98 Escort 2.0L engine woes

Well, maybe not woes yet. But definitely going to become woe soon. 98 Escort S/W, 2.0L OHC.
For a couple of weeks now, it's been making an intermittent ticking
noise, mostly when warm. Sounds very much like a frayed belt flapping against something, but the serpentine looks OK. Noise might also be exhaust escaping from a valve. At a guess, the ticking is 1/10th the engine rpm.
Friday afternoon I started it (in the wet, I might add) and it was running VERY poorly, sounded like one cyl wasn't firing. I switched off, and then couldn't start it for about 25 minutes. In that 25 minutes, I was poking about with the plug and injector wires; unplugged and reseated everything. At last, it started after about 15 seconds of keying - normally it starts INSTANTLY. Drove normally
Yesterday while going off an exit ramp the engine suddenly lost power and started vibrating oddly, just like it was missing a cyl again. After a few minutes it steadied back into normal power.
Ran it in the dark and cannot see arcing anywhere.
Pulled off the head cover and it looks nasty in there - the oil was changed about 300 miles ago but it's very dark already. I also smell gasoline in the oil.
Is this maybe a valve problem, or could this be a timing belt with a bad tooth? What's the difficulty level of replacing the belt on one's lonesome; go in through the right wheel well? need to remove engine mount or no? It has almost 130K on it; the engine was replaced with a junkyard pull at about 100K but I've no idea whether they used a new belt.
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While it may be time to change the timing belt, it doesn't appear to be the cause of your concern....
Engine noises have a personality... diagnosing these at any distance is difficult...Since you have been looking quite closely, you must have an idea of where the noise is loudest.... using a length of hose as a stethoscope is often very helpful in localizing these sorts of concerns.
As far as unplugging and reseating connectors... if this is done with the key on or the engine running, it can add nuisance codes that will make diagnosis that much harder....

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Jim Warman wrote:

It's really tough - I did try using a stethoscope and couldn't satisfy myself as to where it was coming from. If I had a gun to my head and had to guess, I would say from the right-hand side of the engine [that is, the passenger side].
As another data point, I see oil all the way up the PCV valve tube. This is a fairly recent phenomenon, might or might be linked. Never used to see much, if any, oil there before.

Key was out while I was unplugging things. Car is not throwing any codes at all; I should have mentioned that in my original post.
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If there is gas in the oil, it is time to change it.
If there is gas in the oil, there are two main ways you can get gas in the oil:
1) In engines with mechanical gas pumps driven off the engine, if there is a seal that goes bad, gas can get in the oil.
2) Too much unburned gas in the cylinder. This can happen if there is an ignition problem or if the fuel/air mixture is too rich. The trick is to figure out which. If the check engine light is on, after you change the oil, it is time to find out why.
If there is gas in the oil, this may be academic. You may be making major repairs to the engine, getting a new engine soon (of course, getting a new car includes getting a new engine).
Jeff

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Jeff wrote:

No, it's a modern pump, electrically driven. But if we're going that far back in time, I would have said item #2a, which you didn't mention, is the most likely: using the choke in cold weather and gas condensing in the cylinders when it cools down :)

No CEL has come on during all of this. But I agree with the likelihood of major work - or a trip to the crusher - coming soon. Not willing to pay what it would cost for another junkyard engine in this car.
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

This is looking more and more like lifter noise. I'm going to put in an "unstick sticky lifters" additive, drive it for 10-20 miles, then change the oil myself to a good synthetic and install a quality filter.
I also suspect the jiffylube-type place where the oil was last changed used the wrong weight.
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

Be advised that Escorts (2.0L OHC) of that vintage were somewhat prone to dropping the steel valve seats out of the aluminum heads, usually on #1 or #3 cylinder.. A severe intermittent misfire and tapping noise could come and go for weeks until the seat finally disintegrated causing major engine failure. It seems that the seat would dislodge causing poor performance, then temporarily reseat and run fine. Leave the Band Aid In A Can alone and have the problem diagnosed. Modern lifters don't stick unless the engine has been really badly maintained. If nobody can find an external source, have them remove and disassemble the cylinder head. The problem is easily spotted before major engine failure with the head removed and disassembled. Although pricy, it's cheaper than a new engine. I've been told that a single instance of severe overheating can contribute to this problem and that most cases were attributed to prolonged "running hotter than normal". My personal experience disagrees. I've seen it happen to a few engines that were never run hotter than normal parameters and well maintained, usually at about 100K miles. I was familiar with their history for quite some time before the valve seat concern occurred. To be fair, I've seen it much more often in engines with plugged radiators, bad thermostats, etc. It's MORE common in these poorly maintained engines, but can happen on properly maintained engines also.
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Tom Adkins wrote:

It's been known to happen with the earlier 1.9 engines too. I wouldn't drive it until the problem was definately diagnosed. It could make the difference between saving the car and junking it.
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Hmm, Tom's original reply didn't show up on google groups... I'm glad Fordfan replied:

Based on what you just described, I am absolutely 100% sure that is what happened to the previous engine in this car. At the time it died, it went "THWUCK!!" and just stopped (it had made that same noise once before - but no discernible tapping or other symptoms in between). After death, it could be "started" and made to run if you kept your foot on the gas, but there was a horrible banging coming out of it.

Well... I had read several pages that say this noise is not uncommon in this engine. The perfect balanced sample :/
There is an awful lot of muck in the head cover and all the innards there are covered in crustified molasses. (This was the first time I'd opened it since the new engine was put in a year ago, btw. The old engine was clean as a whistle).
The sites I'd read suggested tapping the top of each lifter with a mallet and seeing if the noise goes away. This seemed to work when I tried it, but now I'm not sure what I was really doing when I hit it - maybe I was jostling that valve seat some.
I searched for info about that valve seat problem, and it seems to be associated with a misfire code and CEL. My car isn't throwing any codes.
Argh. Don't really have any spare money to put into this car.
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