Mechanic says needs new piston rings. What to do?

I live in Portugal and drive a 1998 Ford Fiesta with 50k miles that has been having problems. It all happened rather suddenly as the car was running fine, but then this weekend I noticed that it was lurching at slow speeds and seemed to lack power. The next day it was having trouble starting and the loss of power seemed even larger. By Sunday, the vibrations were very bad, even at idle.

I took the car in on Monday and the mechanic said that one of the cylinders was not working. He said that the gas was not being ignited and was flowing directly into the carburetor. He also showed me one of the spark plugs that was very black and covered in what I understood as oil. According to him, the piston ring on the cylinder was broken. He also said this would explain the large oil consumption I was having. It was a little hard for me to understand everything since he was explaining in Portuguese and I’m not very familiar the technical words for car parts, so if some of the above doesn’t quite make sense, it may be what I lost in translation. Anyway, I did some research online and what he said sounds reasonable given the symptoms. What’s everyone else’s take? What will be involved in repairing this problem?

The second question is whether it’s worth fixing this car. The repair will be very expensive; I don’t have the estimate yet, but I’m figuring around 1500 dollars. Does that sound reasonable?

According to the mechanic and my friend who knows a little about cars, the resale of the car without doing the repairs is probably close to nothing. I think I’d rather pay 1500 dollars and have a working car than sell it for nothing and spend more money on a second car (which could have it’s own new problems). So, I guess my concern is that since this is a rather large repair and I’m not sure that it will really fix what’s wrong with the car. Ie. what’s the next problem that is going to happen? Some people have even mentioned that in cases like this, it sometimes better just to get a rebuilt engine.

Thanks to everyone for the advice. I enjoy reading this forum. I’ve learned a lot and really appreciate the time that people put into giving assistance.

It’s sort of difficult to do a cross-cultural, transatlantic diagnosis, but if you are losing oil, and you have a black, oily spark plug then you very likely have an oil control ring problem. Such a problem should be fixed. The best way to verify it further is to perform a compression test on all 4 cylinders to judge the overall condition of the engine.

The $1500 for an engine overhaul with new rings, and possibly valves is not unreasonable. You would only do this if the rest of the car is in good condition, and you can find a shop you can trust to do the work correctly. Once the engine is apart, the valves should be checked out as well. You may, as a result, end up paying more than the $1500 quoted.

If the cost is too high, an engine swap from a wreck might be more economical. In all cases it is cricial to find a dependable shop.

Good luck.

After you get your estimate try to discuss the options with the mechanic. He should be able to make the correct recommendation. With only 50,000 miles I am surprised at the condition of the engine. Did you buy it used?

It sounds like the car has a carburator and isn’t fuel injected. I’m not sure what you mean by saying that gas was flowing directly into the carburator since gas does that normally. If the fuel is pouring into the engine from the carburator the problem may be due to a bad float in the carburator.

I kind question the diagnosis you were given. While there could be broken rings in one cylinder there are other possibilities for the trouble. Especially if fuel is pouring into the engine due to a bad float. I would want to see what a compression check on all the cylinders shows up. The oil loss may be due to a faulty PCV valve. You don’t have a lot of miles on the car and the suspect of broken rings just doesn’t sit well with me, I could be wrong though. If a lot of extra fuel was getting into the cylinders it could cause the rings to be damaged. You may also want to see what another shop says. You might save yourself a lot of money on needless repairs.

Your repair estimate sounds within reason to me if the problem is what to say it is. I think a compression test is really important in this case and would like to see the results. There should be around 165 lbs of pressure in each cylinder and readings within 10 lbs of each other.

Have the carburetor repaired. Just change the spark plug and see how the engine runs. If it runs half-way decently, just drive it and change that spark plug whenever the engine starts to run rough again (once a month, or more frequently, wouldn’t be too much).

Yes, I bought the car used and thought I got a pretty good deal until this problem happened. In retrospect, there were some warning signs that maybe this wasn’t a good car to buy, but it’s water under the bridge now…

I just looked online, and it appears that my engine the Zetec-SE, does not have a carburetor which makes sense considering that it’s only ten years old. Now I’m a little confused, as I thought the mechanic was talking about the carburetor, but perhaps something was “lost in translation.” If he really thinks this car has a carburetor, I think I’d better find a new mechanic!

Could he have said the gas was flowing directly into the crankcase rather than the carburator, meaning that fluids were readily passing by the combustion and oil rings? That would fit the other symptoms. That would also mean that it’s time to consider a new engine. Correcting that would require a total rebuild, and on a 10 year old Fiesta the cost really isn’t justifiable.

The Fiesta has not been made for some time, and it most surely has a carburetor. This car was sold for a while by US Ford dealers, and proved too frail for North American use.

While the American version of Fiesta may never have been fuel-injected (I think they stopped selling them in states in the early 90s), they are still the number one selling car in Europe. In Europe, I believe they have been using fuel injection engines since 1992.

If the engine is injected then the injector may be leaking badly.

Thanks for the update.

P.S. Ford of England has a strange way of deciding on car names. The 3 most popular cars, Fiesta, Escort, and Focus are all the names of popular British…girlie magazines!

I am assuming that Fiestas are plentiful in that part of the world, and if so, you might do as the_same_mountainbike suggests and consider a new (I would suggest used) engine. If you trust this mechanic, let him pull your engine out, examine it, and if it’s going to need a full rebuild, have him look around for another to put in.

Consider adding 2 ounces of sea foam to the engine oil and the rest of the can to the gas tank ideally with 8 gallions of gas. It is a great cleaner and cheap see if problems go away.

How much would you estimate an engine replacement would cost?

Be carefull of making that assumption. This is NOT North America. They offer cars with options there that you can’t get here. So it very well may be equiped with a Carburator. I know some countries in South America sell cars built since 2000 that have carburators.

Agree; when I was in Malaysia in 2003, one of the engineers had a new locally assembled Ford Escourt which had a very balky carburetor. No doubt to save money and cope with the not so great quality of the gas.

Good idea, but Seafoam may not be available in Portugal. There is no doubt some other brand that does the same thing.

Get a compression pressure test done; easy for your mechanic to do. If the numbers are inconsistent per your mechanic, have him squirt a little oil into each cylinder before running another compression pressure test. Then post again here with the numbers.

Alternately, get another opinion from another mechanic who speaks your language. Too much can be lost with bad communication. A mechanic who is less than ethical can hide behind a language barrier, not to say or imply yet that your mechanic is dishonest.

Europe has stricter emission control standards than the US and I really doubt any new cars are sold with carburators. I think the transition to fuel injection was in the early 90s the same time as in the US.