To fix it or not for a teenager's vehicle

Is it time to junk my faithful 10 y.o. SUV with 208K miles? 1997 Ford Expedition has been religiously maintained through many family road trips, 2 teenagers learning to drive (successfully) and becoming their first cars. But now at 208K miles a problem developed that perplexes the Ford mechanics and my checkbook. SUV runs well - smooth, little engine noise, OK power, no exhaust problems, no known leaks, body in great shape (car not me) and I thought would last until my 3rd teenager. BUT in last 8 weeks while my 2nd teenager - now with license - drives it to school and after school stuff, this perplexing problem without any sign of engine trouble. Twice the oil level has gone essentially dry - luckily noticed as oil pressure gauge fluctuation. Took 5 quart to fill (max capacity is 6 quarts).

Ford mechanic found oily stuff in radiator but said it was transmission fluid. So at great expense they put in a new radiator, new transmission cooling exchanger and multiple flushes of cooling system and replaced engine oil. That was about 3K miles ago.

Now oil was all gone again (no sign on dip stick) and added 5 quarts to drive it home (drove fine). Removing some fluid from the radiator overflow container there clearly was yellowish radiator fluid and oily brown engine oil (no sign of red transmission fluid). While only an amateur car mechanic, this is like me getting an off the chart cholesterol test - not a good sign for future health.

Ford had no idea what the problem is - radiator pressure should be higher (16 PSI?) than oil pressure (4 PSI?). Smooth running engine doesn’t indicate water in the oil. No burning oil in exhaust or drips when parked. Basically SUV runs just fine (so far).

However Ford will lighten my checkbook again to take a look. However my best guess is that I have a crack in the head or engine block. Could this explain what?s going on? If this is a likely explanation, then I should not spend a penny more and get rid of the SUV. A little painful since have new tires for winter and new starter motor (worn Bendix gear).

Your advice appreciated while SUV sits in the garage and I’m back to the chauffeur (single parent) Dad. While the cost of gas (MPG) is always a concern - now for a new teenage driver - I’d rather have the safest indestructible (low insurance rates) vehicle despite low MPG. So the emotional side says fix the SUV while the checkbook says No WAY.

Sounds like oil in the cooling system, oil pressure (40 psi) is much higher than cooling system (16 psi). Could be head gasket. Starting to talk some big money for such an ‘experienced’ vehicle…

If you sold the car would you withold the information about the engines oil consumption? I think not, you sound as though you would tell any prospective buyers about this mysterious condition.

This info would probably scare off most buyers, unless the stars align and a buyer that already has a engine wating to be installed connects with you.

More ivestigation needs to be done, change your mechanic, the Dealer has had their chance.

Now that you know you have a oil consumer act accordingly, check oil every day if you are just going to drive and let the problem develope.

See if you can get a volume per mile oil consumption figure, and my I add you should be the one driving so that what kind of driving is going on is known.

thanks for advice. Any way to know if it is head gasket without spending too much $?

There are other ways for oil to mix with coolant, but your way is likely to be at a head gasket. In any case, a remanufactured engine is the best cure for this problem, considering the age of the vehicle. That puts you way over the top.

What engine is this? If a 4.6 l a salvaged engine is probably the way to go. Maybe for a 6 as well, but I know that the V8s are cheap. They are a much better bargain and bet than having it rebuilt or buying a reman. You will have more choice if you find out what is swappable as a long block. At that mileage even a cheap salvaged engine is probably not worth the investment unless you can do it yourself and have a lot of time. You can check the installed prices and judge for yourself. You might be able to buy an engine for less than a kilobuck.

That said, head gasket leaks are pretty rare in the Ford Modular V8s. IIRC, there is opportunity for oil and coolant to mix at the oil filter adaptor. These engines are in service in several types of vehicles and they use adaptors to fit the oil filter properly. For example, regular Crown Victorias and Grand Marquis have a different adaptor from the police interceptor CVs because the latter have an oil cooler.