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Ford Focus Cylinder Damaged in Shop

I took my 2001 Ford Focus Wagon with 150k miles into a new mechanic last week because it was smelling of fuel, and hesitating to start. They initially replaced the spark plugs and replaced the computer. When I picked it up initially, it was driving differently… no fuel smell anymore, but underpowered, still delayed starting, engine doing odd things at stops. I took it back immediately, and they started it a few times and basically said they had no idea, and I needed to drive it for a few days till the check engine light came on.

I drove it for four days waiting for the check engine light to come on, but it never did. In the mean time, symptoms became much clearer, and the car was taking three or four turns to start and the engine revving at stops, but otherwise driving fine. I took it back in and asked them to look at it. Based on it’s symptoms, and a few tests they ran, they told me it was the Idle Air Control Valve, and it would need to be replaced. I authorized the repair, and two days later got a call telling me basically my car has a damaged cylinder, needs a new motor (which is clearly more than the car is worth), won’t even idle anymore. They were actually quite nice about it, and aren’t charging me for the second set of repairs.

They say that the computer, all along, has been injecting too much fuel into one of the cylinders, leading to it’s ultimate death while at their shop. I’m apt to trust these guys, but am having a hard time stomaching that I drove my car in, but won’t be able to drive it out. I don’t know enough about cars to know if I should be suspicious, but some friends have indicated that I should.

I guess I’m just asking, does this chain of events make sense? Do I have reason to be suspicious that the shop did something they aren’t telling me about?

It’s quite possible for an engine to be damaged by too much fuel. This can affect one cylinder, all cylinders, or even the entire engine.

There’s not enough info known to determine how they arrived at the ECM diagnosis but it’s also quite possible for an ECM fault to cause too much fuel to be dumped into the engine.
In turn, this can kill spark plugs (along with the engine), affect the Idle Air Valve, the EGR system, converters, etc, etc.
The problem with revving at at a stop and hard starting can easily point to an Idle Air valve problem.

Offhand, it sounds to me like an aged, high miles car in which one problem has caused many others and I don’t see the shop at fault here.

If there is one thing I could point to as a case of something that should have been done it would be that (especially at 150k miles) a compression test should have been performed when the spark plugs were replaced. IMO, this is always a given although many shops do not do this.
Any possibility of mechanical faults in the engine should always be verified before proceeding with any peripheral repairs.

I would suspect a faulty fuel injector before I would suspect the computer, but what happened is feasible.

I think that what happened is the problem was misdiagnosed from the start, and you engine might have been saved if you had taken the car to a better diagnostician. For that reason alone, I think I would use a different mechanic in the future. However, I don’t think, based in what you have written so far, that they intentionally mislead you. There is no incentive for them to intentionally kill your engine.

Thanks! These mechanics have a really good reputation in the community, so I’m apt to trust what they say. It’s just hard for a non car inclined person to understand the sudden downfall. Also, I really liked that car! Decently sized station wagons are hard to come by these days.

If you otherwise like the car and it’s in good condition you may want to take the chance of installing a used engine–I imagine these engines are plentiful–see what the mechanics think. The engine replacement costs should be balanced against the payments you wouldn’t need to make on a newer replacement car.

Not only should they have done a compression test, I suspect that if they"d “read” the sparkplugs when they removed them it would have been obvious that one cylinder was dumping too much fuel in. But I have to agree with OK4450 that there isn’t enough information here about what tests that actually ran and exactly what the results were to be able to draw any definite conclusions. It is possible that a bad ECU was flooding the cylinders and the wash effect allowed damage to a cylinder wall. It’s also possible that an injector wasn’t closing and the whole thing was misdiagnosed from the outset.

There’s just not enough here to draw any coclusions.

I have to assume that by now they have run a compression test, and that is the basis for saying you have a bad cylinder.

They should have written the actual results of the compression test someplace - whether on something they gave you or not. Would be be able to find out, in psi, what the compression was on each cylinder?

If it were me I’d ask for a cylinder leak down test. Its quite true that there are lots of things that can go wrong in the engine, but those 2.0L Ford engines are known for having bad valve seats, and the car can be fine one minute and not the next for no apparently good reason.

Because it is a fairly common issue, remanufactured heads are pretty easy & cheap to find. They are also among the easiest to install - relatively speaking. If they can determine that this is primarily a valve issue IMHO the car would be worth a new head.

I actually haven’t been to the shop yet since the recent cylinder development, so haven’t received any paperwork, just spoken over the phone. I should be able to go in tomorrow to “clean out my belongings” and they are letting me keep the car there for a week till I figure out what I want to do with it.

Other than the details of a compression test, are there any other questions I should be asking?

I would ask about used engine availablilty and cost if you want to keep the car running. If not, good luck on your car search.

Other than the actual compression readings you want to know if they did anything to determine the source of the problem. A cylinder will have poor compression (though I suppose I’m still just guessing that this is what the “damaged cylinder” refers to) for several reasons - piston rings, pistons, head gasket breach, valve issues, block issues. Not all of it can be sorted out without dismantling the engine, but a leak down test would at least tell you whether the issues are down in the block or up in the head.

If you do give any thought to resurrecting this car via use engine or anything else, do give specific thought to how the transmission has been. Nice and smooth and trouble-free? Serviced regularly? etc.

What criteria are being used to determine a cylinder has been damaged??

Have them remove the oil pan, and with a flashlight look up at the pistons to see if any are cracked.

Tester

"I drove it for four days waiting for the check engine light to come on, but it never did. In the mean time, symptoms became much clearer, and the car was taking three or four turns to start and the engine revving at stops, but otherwise driving fine. I took it back in and asked them to look at it. Based on it’s symptoms, and a few tests they ran, they told me it was the Idle Air Control Valve, and it would need to be replaced. I authorized the repair, and two days later got a call telling me basically my car has a damaged cylinder, needs a new motor "

A simple compression / leakdown test should confirm any “damaged cylinder”…Everything posted so far is guesswork…

Just got back from a visit with the mechanic. They explained that the engine experienced hydrolock, and the compression test came back at 140,140,70,140. As far as damage to the cylinder, they both observed damage, and suspected more, but weren’t too specific. No mention of a leak down test.

I’d want them to show me the damage. Thay may be right, but I’d want to see it with my own eyes.

Should we assume that these numbers were in order? I.e. that 70psi was on cylinder 3?

In general, I’m thinking its either a used engine from a scrap yard or the whole car to the scrap yard. But I might want a leakdown test.

Those readings are all low and 70 of course is horrible.
Excessive gasoline in the engine can wash down cylinder walls and damage them along with damaging the piston rings. This can lead to low compression. You should not need a leakdown test on this one.

A hydrolocked engine (which can be caused by gasoline, engine coolant, or water inhalation through the intake tract) can suffer damage to the pistons, rings, etc.
Just theorizing here without knowing the details, but if hydrolock actually happened it could be that the reason for the extremely low compression on that one cylinder is because the connnecting rod is bent,

If the rod is bent (even very slightly) this will increase the combustion chamber size and cause much lower compression readings.
This can also be verified without diassembling the engine. The spark plugs can be removed and a dial indicator used to measure piston travel or distance from a set point, etc.

A bent rod or damaged cylinder walls/piston rings means it’s time for another engine or a rebuild. Hope that helps.

They observed damage but weren’t specific? Why wouldn’t you ask them to be specific? C’mon, we’re talking about major costs here I’d want to know as much as possible to validate their conclusions before accepting a final disposition. If possible, SHOW ME. If they can’t provide definitive evidence the engine is shot, I’d be trying everything relatively easy first. In cases of severe gasoline washdown with no clear evidence of physical damage, it takes almost no effort to inject oil into the cylinders, turn over by hand enough to distribute and then repeat compression testing. Wouldn’t be the first time an engine was brought back this way.