Head repairs

My church is looking to buy a used high milage van from a dedicated lease company. Good reputation. I have education but little hands on and the church uses my input for van preinspection. I’m not looking for advice on whether to purchase, I just want information on common practice. Upon inspecting this van I found some minor deficiencies but there was also a small oil leak from the head leaking externally. They are removing the head and having it machined before sale. My question is: Isn’t it common practice to do both heads because I would suspect the most common cause for a warped head is overheating problems in the past.

Just my humble opinion but I’m of the belief that both heads should always be done. The exception would be if it were a fairly low miles warranty repair in which case warranty will not pay for both if only one is a problem.

Overheating would certainly cause a warped head. The problem there is that overheating will also cause piston ring/piston/cylinder wall problems which lead to oil consumption.
I would want both a dry and wet compression test results before buying it.

Normally, I’d say replace both as well but… only one is leaking but you didn’t say where. If it is leaking oil from the head gasket, it could be just that head.

I blew a head gasket on an old Chevy V8, pulled that head only. Just a coolant leak. It was flat and all the valves still sealed after 104K miles so I installed a new head gasket and ignored the other head. No issues.

I traced the leak to outside of engine coming out between head and block. Doesn’t show evidence of internal leaks but I didn’t pull plugs or confirm in any way that there’s no internal leaks. I don’t know for sure if the head was warped, I’m just going on assumption because he’s going to machine it. I’m leaning to not recomend. The church loves to do business with this place. I will recommend to wait until another one comes along probably at a higher price tag. If they still want to buy it I will request wet\dry compression report.

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Two things can happen here 1. You approve vehicle and it does last a decent amount of time so you get praised 2. You approve and it fails to be a good purchase so you get blamed for wasting money .

It’s a good thing I have a forgiving Church.

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If this is a modular V-8, the is OHC whether 2, 3 or 4 valves per cylinder, the head will not be warped. Ford heat treats the heads before machining so all the warping is done in advance.

There are two reasons the head can be leaking. Most likely is the cover rail gasket (aka valve cover gasket). The second is a factory defect. When the head is pre-machined (aka cubing) at the foundry, the oil drain back holes are bored. The wall thickness between the drain back holes and edge of the casting is very thin. Occasionally an insert on the hone will chip or get dull prematurely and it will crack the wall. The oil drain back holes are located at the outside edge, exhaust side, centered longitudinally. It is between the center exhaust ports on the head. This will only apply if the oil leak is occurring at this point and normally, they leak a lot of oil.

This kind of leak should have been repaired under warranty. If it wasn’t leaking when new, then I’d check the valve cover gasket, including the O-rings around the spark plugs holes.

What year

Exactly which engine?

There were several engines available for the E-350 vans

I seem to remember older technical service bulletins, regarding leaking head gaskets on the 5.4 V-8 . . .

And exactly who were they leasing their vehicles to?

Private individuals?


It does make a difference, in my opinion

Yes you are right, it does make a difference. They are leased to the military or sub contractors to the military. They transfer soldiers from city to city throughout the U.S. Almost 100% highway miles. It’s a 5.4 gasoline 2010.
As an update I was able to eliminate the middle man and am now talking directly to the head mechanic in charge of the work. They have confirmed oil leak from head and profusely apologized for missing it on pre-sale inspection. They removed the leaking head and sent it out for inspection. I told him if they did the other head and gave me a good wet\dry compression test result, I would recommend the purchase. They knocked another $400 off the price for our inconvenience to find the problems they missed. There was a stabilizer bushing that looked like new condition that had enough slop to cause a slight noise. They keep immaculate service records and the only fault I seen is on a couple of occasions the oil change was done at a Jiffy lube.

If those vehicles were leased to the military, then I fully expect they were well taken care of

As for the sub-contractors, hard to say, because they’re not all cut from the same cloth, when it comes to maintenance and how well they treat their equipment

The fact that it’s mostly higway miles is definitely a positive

I just looked, and it appears the 2010 Econoline 350 still uses the old 2V Triton, whereas the Trucks had moved on to the 3V Triton already

Unfortunately, as far as I know, even by 2010, the 2V Triton was still blowing out plugs. But a Time-sert usually took care of the problem permanently, as least for the affected cylinder.

Are they allowed to give you the maintenance records . . . or do local privacy laws forbid them from changing hands?

it’s apparent you’ve seen at least some of the records, but it’s not yet 100% clear if they actually physically handed them to you?

Is this a single rear wheel or dually E-350?

full floater rear end?

I’ve seen a few Econoline 350s that weren’t full-floaters, which I thought was amusing

In your first post, you said there was “a small oil leak from the head leaking externally”

In my opinion, that’s not necessarily a result of overheating

I was relying on information delivered to the church then to me. I was told they were going to machine the head. That is where my overheating concern originated. Then I was able to contact the service manager directly and found that they sent it in for inspection. At this point I don’t know if it’s warped.

This may sound more dramatic than it in fact is . . .

It may be more a case of “Since the head is already off, let’s have it sent to the machine shop to be cleaned up”

Most likely the machine shop did only what was necessary, and no more

A few months back, I replaced one head gasket on an Uplander, because it was seeping coolant externally. It didn’t overheat, and it wasn’t a breach. No coolant found its way into the crankcase

I had no reason to mess with the other head, since there was no problem there

Anyways, when I had the head on the bench, I carefully cleaned it up and removed all residue left over from the old gasket. I put my straightedge on it in I believe 6 different directions, so to speak. Everything was well within specs, not even close to needing a shave. So I didn’t bother sending it out. We’ve seen that van a few times since then. No issues whatsoever

I suspect nothing dramatic happened with your church van . . . probably just needed a new head gasket and nothing else. While I wasn’t there, it’s possible the head didn’t even need to get shaved.

Some guys are very meticulous, though.

Not everybody has the same approach

Some guys machine the rotors EVERY single time the vehicle needs brake pads, even if there’s no need to do so

Other guys only machine the rotors if it’s truly necessary

Same thing with cylinder heads

Some guys send them out to be shaved every single time a head gasket was leaking or seeping engine oil and/or coolant externally, even if it checks out, in regards to warpage

Other guys measure for warpage, and if everything’s great, don’t bother sending it out to be shaved

I suspect whoever worked on it was of the opinion that he doesn’t take any chances

An update: I am now speaking directly to the mechanic doing the repairs. When they sent the right side head to the machine shop, it was not warped. But they did find that the valves needed attention. So the engine is out of the van and they will machine both heads and do a valve job and still give us the price they requested minus $400 for our inconvenience. Looking like a winning situation.


Are they always this accommodating, or is it because the customer is a church?

They lease these out until they hit around 200,000 miles. Then they retire them. They pretty much have gotten their use out of them. The retired vans are sold mostly to churches because that’s a popular market for 15 passenger vans. This is where our church gets all of their vans. They aren’t losing anything because the vans are spent as far as they are concerned. The store owner obviously likes return customers. He is extremely honest and unusually eager to please. He prides himself on making sure the vehicles are maintained during service and completely up to snuff when he sells them. He was totally embarrassed that I found this problem after he put it out for sale. He said if they would have found the problem before, they still would have done the work and left it out on the road a little longer, or sold it afterwards. I usually am sceptical of sales people, but this guy is a rare breed of character. He even let’s us take the vans home for a however long we want usually a week for inspection before sale.


That van is no spring chicken . . . but with the valve job, it should provide several more years of faithful service for your church