ah, good old Blue Oval does it again .

That being said, I would consider if you find wear in the motor down below, pitching it for a Ford FQR rebuilt. This way all's new and you don't worry about what's in the lower end.

Hopefully the tranny holds up on it after the repair as these trannies were nothing to write home about either. Unfortunately, neither is the van . Ford has decent features and ride in these vans, but mechanically they have been lackluster .

I agree with the advice that Knuckles gave you.
Old 05-03-02, 11:34 AM
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Thanks for the replies. But i didn't make clear my intentions and the condition of the vehicle.

This van has only used Amsoil or Mobil 1 synthetic oil in it since it had 10K miles. Before the head gasket went (176K miles), the inside of the valve covers was clean as a whistle. Also, I did a full 14 quart tranny fluid change with synthetic at 70K (time to do it again). Other than occasional abrubt shift from 1st to 2nd (probably that plastic piston thingie), the tranny has given no trouble.

There are probably no deposits on the bearings or anywhere else in the motor. Based on what I have read about synthetics, I also suspect very little ring/bearing/cam wear unless the coolant contaminiated oil did it in 15 minutes.

>>>with this info. Do you still think I need to check the bearings?<<<

I was assuming an in-vehicle head-gasket only repair is the only economic option. If I have to completely rebuild or replace the engine, i dont think it is worth it at 7 yrs old, and as other comments pointed out, the windstar is not noted for reliability, thus it has no decent resale value. Besides, this is GA and I will truly be doing it under a shade tree!

>>>How much typically is a Ford rebuilt 3.8 engine with core exchange? Do they sell them online somewhere at a discount like chevy crate engines? <<<<<<

I will look at the recommended castrol stuff. Basically, I was looking for a procedure to clean the contaminated oil out of the in-vehicle engine after the head repairs. I will take the heads to a machine shop for checkout while they are out.

Windstars are great as long as you replace the plugs and head gaskets every 80k! We have already replaced the windstar with a 2002 Suburban. I can fix anything on it and get cheap engines if I need one. Long live the small-block chevy!

But was hoping to get a few more miles out of her for not too much $. I estimate machine shop work and parts for R&R heads would not be more than about $300. I'm not willing to invest much more in this sled!

>>>>any further comments before I gather up the tools and head out to the driveway?<<<<

Thanks Guys
Old 05-03-02, 12:13 PM
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Price everything out before you start. It's more than 300 bucks in parts alone to do it right off the start. If it's more than you want to spend, then you know your answer .

More like 500 in parts and labor (head work) even at the DIY level. You have materials, gaskets, and other add ons like the water pump, coolant, etc. which should be changed at the same time.
Old 05-03-02, 07:30 PM
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The pan should come off & the bearings should be inspected regardless of the fact that you've used synthetic oil since day one.

When oil enters the coolant acids from the coolant attack the bearings. This leaves pits or wormholes in the bearing surface, which promptly disintegrates when subjected to load.

Since your engine is probably squeaky clean inside, you REALLY don't need the GUNK stuff. Just flush it with conventional oil as I described earlier, then refill with synthetic.

I checked prices at Expressautoparts.com . Here's what I found:

ES 72131 [Head Bolt Set] 2 Req. $19.65 each

OS 30625 R [Oil Pan Gasket Set] RTV Black w/Rubber End Seal $6.19 each

HS 9560 PT-2 [Head Gasket Set] Incl. Prem. Valve Stem Seals & Perma-Dry Molded Rubber Gskt.; Head Bolt Repl. Recomm. $99.16 each

AIRTEX AUTOMOTIVE DIVISION AW4089 [Water Pump] $81.68 each

GATES K061005 [Belt, V-Ribbed] Serpentine $22.06 each

Motorcraft oil filter FL400S (2) $2.99

5 qts conventional 5W30 $9.00

5 qts Mobil 1 $20.00

1 Castrol Super Clean $3.99

2 gallons antifreeze $10.00

Misc. supplies (aerosol parts cleaner, the little moulded hose that inevitably breaks, clamps, etc.)


Machine shop labor $50 - ??

That works out to a total of $367.36, but there's room to move in that estimate. You can shave it by $100 if your water pump and serpentine belt are in good condition. You may also be able to source parts locally for less than you'd pay online.
Old 05-03-02, 07:50 PM
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OK - you convinced me

Gee Knuckes, I guess now I have to fix it right since you already did a lot of work for me in looking up parts.

Can I pull the crank caps one at a time and inspect half of each crank bearing or do I have to remove the rotating assembly? If there is going to be pitting, looks like I should be able to find it with this partial inspection.

I'll post the results in a couple of weeks.

Thanks all
George Underwood
Old 05-03-02, 08:10 PM
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Let your local parts counterman double check those part numbers. The online catalogs aren't always accurate & I'd hate to see you get the thing apart & open your head set only to find that you had the wrong parts.

As for bearing checking....Check every single bearing shell! The one you don't check will be the one that bites you in the @$$.

I remove the rod caps one at a time & push the rod & piston assy up & away from the journal to check the upper shell. The mains are a little tougher. I like to loosen all the main caps at the same time, but only remove one at a time. This lets the crankshaft drop away from the upper shells a few 1/1000ths of an inch, which gives you room to get them out for inspection/replacement.

Good luck & please let us know how this saga ends!
Old 09-17-02, 07:21 PM
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Question update

I finally got around to doing this 95 windstar headgasket repair(see above thread). Bearings looked OK (for 176K) and were in factory manual "desired" clearance range when plastigaged.

Just over $500 in parts and machine shop work so far.

But I ran into a problem of my own doing. The headbolts in the Victor Reintz head set had 2 sets of torquing procedures on a little sheet of paper. One said Ford 3.8 L Naturally Aspirated and the other side said Ford 3.8L "SC". For some reason at the time, i equated naturally aspirated with carburated and, since I had fuel injection, assumed SC was thier words for sequential charge or something like the fuel injection I have. It has only dawned on me It probably means "Super Charged." So I have overtorqued my heads. The final steps in the torque-to-yield procedure are to loosen each bolt in sequence, torque to 47 ft lb, then 180 to 200 degrees. The final step in the other procedure i think was something like 35 ft lb, then 90 degrees. I have not installed intake or anything in the way yet.

Should I:
1. Go get another new set of bolts and back these out reinstall new ones per naturally aspirated procedure.
2. Go get new head gaskets AND bolts.
3. Leave them in and finish the job and assume they will hold longer because they are now well clamped.

If the SC version has aluminum heads and uses same bolt kit, I dont see how I could have damged anything. Anybody know what an "SC" has?
Old 09-18-02, 05:49 AM
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SC refers to the 3.8 liter Ford supercharged engine. Same crappy engine, just with a supercharger to grenade it faster .

Get new bolts, gaskets, and redo the job to be sure. Most bolts are torque to yield and are ruined if reused. The gaskets may also be clamped too much.

Don't gamble and do it right. You've gone too far to guess and question!
Old 09-19-02, 10:30 AM
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Wow, if you are doing this on your own, you are good. I did the same crappy job on my 3.8 litered 94 t bird. It was a complete nightmare. The car broke in February, and I still have not resumed driving it yet. I finished my head gasket job, but stripped out the bolt holes to the egr in the intake, so now I need to re thread them. Previously I had a tube that would not go into the water pump, and wound up disassembling the front end and replacing the water pump with an older style water pump, and essentially redesigning the way it works.

I bought a house and don't have time for that piece of crap.

As far as the bolts go, you will see what they mean when they say another 180 degrees, essentially you wind up torqueing it to the bolts limit. You can actually feel the bolt hit it's limit.

These engines suck bad.
Old 09-19-02, 05:35 PM
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yes, Ford 3.8L suks

You are correct sir....the 3.8L ford is a b**ch to work on.
It runs good and gets good mileage, but shouldnt need head gaskets every 80K.

I decided to go back to the gold old small block chevy on all vehicles from now on. Bought the little wife a 02 Suburban. It has surprisingly good acceleration for a TANK. Whats scary is it has aluminum heads also. If head gaskets blow prematurely, Ill buy a set of iron vortecs and slap on it - no more problem!

I am not a big fan of Aluminum parts on engines. I wonder what the failure statistics are compared to iron heads.

On the windstar, you loosen the two front (passenger side bottom motor mount nuts) then you can jack the whole front (passenger side) of the engine up several inches. Had to do that to get water pump off and on.

I am doing it in daughters garage over several weeks time. She is going to get the vehicle if/when I get it running ok.

Yes those torque-to-yield bolts are weird. After you turn it so far, it doesnt seem to get any harder. Almost like it has twisted apart but still pretty hard. I guess the bolt is just stretching at that point.

might try blobbing some ultra copper sealant on that EGR tube. Let it cure for couple of days. If it doenst work, then you could fix it right. (Joe is cringing at this I bet!)
Old 09-19-02, 07:02 PM
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nix the quick EGR fix


I just remembered the EGR tube is a compression type flare fitting. I doubt if the Ultra Copper approach will seal or hold.

But how about this: JB weld in an adapter fitting (bushing) on the intake. Then get a flare fitting that fits the tube and adapt the two together with whatever fittings are necessary. Brass, steel, or iron pipe fittings should do the job. Might have to go with a right angle or 45 for clearance. Dont tighten it down too much or the JB weld might break loose. A trip to Home Depot might do the trick.

Even if you rethread it you will have to use adapters because the new hole will be bigger.
Old 09-19-02, 09:30 PM
Join Date: Jul 2002
Location: corona Ca.
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Thanks for the idea George. Owing 6g on a car I havn't driven in 7 months is no fun. This is the very last thing needed to have it going again, and I am going to attack it on Sat.

In case everything goes awry, I have found someone on 3.8mustangs.com who has an extra upper intake he will sell me for 45$.
Old 09-20-02, 05:36 AM
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I don't recall your type of problem Jeremy on the 3.8 you have.

The man we need is "Fordtech". I'm sure he's serviced thousands of them. He comes by infrequently now as he is an over the road trucker .
Old 09-20-02, 06:52 AM
del nickelson
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3.8 mustang headgasket ???

after reading about george's ordeal I'm a little worried about stepping into this! I have a 1994 Mustang with a 3.8L V-6 that my daughter got from me on her 16TH birthday(first mistake!) The car has about 109,000 miles on it and she limped it back home the other night and said it was overheating. I replaced the thermostat and thought I was the hero again(second mistake!) Now the car has white smoke with a slight coolant smell coming from the exhaust on the passenger side, also with some water dripping out. I pulled the plugs on that side and they seemed ok. After reading this post it seems a pretty sure bet that I have a blown head gasket but I seem to have a twist that I did not see mentioned in George's problem. When the car is idling the catalytic convertor on the affected side is glowing cherry red after only a couple of minutes. Does this still point to the head gasket? This is the only problem I have had with the Mustang and I would appreciate any assistance!!!

Old 09-20-02, 08:52 AM
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White smoke like that out of the exhaust (does it smell sweet?) is a sure fire sign of a blown head gasket.

Welcome to the club. .

Have to R&R the heads and replace the gasket. Also, check the heads for cracks as well.

This engine was not one of Ford's brighter ideas .
Old 09-20-02, 09:40 AM
Join Date: Jul 2002
Location: corona Ca.
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My problem, Joe with the egr was self-inflicted. I couldn't get the egr tube to screw into the egr housing, so I unbolted the egr from the intake and then screwed the tube into it. When I tried screwing the egr with the tube back into the intake, the egr tube is bent a little at an awkward angle, and caused the egr to crossthread, and is all screwed up.

Good luck with your car, del. And a note to both, when my gasket went out, it filled the cats with coolant, now I need new cats and o2 sensors, you guys might want to look at yours.

stay away from used 3.8 liter motors, you could pick one up with the bad gasket and go through this all over again.
Old 09-20-02, 10:45 AM
del nickelson
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what about the catalytic convertor?

thanks joe and jt!!!! I really appreciate the input but have either of you heard anything about the cat convertor? Do you think the heating problem occured prior to the head gasket or as a result of it?

Old 09-20-02, 11:20 AM
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Well, coolant burning is not a good thing for the converter .

See what happens when you get it all back together and then go from there.
Old 09-21-02, 06:52 PM
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replies to everybody


I had the same problem with EGR tube on Windstar today. I started the thread of BOTH ends of tube with EGR valve off. But left the tube loose at both ends till EGR was bolted down.
Then say a few bad words (it is near impossible to reach), tighen the manifold end with an adjustable, and then the EGR end.

I start the Windstar up tomorrow. Cross your fingers.

I didnt notice overheating of the CAT on the Windstar. Im not sure if it did or not. Coolant did not drain out when i removed the O2 sensors and dropped the pipes. But one of them had some residue that I brushed off before reinstalling. I have an OBDII scanner and will check the codes after I get it running.

However, the cylinder that the gasket blew on had a VERY clean piston top compared to the others. I guess it was steam cleaned.

Del, this was a major job and requires a few special tools and a good assortment of common hand tools, not to mention a place to do it ( i started it in my driveway but towed it to my daughers garage quickly). I have the Windstar factory service manual (not just Haynes). I also have a compressor and pneumatic wrenches and make short work of cleaning gasket surfaces with a pneumatic die grinder and 3M Roloc gasket cleaning pads. I have also done engine swapping and have done a couple of head gasket jobs in the past (one worked and the other didnt!). If you are going to tackle this yourself, I hope you have the tools and patience. Both are required.

Does ethylene glycol burn when it gets hot enough? Or do you think that was unburned gasoline that was burning in Del's cat?
Old 09-23-02, 09:06 AM
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If you have a blown head gasket, you will get sweet smelling smoke out of the back of the vehicle. Coolant burns, that's why you get the white smoke.

It smells like syrup actually.

Unburned fuel like that would make the cat glow as it overheats and the metals inside start to break down. Subsequently, you'd probably hear pieces rattling around if you banged on it with your hand (cold of course!). That means the converter is broken up and is on its way out.

However, there is a cause for that. The engine is sending too much fuel in the exhaust. A sensor could be out of range, a dead cylinder, spark plug wire, plug, distributor cap, etc, etc, etc.

Sounds like you have it under control and have the tools and techniques to do the job. You should be fine.

I believe you could have gotten Ford to eat some or part of this repair as there was a campaign/warranty claim issue on the 3.8L vin code 4 engine. It's a notorious gasket blower and not worth a wooden nickel.

Another "Quality isn't Job One" by the Ford Motor Company .
Old 09-23-02, 09:26 AM
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Location: Riverdale, MD
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I had the cat go out on my COugar and after the dealer replaced it, they smugly smiled at me and said "we couldn't get it to run right. It needs a new head gasket." I drove it for a while, but it kept overheating, so I have quit driving it. That and the fact that the door hinge on the driver's side went out.


I did some checking. It seems that Ford extended the warranty to include the 94 models, but not the 93's
Old 09-23-02, 09:38 AM
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Thumbs down

Another reason to stay away from Ford. Their customer service is lackluster. I find the dealerships to be the same as well as you have seen.

My sister had a 1990 T-Bird and I didn't shed a single tear they day that winner got sold. Lol.

My cousin had a problem with his Taurus where the water pump impellers rotted off and caused the car to overheat. Ford acknowledges there is a problem and even issued a recall and has a bypass kit and a revised water pump. My uncle called up Ford as he deals with them and they said "too many miles, can't do anything". They also claimed to have sent my cousin a letter....

I wound up helping him do the repair on the Taurus water pump, but I believe there are still problems. It's a collosal bomb in my belief as most of their products seem to be.

Same thing with my friend and his 1987 Mustang. The paint came off in sheets when he went to wash it. He called up Ford, sure enough they gave him the "letter in the mail game".
Old 09-23-02, 11:14 AM
del nickelson
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3.8L headgasket blown

I really appreciate all the input from everyone. I wish I had found this site sooner, could have saved me some headaches.

I know this is going to be a tough job, it took me about 6 hours just to get to the headgaskets and you were right, I had one shiny chamber at the damaged gasket. I've had nothing but Fords all my life, so naturally I have a pretty good selection of tools and since I have built a '68 Mustang and '77 F-100 from the ground up, I kinda know my way around a wrench. That still doesn't make this job any easier. The new cars make it tough for us shade tree mechanics. By the way I'm from GA. too!! Anyway the heads are at the machine shop now being checked out, hope to start reassembly this afternoon.

Thanks to all,
Old 10-04-02, 01:15 PM
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low oil press after head gasket fix

here is the windstar continuing saga:

Got her all back together after the head gasket job. Drove it to work and back the next day (all secondary roads) and everything seemed OK. That night, got on the interstate and accelerated to 70 MPH. Seemed a little sluggish compared to how it used to run. After a mile or so started loosing power/missing, and torque convertor would not lock up (RPM’s stayed high). After a total of less than two miles on the interstate, the oil light came on. Pulled over immediately. I was missing a dipstick tube (on order) so could not check the oil (the hole was plugged). I just assumed it had an oil leak and walked to the convenience store and got 2 qts oil and put in. Started it up and drove home 2 miles – oil light came on intermittently. In the driveway at idle, looked in the oil filler hole and there seemed to be very little oil pumping thru the pushrod on the rocker arm I can see.

I started it up in the driveway for a few minutes the next day and it ran fine – oil light did not come on. Shut it off till the weekend.

I looked in the book and confirmed it was the oil pressure light, not the oil level light that came on.

Today I drained oil and changed filter and installed new dipstick tube. It was not low of oil and I found no evidence of a leak. Magnetic oil plug had some goo around it so I cut the oil filter open to see if it was plugged up. The filter paper did not look plugged up. I strained the old oil thru cotton cloth and there was no debris. The old oil did appear to have fine metallic sheen to it in the sunlight.

With another fill of new oil and filter. I started it up, let it warm up in the driveway. No oil light. I looked in the oil filler hole and the rocker arm had a full puddle of oil on the low end. I then drove 2 miles to first traffic light. When stopped in drive at the light, the oil light started flickering when idling in drive. So I turned around and came home. Oil light came on in driveway at idle in drive. It would go out if I gave it some gas and just flicker if in park idling. Oil level was OK.

I assume the power loss on the interstate was due to lifters collapsing due from low oil pressure. I used permatex gasket maker on the oil pickup tube when I assembled it. I could have partially plugged the tube. Looking at the condition of the oil I drained out, it doesn’t look like the screen could be plugged (no debris in strained oil).

Any other suggestions before I drop the oil pan to R&R the pickup tube again? Are there other places that can get plugged up on this motor? Did I open up an oil hole somewhere that the pump can’t keep up with (I did remove and check some bearings during head procedure). Should I change the oil pump?
Old 10-04-02, 02:19 PM
Join Date: Apr 2002
Location: Pittsburgh,Pa
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I would replace the pump and bearings.I think you missed something when you checked them.You do have 170k+ on this car and coolant has been on the oil not a perfect situation.
Old 10-04-02, 05:13 PM
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I agree with Davo. My vote would have been to pitch this van a long time ago as these are collosal heaps, but you're into it now

In the future, machine work and tolerance work should be left to a professional. It is more cost effective (and smarter) in the the long run to install a Ford FQR engine as it will incorporate all the fixes, campaigns and updated parts.

However at this point, I'm guessing you have a bad oil pump.

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