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'97 Taurus GL Wagon, 3.0L, 226k: Compression Test Results, Perspective, and Opinions

Attached is recent compression test results. Car started pumping white smoke out exhaust (and firewall side of engine, but probably exhaust manifold) very suddenly and noticeably about 3 weeks ago along with new tapping noise (lifters?), so I stopped driving it. Wet test in attachment seems to indicate worn rings. I’m thinking of removing heads and taking a look before deciding what to do next. Don’t really want to rebuild the entire engine, but don’t want to continue driving it the way it is, as it will surely die. So an incremental, relatively-low cost repair that at least stops the coolant seepage and allows the car to continue to be driven is what I’m thinking: maybe a new set of rebuilt heads for $350, and all the gaskets upward. Some would say this is waste of time without doing some work to the lower half of the engine. I say maybe I just want the car running again (as a 3rd vehicle) and I don’t care about the reduced power.

This vehicle was purchased brand new, put into service mid-1998, and has always had oil changes every 3k-3.5k miles (by me). There may have been some trace coolant loss through the engine over the years, but with the oil changes done routinely, I’m thinking any damage was minimal. It’s only recently that the billowing white smoke started.

Opinions? Have you ever been in this situation, repaired just the top end, and taken your chances to continue driving the car? Also, if I did touch the bottom end, I couldn’t just replace rings, right? I’d have to rebore the cylinders, and that means the engine has to be pulled, etc, and the cost spirals upward (even if I do it myself), correct?

You are probably better off installing a good used engine; at the mileage of your current one many other things will also need replacing once you open it up.


How do you qualify a “good used engine”. If the junkyard has already pulled it from the wrecked car, how do I know if the mileage is accurate or, in any case, the internal condition of the engine? Isn’t that a total crapshoot? We’re talking about a '97 remember, but maybe one could be found. I think I would rebuild mine before taking a chance on one of those. The other engine replacement option that would be trustworthy would be a Jasper reman engine for $2675, but I’m not sure that number makes sense for a '97 Taurus. You’d think at this point they’d be marking down engines this old for run-of-the-mill cars like a Taurus … maybe $1800 tops!

226K? Not bad.
Anybody know is this engine uses a plastic intake manifold?

A friend of my wife has a 1997 Taurus which I helped her buy. It was 1 1/2 years old at the time and a lease car with only 13,000 miles on it. She paid $12,000 for it fully loaded.

She now has 125,000 miles on it and since she also has an other car, she’s driving this one mostly in winter and “till it falls apart” and does not plan to make major repairs…

You don’t want to spend too much on this car. If you could find such a low mileage engine in a wreck, that may be worthwhile. Starting to put serious money into an engine that old and into a Taurus is bad economics.

To justify putting another engine in, the rest of the car, especially the transmission much be near perfect.

Good Luck!

the same mountainbike:

Nope. Aluminum intake manifold. I think the plastic one is on the Duratec engine. 226k original miles from new. Transmission is a little soft, but still original. Rest of the car is in good shape down here in the Carolinas.


I guess I could try to find a good junkyard engine. Maybe I could find one still in the wreck with a readable odometer that would make me feel good about it. But even so - it’s a 19-year old car. It’s probably going to have 150k miles on it anyway …

Really - I’m tempted to just throw a set of rebuilt heads on it for $350, stop the coolant leakage, and keep driving it. Those compression numbers aren’t that bad …

The initial dry readings are too low and the signifcant jump upwards during the wet test points to piston ring problems.

Yes, it is possible to drop the pan, hone the cylinders, and install a new set of rings and rod bearings along with reworking the heads. If everything is done right and with a little luck a lot more life can be had out of the engine.

However, if it were me I’d just look for another engine. The 3.0 engines are very good, there’s a lot of them around, and they can usually be had for less than the cost of parts only to fix the current engine.

There was a long time Ford only salvage here (now defunct) who sold low miles 3.0 engines for about 350 dollars due to the glut of them they had on the racks. There was low demand for those motors simply because they were not failure prone; ergo, they piled up like cockroaches inside the building.

Well, I’ve done a preliminary search on and, as expected, there’s no shortage of engines out there, but the ones with allegedly lower mileage (50k-99k) run about $600 and they’re nowhere near me which means that’s going to be another $100 or so to ship it.

Even saw a few that claimed mileage in the TEENS! C’mon … the car was wrecked in '97 or '98 and it’s been sitting in a junkyard for 18 years???

I know there may be some sentimental value for you with this wagon but have you considered scrapping the car and looking for a Taurus/Sable sedan that is maybe 10-14 yrs old? You may find a decent one for 1-2k or so and have a lot more life in it.

If you do go the used engine route make sure it does not have rusty looking coolant passages. The 3.0 Vulcan engines of that vintage have been know to have serious rust issues if the coolant system was not maintained. If you do it your self you can make out good. Plus you know what and how things were done. If you pay a shop it may be worth looking for another car as mentioned above.

Yea, I am skeptical too of a 97 or 98 engine with less than 20k on it. There may be one out there. But they will want a premium for it.

I will say that it’s possible for some engines to languish around for years. In regard to that now defunct Ford only salvage that I used to deal with they usually had dozens of the 3.0s sitting on the rack. Their average price was in the 3-400 dollar range.

As they told me one time, the motors are good and there was little demand for them so that’s why the cheap price and glutted racks.
However, their racks were pretty much devoid of Taurus/Sable automatic transmissions due to some chronic issues which led to high demand. That demand was reflected in the price which was around double the price of an engine. A transmission was around 600 bucks.

Well, I've done a preliminary search on and, as expected, there's no shortage of engines out there, but the ones with *allegedly* lower mileage (50k-99k) run about $600 and they're nowhere near me which means that's going to be another $100 or so to ship it.

You would still be getting off cheap, as long as you did all the labor. But start figuring in other things as you find them on a car that old? To me the only way I wouldn’t send it to the scrap yard was if everything (and I mean everything between the bumpers) on the rest of the car had been replaced already and the car was in "like new condition. But you say the trans is “soft” and “original” that would be a deal breaker for me. My luck I would get a great running engine fairly cheap and 3 months down the line the trans would go and be 4 times the cost of the engine, so the car hits the scrap yard 3 months later than it should have and I am out all the time and $$ I just put in it.

You’re doing all the work yourself right? You’ve got some experience and aptitude right? This has got to be one of the simplest and easiest engines to work on yourself. It’s all cast iron, no aluminum heads to warp or crack or OHC cam journals to twist.

The car’s not really worth anything to anyone in the condition it’s in now. Maybe $150 in scrap value. Head gasket set, new bolts, odds and ends, will cost you maybe $200?

So pull the heads and chances are you’ll just find a failed gasket. I wouldn’t even touch the heads other than checking the surface for warpage or cracks. As long as you don’t find any other damage other than a gasket, put it back together and drive on. Even with the compression readings what they are I bet you’d get another 50,000 miles on the engine. Even if it burns a little oil afterward, oil is cheap.

If you take it apart and find a cracked cylinder or something, you’re only out a few hours of time. If you fix it for $200 you’re back on the road for very little money.

Good point about the transmission on the Taurus/Sable. The AXODE/AX4S transmission were a weak link in the Taurus drive train. If you feel it is soft than you would either want to walk away from the car or replace that also at the same time. Your call.

Most if not all of the 3.0 OHV Vulcan engines came with the AXODE or AX4S . The Duratec and SHO engines came with a different transmission, the AX4N, that is much more robust. If you keep the car see if you can put in an AX4N. I don’t know if this will easily drop in but it is worth asking around. Maybe a Ford tech on here can chime in.

Good Luck.


OK, I’ll admit it - I am a bit sentimental about this wagon, but I’m not replacing it with another used car. I’m either fixing this car and driving it, or I’m getting rid of it and buying my next new car (although I’m not “scheduled” to do that until the 2018 model year). I buy my cars new, maintain them myself, and drive them at least 10 years or 200,000 miles (whichever comes last). That’s my motto. Kind of a take-off on the manufacturers warranty B.S (LOL!). I’m trying to stretch the Taurus to 2018 because that’s when my GM “dollars” mature for my next purchase (2011 V6 Equinox).


I’m sure it’s “possible”, too, but how “probable” is it that I can find that engine? It’s not going to be near me, so I’m going to have to trust the source - which I wouldn’t be able to do. And it’s going to cost me $600-$800 for this crapshoot. My '89 Colt (1.5L 4-cylinder) went 255,000 miles with no help at all. This Taurus, with a little help, ought to be able to crack 300,000. I think I’m sticking with the Devil I Know.


Yeah, the transmission is “soft”, but it’s been “soft” for 10 years now - ever since I completely transfused the fluid at 100,000 miles (for the first time) against most recommendations. I just changed the way I drive it: don’t take off from a stop quickly. If I do, the tranny will slip and bang in 1st. Meanwhile, I’ve changed the fluid at more regular intervals since. It’s not a “perfect” used car. At 226,000 miles that’s just not going to be possible. The body and interior is good. Only parts ever replaced on it are the battery, alternator, starter, brake discs, plastic coolant tank, coolant H-hose, VSS sensor, Blend Door Actuator, Driver’s door window motor … in other words: all the typical stuff on this Gen Taurus that collectively hasn’t cost me much of anything. Now, that could mean all the BIG costs are still coming (transmission, exhaust, etc.), but I know that …


Q- You’re doing all the work yourself, right? A- RIGHT!

Q- You’ve got some experience and aptitude, right? A- Um… I guess …

But seriously - what you’re saying is exactly what I’m thinking. This car was running (still does). I was driving it back and forth to work every day 25 miles each way. It just started blowing too much white smoke suddenly. I think if I can just stop the coolant leaching into the combustion chamber, it’ll go another 50,000 miles like you say (heck - maybe all the way to 300k !). But now that I know what the compression numbers look like, if I’m taking off the heads, wouldn’t it also make sense to try to replace the rings and “fix” that, too? I certainly don’t want the cost to spiral up out of control, but what’s a set of rings … $50?? Am I introducing ‘project creep’ here ??

The Head Gaskets are a fairly well known failure on those engines. Although I would hardly call it a “failure” at that mileage. Im surprised the trans hasnt dropped out at that point…the trans is the weakest link of this vehicle by far.

Not sure how much more you want to pull out of this vehicle…I mean it really doesnt owe anyone anything at this point in time.

I would Blue Devil the thing and see if it holds…but sometimes even the Devil cant fix a well blown gasket…it does work very well however.

This is a toss up really…the vehicle isnt worth as much as it would take to repair it properly. Its all subjective at this point in time. Those engines are a dime a dozen and I can source one for 150 bucks all day long…but is it worth the effort? Thats a question to ask yourself really…None of us can answer that. Have I done repairs on vehicles that “werent worth it” You bet I have…Many times…but I do the work myself so its not a fair comparison.

Like I said the transmission is the weakest link by far in this vehicle…some seem to last…while others give up the ghost under 100K…never know what you’ll get is what I understand. If you swapped in another motor…your next post will be if its worth it to put a used trans in the vehicle.


But now that I know what the compression numbers look like, if I’m taking off the heads, wouldn’t it also make sense to try to replace the rings and “fix” that, too? I certainly don’t want the cost to spiral up out of control, but what’s a set of rings … $50?? Am I introducing ‘project creep’ here ??

Don’t do anything more than you absolutely have to. If you start thinking rings and rod bearings then that will turn into needing a ridge reamer to get the pistons out, then honing the cylinders, how about that timing chain, might as well pull the engine out to do all that work, then rebuild the heads, and so on…

If it runs well and doesn’t burn a bunch of oil, just throw a set of gaskets in it and drive on.

Agreed, a set of rings by themselves wouldn’t fix much. Sudden white smoke is more likely coolant than worn rings, so putting in a set of head gaskets might be worth the effort, especially because this engine doesn’t have overhead cams. I always liked that 3.0.

Breached head gasket & “tired” compression.
Sounds like it’s always been cared for I’d bet it’s just loss of ring tension, not excessive wear.

DIY mild rebuild:

Pull the heads and take them to a machine shop to be reconditioned. Figure a couple hundred $
Have them mill it flat, lap the valves, check/replace valve guides & seals.
Quick check for bore wear: is there a ridge near the top of the cylinders? Can you hang your fingernail on it? If so find a used engine.
Otherwise lightly hone the cylinders.
Replace the rings, replace rod bearings if they look like they’ve worn through the babbitt.
Main bearings on Honda’s I’ve done this have always looked OK.
I don’t know if Fords are easy on the mains. So take one main cap off and if the bearing looks good I’d leave the rest alone.
I’d also replace the lifters and a long list of gaskets, seals, and other wear-out parts that will be easy to access.
Then there’s the workspace, work time, engine hoist rental and immobile car for up to a couple of weeks.

I wouldn’t invest the time. A Crankshaft Plain Bearing costs about $1.25…but the labor to install would exceed the cars value

Honda Blackbird:

Whatever I end up doing to this car I’ll be doing myself. No way would I pay someone to do it. I know that’s not worth it.


You’re right, and that’s what I was originally thinking - just replace the gaskets, put it back together, and continue driving it. An “incremental” repair, at low cost, to keep the wheels turning.


I don’t think I’ll be replacing any rings, but what if the rings have (started to) fail in the most harmless way (whatever way that is … maybe loss of ‘tension’?)? Why wouldn’t simply replacing the rings cure that? Sure, if the rings cracked or got distorted somehow I would think there would be other damage inside the cylinder that new rings wouldn’t fix, but isn’t it possible that replacing rings before a certain point (whatever point that is) could be a viable fix?


Decent weather, but no garage, hoist, or stand here. Just a driveway. Also can only work on this on the weekends. I’m definitely not pulling the engine out.