1999 Ford Escort Valve Seat Drop Inevitable?

Hi, I bought a 1999 Ford Escort with 78k miles and no rust which I thought was a steal at $1800 cash. But now I’m starting to get a little worried about the (apparently) very common problem of valve seat dropping in this engine. So far everything seems fine, my car gets me from A to B on my 8 mile commute. But I notice the steering wheel vibrate when I’m stopped at a light, or idling. The engine seems a bit loud at startup, but I had assumed this was the exhaust since the exhaust pipe might be a bit loose. I had also learned the engine was known for being a bit rough, so I wasn’t too worried about the noise and vibrating steering wheel. I didn’t know about the valve seat issue beforehand.

What I’m trying to decide now is what to do about the issue now, while the engine is still running and before it blows. Some people recommended taking it to a machine shop now before it happens. Others say it doesn’t really make any financial sense to do that and I’d be better off just waiting for it to happen and swapping in a junkyard engine. Any advice? I’ve also read something about oil pumps possibly being related to this issue, that cylinder #4 isn’t getting oil, and that might be a good place to start?

I like my little car and I’ve read some reviews that essentially said it’s a great car EXCEPT for this one engine issue. I don’t want to sink a ton of money into a car I paid less than 2 grand for, so even just an idea of what to expect would be really helpful. Thanks, Patrick

Drive the car.

And see how far it goes before a valve seat drops.

If one does?

Then if one does, forget about looking for a junkyard engine.

Guess why it’s in the junkyard?



A problem common to a particular car model is not even near 10%. Odds are in your favor. You want worries? Buy a new car.

I have actually considered buying this model, and am well aware of the problem. The issue isn’t so much that the valve seats drop down, as that they break apart and fall into the cylinder(s), resulting in scratched cylinder walls and broken pistons. And yes, it is possible to pull the head and have a machine shop remove the brittle valve seats and install stainless valve seats. The time to do that is before any of them break apart and ruin the engine.

If you can DIY, it is not difficult to disassemble this engine, figure about $300 to replace the gasket set, timing set, accessory belts, hoses, etc, and another $400-500 to have the head rebuilt with new stainless valve seats. If you can’t DIY, then forget about it. Shop rates for this kind of work would far exceed the value of this type of car.


Drive on, stop worrying until there’s something to be worried about.

Like others have said…you can’t expect much out of an $1800 24 year old car. Just drive it until it becomes unreliable.

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If it only last 12 months then you only paid $150 a month to for the car, 24 months is $75 a month, call it a throw away car and just drive it while saving for your next throw a way car or a more reliable one…

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Gosh, it’s been so long since I’ve seen that issue (it used to be somewhat common) that I forgot it was a thing. But it’s certainly not inevitable. I would think that if it were going to happen it would have happened by now.

Drive on.

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If I had that problem I’d make sure the cooling & ignition system is in tip-top condition and the engine isn’t pinging; And I’d change the engine oil and filter every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. Beyond that, I just try to drive the car gently.

I’m a driveway diy’er, so I might proactively replace the valve seats if I had another reliable car I could use in the meantime, so I didn’t have to worry about how long the valve-seat job took. Seems pretty uneconomical to consider hiring a shop to do that.

Here’s something else to consider . . .

You’re thinking of paying a lot of money to fix the potential valve seat issue now, and then you’ll sleep well at night, but your wallet will be lighter

You’ll be driving a car that’s almost a 1/4-century old and some parts will soon be hard to obtain

And you might be t-boned, which would result in a car that’s now unrepairable . . .

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To be fair, I have always liked the styling and design of the 1997-2001 Ford Escort, and with proper care, these cars can go hundreds of thousands of miles. Around here, these are still common cars on the road today. From time to time, I see one of them offered for sale at a decent price, but sadly I just don’t have space to store extra cars that would not be in use until needed.

The last time I seriously considered buying a used Ford Escort, I called the machine shop that I use to ask about getting stainless valve seats installed, and they said they could certainly do that, as well as reconditioning of the head, and quoted an approximate cost, which I thought was reasonable. If I was going to buy this type of car, I’d take apart the motor and have the valve seats replaced to avoid further worrying about this defect. I’d also be installing a new upgraded head gasket, so I wouldn’t have to worry about that wearing out either.

I found this … lol

Just curious why this particular engine design has the valve seat problem more than other engine designs? It seems like valve seat technology would be pretty well established by now. How many years have auto manufacturers been making engines using separate valve seats?

The valve seats in this engine are apparently made from an alloy which is very brittle, and with repeated thermal cycling it cracks and breaks apart. This is the only engine I know of with this problem.

hmmm … maybe the engine designers are using a different brew of metal alloy for the valves, so needed a harder valve seat material, and that turned out to be too brittle for the application.

It is an Escort, the engine designers went with the lowest bidder… lol


By now, yes. The 1.6. 1.9, 2.0 liter Escort engines date back to the early 1980’s when mass production of aluminum cylinder heads was new. These were the last 2 valve per cylinder engines used in passenger cars, obsolete by today’s standards.

A valve seat dropped in my 1988 Dodge Lancer 2.5 liter engine, it didn’t fall into the cylinder and cause damage. I replaced the cylinder head, this was a known problem with the 2.2 and 2.5 liter engines.

Ok thanks everyone for the responses. I still have thoughts that this is a mostly reliable car, except for the issue I brought up (and davesmopar found the forum I spent a lot of time reading.)

I’ve never done anything like this before, but I work at a place that has a garage and a ton of tools, and they let us use the facilities after work on our own time. I’m not a car guy by any means but I can follow simple directions and replicate what I see on a video. How crazy would it be for me to order a remanufactured head and swap this out myself? I think I could do it over the course of a weekend maybe. I found one remanned head for about $350, then an engine overhaul kit for $260. For that price I’d like to be able to stop worrying my engines going to blow.

I’ve been looking for step-by-step videos on how to do this but haven’t found a good one yet. And just so I’m clear, this would involve taking the entire engine out of the car right? I couldn’t just replace the head while the engine is in the compartment, right? I’ve never done it before, but I know we have an engine hoist that I could use.

It’s probably possible to remove the head with engine still in the car. Somebody here likely knows for certain. Even if possible to do w/engine in car, I’d guess most pros would remove the engine first, just b/c overall it would be much easier to remove & install the head and test the works with the engine on a stand.

Unless there’s a known problem with the rest of the engine, I see no need to bother with the engine overall kit.

A little crazy, but a little crazy can be a lot of fun. I expect it will take you longer than you are estimating, so don’t put yourself in a position where it has to be done in 2 days or you can’t drive to work, etc. Take your time, step by step, safety is the first priority, and it should be diy’er doable and make for an enjoyable & safe experience.

I should mention I’ve done a littleemphasized text** work on cars before. I replaced the head cover gasket on my last car (Jeep XJ) just by watching YouTube how-to videos. Obviously this would be a few steps deeper into the engine, but it’s not like I don’t know how to turn a wrench. And yes, I did enjoy it, it was memorable, and what is life but a collection of memories. And a few thrown wrenches.

I mentioned the engine rebuild kit because in one of the forums I read, someone recommended replacing all the belts and whatnot while the engine was out of the engine bay. The kit I found comes with:
Full Gasket Set, Hyper-Eutectic Dome-Top Pistons w/ Coated Skirts, Premium Piston Rings, Rod Bearings, Main Bearings, Timing Belt, Timing Belt Tensioner, Oil Pump, Valve Stem Seals

But if I’m able to leave the engine where it sits, definitely I’d feel better off. Unless it’s better to do everything now