Frustrating ford escort zx2

so. i have a 2000 ford escort zx2. until now it has been an extremely reliable car. now i cannot figure out what’s wrong with it. my coolant is disappearing, not leaking. the oil looks a bit milky but not overly so. first thought would be a broken head gasket. it also gets hot, almost to overheating, while i’m idling. it jerks back and forth during acceleration, especially between 3rd & 4th gears. recently replaced the timing belt, spark plugs and wires (which helped with the poor acceleration for about 2 weeks) but i recently had another thought- does anyone know if escorts have transmission oil coolers & if they do could a bad one account for the coolant mixing with the oil and the overheating? can’t find a definitive answer anywhere online… thanx!

Oil should not look milky at all!
Maybe a little spooge on the oil filler cap if you make a lot of short trips.
How did the old plugs look?
Does the cooling fan come on when it almost overheats?
Transmission oil cooler would not mix coolant into the motor oil.

“first thought would be a broken head gasket”

I think your first thought was the right one.

The trans fluid does run through the radiator to cool it. But that will not give you overheating or milky oil.

The longer you put off the inevitable conclusion about the head the more likely you are to avoid destroying the entire motor.

thank you both for your answers, even if its not what i wanted to hear! the old plugs, all but one, looked fine. no oil on them or anything. before i changed them i was getting a misfire on cylinder 4 code, now i’m getting a misfire on cylinder one code. and those are the plugs that are/ were bad. and it seems the cooling fan is on constantly now and i need to amend my last statement about that- it actually overheats while i’m driving and cools while idling. probably that doesn’t make much of a difference but accuracy and everything… and thanx for the info about the trans cooler! that was a new one for me!

How many miles on the Escort? Don’t keep driving it until you get it fixed. A new head gasket is cheaper than a whole new engine.

I think you were right with your first assumption (head gasket), a compression test can verify this.

Milky oil is bad for engines. Overheating is bad for engines. I’d suggest getting this fixed pretty quickly.

i’ve actually had the car for about 9 years now and personally put more than 100,000
miles on it. so its been extremely reliable and i’ve been holding on to it for somewhat sentimental reasons. my husband can fix the car but i think it’s time to let it go.

so. i’ve decided to give up on the escort. i’m thinking very seriously about buying a 97 nissan maxima. it’s a 5 speed v-6 engine which is the best thing about it if you ask me but! the car has 222k miles on it. i’ve read nothing but mostly glowing reviews about this car even with a lot of mileage. but i wondered if anyone has any thoughts on this or owns one…?

At 222K reviews are irrelevant. You need to know what kind of life the car has had over the last 14yrs & 222k miles.

Your best friend will be a trusted mechanic.

Personally, unless you suspect a transmission issue as well, I’d probably fix the ZX2 or get a used engine for it before I’d buy an unknown 14yr old with that many miles.