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Replacing my head

I’m probably going to end up putting a remanned head onto my '97 Ford Escort (2.0L SOHC SPI). I say “probably” only because I still plan to price the labor with my shop to see if I just want them to do it for me. But that decision has to do with my own figuring about how much I’ll regret doing it myself (which is partly what has me posting here).

I can detail the reasons and reasoning for doing this if anyone wants to know, but my question doesn’t have to to with why or whether or not it is a good idea. For relevance, suffice it to say that it has to do with valve seat problems, not a head gasket problem.

Anyway, I have never pulled or installed a head before (at least not on an engine that was supposed to run afterwards). No matter. Everyone has started somewhere and what would be easier as a first than this car? The job is not complicated as far as these things go. The stakes are also quite low. I actually want to do it.

I have only two nightmares that I’m just looking for prior feedback/thoughts about.

The first is less of a worry for me and just has to do with removing the old head bolts. I expect it to go nice and smoothly but any tips, tricks or cautions about that would be appreciated. (E.g. if they don’t want to turn out by hand is getting them started using an impact a big no no?)

The second has to do with the block. As noted, the head gasket doesn’t have a problem and I have no reason to expect a warped block. But I have this vision of little old me me standing in the garage with the top of the engine torn off and no way to do anything with it. What are the odds and what are my options at that point? Presumably it would be a flatbed to scrapyard since if that becomes a complicated problem then the job ceases to be worth the trouble.

The last issue is not about nightmares but preparation. The only thing I can think of that I don’t have in terms of tools would be a thread chaser for the head bolt threads. I’ve got decent torque wrenches and a manual. As far as I know most of the rest of it is normal tools.

Any thoughts on those issues greatly appreciated.

I’d say go for it. Get the shop manual and follow it very carefully. Make especially certain that when you install the new head you torque the bolts down in the right order and to the right specs. Obviously use a new gasket :wink:

I doubt your block would be warped, so I wouldn’t worry much about that. But you want to be sure the new head’s surface is true, or get it milled to be true so that it will mate up to the gasket properly. Otherwise you’ll have significant problems.

The shop is likely to charge you upwards of a grand for this, so if you think you can do it, and you’re OK with the consequences if you foul it up, then DIY is the way to go.

Hey, thanks. Its really a potential problem with the block that makes me wonder. I just don’t know how common it is, but if its unlikely then I’m probably just going to go DIY. At worst if all things go wrong I can break even on cost b/c if I do screw it up or find something noy worth fixing I can make the $$ back from a head purchase on scrap and parts.

What I will buy will be a fully remanned head plus full install kit (all related gaskets and head bolts) from one of a few companies that partly specialize in these heads. So I will trust the head. These can be had for about $350-400. The OEM heads are legendary for dropping their valve seats. Sometimes they give warning before they do and I’ve gotten mine. (Randomly occurring cylinder 4 misfire followed by perfectly normal operation for no apparent reason). Thanks again.

New head bolts may be required. Check. If you can use them again, don’t start removing them with an air gun. Finish removing them with an air ratchet but break them loose with a breaker bar.

If they are not reuseable, you don’t want to unwind one of them and have trouble getting it out. You don’t save much time by rushing the head bolt removal and installation anyway.

The chance of a warped deck on the block are slim, especially if the head gasket wasn’t leaking. You may not even need a remanufactured head. Valves have burned before without damaging the seats.

A 97 escort isn’t worth paying for a head, so don’t get one if the new exhaust valve seats have a respectable pattern after lapping the valves. You can judge the condition of the seats by looking at them, so try lapping the first new exhaust valve on the worst looking seat. Of course, the price of the replacement head will matter. If the price is worth the time saved then go ahead and buy it.

You should not need new intake valves, but remove and get the crud off with a pocket knife. You can usually scrape the stuff off with no real effort. Don’t bother lapping the intake valves. Just reinstall them in the right order.

Thanks. I’m now worrying less about a block problem. I really don’t expect one. The problem is that these engines do drop their valve seats. It was some kind of a manufacturing glitch. There doesn’t seem to be any official recognition of this by Ford I think largely because the common range is anywhere from 120K miles and up. For what many consider to be a “disposal” econobox, failed engines after that don’t make for a federal case.

But most everyone who works in a machine shop knows about it, including the companies that sell remanned heads. So do lovers of Escorts. An informal poll on the Escort Owners Assn boards puts the number at 55% of posters who have had this problem.

Anyway, especially in my case it is worth it. I can get a fully rebuilt head (with improved valve seats) and all install stuff (it does require new head bolts) for all of about $400. That’s not a whole lot more than a new set of good tires. I also actually have a parts car so I have spare Escort parts coming out my ears. If I can pull off the install I stay in my incredibly cheap and easy to drive, maintain, and repair small wagon.

It is ok. This is not crazy. Tear down and fix should be a backyard 20 hours. A head blown taurus I did in 2001 was still on the road in 2008. Never checked for flat just rebuild the head use new bolts and hope. It really may not need a rebuilt head. I just reseated /ground the old valves replaced the oil seals and put in new head gaskets and bolts.

Well the old head bolt removal didn’t go so smoothly. Its a 10 bolt head - 5 down one side and 5 down the other. The right side (from front of engine) were dry and stubborn. My impact wouldn’t break them loose. I went to the breaker bar and even trying to be cautious broke one them off.

Anyway, I did get the head off and actually just searched the boards for broken head bolt problems. Luckily I had a half inch or so of the old bolt to work with. Based on old threads I just started with PB Blaster and tapping with a hammer & punch to get some vibration. I did that for a time while cleaning up the block. I then heated it and cooled a couple of times with a torch and then one of those compressed air cans held upside down…with some more PB Blaster in between. A couple of heating & cooling cycles and it twisted out pretty easily with my biggest pair of channel locks. Whew, I said.

So thanks to anyone who ever posted on a broken head bolt.

Where I am now is making sure the block is clean but I always have this problem with old gaskets - as in how clean is clean and how to you get it perfectly clean without damage. The block isn’t aluminum so that is helpful. But its one of those metallic-type gaskets that makes it hard to tell whether there’s old gasket material there or not.

So what are some of the best methods for getting the block as clean as it needs to be?

I’ve got a lot of work to do to clean up the threads for the new head bolts so the best ways to do that would also be helpful.

One thing I do not do is use a gasket scraper; especially on aluminum. There’s too big of a risk that the metal may be gouged with one of these tools.

The way I do it, and it’s much more tedious though, is to use single edge razor blades and aerosol gasket remover.
If you use that aerosol gasket remover I caution you to make sure any air currents are not blowing towards you and to avoid getting any spray (AT ALL) on any part of your body. It will cause an itching and burning that will cause you to climb the walls.

Allow the stuff to work for a while and then use razor blades to peel the old material off. Usually the gasket, or most of it, will come off as a soft mush. (And continue to try and keep this stuff of you.)

Once cleaned, I usually stuff the cylinders with old rags and brush the top of the block and/or head with fine emery paper on a straight edge. This can highlight any warped areas if they exist. Hope that helps.

Regrets… do you still like the car???

Removing that cylinder head is not a difficult one to do. When you take it off leave the intake and exhaust on it, one huge piece, strip it and build it on the bench. Send it to the machine shop where you will also buy your head set, they will complete all of the “Head” recon. and give you the needed gaskets to put it back together out of your kit. They should also ask you about new head bolts for it as well. I believe that year is supposed to have them replaced regardless. Top end is relatively easy but unless you have a Rotary lift at the house doing a T belt on the ground sux… I say handle it or if you have better things to do drop it some place. Oh yeah, the block more than likely will be fine, the alum. head will give before the block, usually you can clean the block off with a drill and a scotch pad (green/brown rotary disc) don’t bother cleaning the head, the machine shop will boil it to clean it before it gets planes and the valves grind.

Thanks ok - very helpful. Most of the gasket did peel off all on one piece. Then there’s the powdery metal residue. I’ve been doing the tedious way with a single edge razor on the residue. I have so far avoided the gasket remover and have done a little vigorous wiping with denatured alcohol and brake cleaner. Lots of passages - hard to keep it all clean.

The hard part for me (as I have relatively little experience) is that with the metallic powder gasket its hard for me to tell where there is still gasket residue and where I’m down to metal on the block. Visually everything gets very fuzzy.

I hadn’t heard of the emery paper on a straight edge - I’ll be doing that.

In some circumstances it is both possible and preferable to leave all attached to the head when removing and add all to the head for installing but there are times when this can go wrong. These times are when you are working alone and it just makes the head too heavy to gently place on the gasket without disturbing the gasket position. Sometimes you have a timing chain guide that must be worked around and wacking one of these plastic guides with a hard to handle head/manifold combination can break it right off.

I saw the “attach every thing you can while the engine is out” theory go really bad when the job was a very large truck with a manual trans (not a tractor trailer rig but this truck delivered propane). Well it was so tough to get the mainshaft on the trans lined up with the clutch disc on the engine (and very hard to manuver the engine with all attached) that piece by piece the engine was disassembeld so there was enough room to “stab it”.

I did actually pull it all out in one piece - intake/exhaust and all. I won’t put it back in in one piece though. As oldschool suspects, too much stuff to wrestle in too little space.

I cleaned out the threads for the bolts - not too bad actually. No effort to speak of to clean them out. But I only have a tapered tap set. How crucial is it to use a bottoming tap?

A tapered tap may bottom out before all of threads are cleaned up. Lacking a bottoming tap you can try this homebrew method, which does work very well.

This may be after the fact but you can take an old head bolt or similar bolt with the same thread pitch and grind a narrow V-shaped notch through the threads on both sides of the bolt. Try to make this notch about an inch long. Brush off any burrs, etc. and voila, you have an inexpensive thread chaser that will clean the threads all the way to the bottom.

Hey - I can do that - for free. A couple of the old head bolts are still in fine shape (though I do know that they can’t be reused). I’m on it - Thanks OK!

~~ skip it ~~

kind of a dumb question.

Well, this job certainly pushed my limits. But that was actually one reason I did it.

But its done. And it runs - really well. I’ll just see now for how long.

Thanks to all for the input.

And the cylinder 4 intake valve seat was migrating outward. For those who aren’t familiar with the issue if you want to know, this is a problem with at least the 2nd (91-96, 1.9L) & 3rd (97 & up 2.0L SOHC) generation Escorts, and it persists with the 2.0L Focus. Typically it first shows up as a completely randomly occurring and serious cylinder 4 misfire. The car will literally go from running perfectly well to near stalling misfire (w/ blinking check engine light) for no apparent reason at a moments notice. Then, also for no apparent reason, it will go back to running perfectly well.

At some point a very loud tick might start in the head, mostly when hot. It sounds like a bad lifter X 10. I assume this is the loose seat being pounded against the head by the valve. At some point after that the seat finally drops and completely destroys the engine (to varying degrees) block, pistons & all. (Sometimes it can shed some small pieces to begin with and keep running, but not for long). My second engine in this car went right about at the moment that I was figuring all of this out. It sounds a lot like what you would get if you dumped some pea gravel into a cylinder and started it up.

The only solutions are, of course, drive it to the salvage yard while it still runs or rebuild the head. I actually paid only $325 for a remanned head and complete gasket set & head bolts (after $75 core exchange).

Its a higher mileage problem, typically showing up in the 120K+ miles range so Ford has felt free to ignore it.

Anyway…thanks again.

Congrats man. That’s definitely a DIY repair job to be proud of, especially if it all works when you get the parts back together again.

Heh heh. I’m holding off on too proud until I actually drive it a while and see :wink: It does start & idle smoothly though. So I’ll call it something if a victory either way. But I still have to finish bleeding the cooling system & replace the splash shields before I take it out on the road. Right now its midnight and I’m going to bed.

I know this is not politically correct but I always go back in after about 500 miles and recheck the head bolt torque.

All metal changes properties and there is such a thing as head gasket crush, which causes the head gasket to relax so to speak.
You will even find on some sites (Fel Pro for one) that recommends doing this for their head bolts.

I’ve actually seen you recommend that and I was thinking about it. The problem is that I don’t think there is anything I can do beyond checking to see that they didn’t back off (I did mark each for position). They’re stretch bolts and the final torque application isn’t done by measurement of torque. The last 2 steps in the procedure are just 1/4 turn on each bolt. So I’ve got nothing to torque to.

But if you have any suggestions for these kinds of bolts I’d feel better having a way to check up on it.