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A collection of helpful articles based on reader submissions
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Below is a collection of Jim Grant's Tech Tips sorted by Vehicle Make. These Tech Tips were answers to questions submitted to Jim by users over the course of many years.
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Lincoln - Mercury
  Jim Grant's Tech Tips

'97 Ford Escort, Broken Piston

Q: Ten days after the "Service Engine Soon" light came on, my '97 Ford Escort would not start. After several tries there came a loud noise from the engine. The mechanic found a broken piston and two damaged valves. How can this happen? There was no prior indication of a problem except for the Service Engine Soon light being on. Could I have prevented this major expense by having the car checked sooner? I had the" Check Engine" light come on on occasions but the mechanic never found any problems. What is the difference between the "Service Engine Soon" and "Check Engine" light?

A: There's really no difference between the Service Engine Soon or the Check Engine light. They both mean there is a problem that the computer wants to tell you about. As for your engine failure we see that problem more than we care for. A closer inspection of the engine should reveal that a valve seat in the cylinder head had come loose. In the early stages this causes the computer to turn on the check engine light to report a cylinder misfire. Sometimes it even causes the warning light to blink and the driver may notice that the engine is not running right. Then the problem can go away just as quickly as it appeared and the warning light will stop blinking but remain on. The problem with the loose valve seat is, in its infancy, it is difficult to detect. The valve seat moves some and then goes back into place. All the while the valve seat is wearing away at the part of the cylinder head that holds it in place. Then when conditions are right the valve seat falls out enough to hold the valve open and the piston comes up and slams the valve, breaking the valve seat. The smaller, but not small enough pieces, are hammered by the piston into the cylinder head. It is not uncommon for the fractured parts/pieces of the valve seat to blow back into the intake manifold and be pulled into another cylinder to continue the destruction. From the time the valve seat drops to when the engine goes bang only takes a moment.

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