Blown head gasket on 99 Taurus - repair or replace engine?

On the way home from work today, my 99 Taurus (130k miles, 3.0 L, not SHO) started running very roughly and shooting white clouds of smoke (massive contrail). It smells sweet like antifreeze. When I pulled off, the coolant was very low and the oil was also a lot lower than when we checked it this weekend (bad sign?). During all this it never overheated (needle stayed in the middle).

We don’t have a lot of money right now and I’m about to be laid off. We would like to fix this if possible. My father-in-law is a retired mechanic and still has his shop tools, but no access to a garage (so no lift). We also have a friend who works on cars and is very knowledgeable who can be persuaded to help.

I have 3 questions:

1. What tests do we need to do to determine if its just the head gaskets, or something worse? How do we tell if we have a cracked or warped head/block?

2. Can we replace the head gaskets without pulling the engine completely out? That’s all the manual shows but I’ve read other forums where people have done it on their Tauruses without pulling it.

3. How hard is it to replace the entire engine and should we consider doing so instead of replacing the gaskets?

Yay for public transportation!

A compression test and a cooling system pressure test can be performed to determine if you have a blown head gasket or not.
The spark plugs should be examined because chances are the spark plug(s) will be wet with coolant. If any of the plugs are wet with coolant then you know the head gasket(s) are gone.

The head gaskets can be replaced without pulling the engine. The odds of a cracked head are very slim; that is not a common a problem as believed. Chances are a head gasket let loose is all.

The 3.0 is a good engine and with a bit of searching you may be able to find one cheap. I’ve seen some low miles engines (40-50k or so) go for 4-6 hundred dollars. To change the entire engine you will need a cherry picker. It is easier IMHO to remove the hood, pull the entire engine/transmission unit out the top, and separate them on the floor.

The low oil level would concern me. I would just replace the head gaskets only if the engine was not using any oil but that problem throws a wrinkle into it. A compression test could answer any questions about piston rings. Your father in law should understand about a dry and wet compression test. (Also replace the thermostat; it’s cheap insurance).

Often when the coolant level gets too low the temp gauge may not work properly because the sender’s probe is not immersed n hot coolant, so this could be why the gauge needle never pegged. Hope soome of that helps anyway.

Vulcan or Duratec engine?

I know the year of the car isn’t really old, but I used to have a mileage limit of 140,000 on the older Taurus and Tempo. I think that if you do the work yourself and success is guarantied, it still may be better to get rid of the car, but only if you have enough money. The engine hoists don’t cost a lot and you can sell it later. You can get them anywhere. New $200, used are a little less. They disassemble well. You can do the gaskets without pulling the engine out. Dye penetrant will find cracks. Auto parts stores may sell it or any machine shop will know how to get it. Try cheaply first. But first, you have to find the leak. It could be a hose or a gasket you don’t know about. Your father-in-law should have a pressure tester.

I posted a comment that disappeared into the ethernet. So here it is again. Don’t expect a head gasket replacement to be a simple chore. You will have to have the heads pressure tested and probably reground. When I had my Taurus in for a head gasket replacement it took about 2-3 weeks. Many of the bolts broke off deep in the block–this is common as the bolts stretch upon tightening and are not resuable. Nothing is as simple as it seems. Your father-in-law can tell you if he wants to handle this.

Many Ford engines have suffered from intake manifold failure which manifest themselves in the manner you described.

If the head gasket is gone, I WOULD consider the possibility that it might be less expensive and wiser to get a low-mileage engine from a wreck. These engines are probably a dime a dozen given how many Tauri there are out there.