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Rough idle & periodic misfire, any sufggestions?

12-10-2003, 10:31 AM
Hey All,

I 'm having a bit of trouble with my 1998 Ford Escort. Here's a bit of history of the problem.
1) The first indications were that I was losing power during acceleration and experiencing surges. Otherwise, everything was running smoothly.

2) The next progression was , when I started the engine cold it idled a bit rougher than normal but not too bad. It began to cutout and I had a cylinder misfire. The check engine light came on, so I took it to the Ford dealership so they could check it out. They changed the spark plugs and wires, and said it was all good.

3) It seemed to be running okay when I got it back, but it still ran a bit rough and 2 days later I had another cylinder misfire. If I drove a bit so the engine was warm, stopped to get gas or run a short errand, then restarted the car, the engine idled very rough and began to cut out. I took it back to the Ford dealership. They had it 2 days and were unable to tell me what the problem was or offer a solution. They indicated to me that the check engine light came on because of the misfires (seemed to indicate both misfires were on cylinder 4) but they didn't offer any suggestion or solution to the problem. They didn't seem to give it much effort or thought.

4) Now I've got the car back because they weren't accomplishing anything with it and I couldn't afford to rent a car for any longer waiting for them to reverse their rectal-cranial inversion. The car now idles extremely rough when started, even when cold, but when gas is applied seems to smooth out. There is also a pulsing hiss coming from the engine compartment.

Anybody have any suggestions, cause I havn't a clue.

Thanks in advance,


12-10-2003, 02:14 PM
the hiss is probably the intake,is the car only used for short journeys?,if so it could be gum up,first thing to try is an injection cleaner,and a good make of oil additive to clear valve stems and lifters, and to take the car on a run of 10 miles or so,redlining the revs in 2nd 3rd as long as you can,(be carefull!)if this does not clear it,mail me.

12-10-2003, 03:23 PM
Thanks, for the suggestion. Actually that's the first thing I thought of. It didn't seem to have an appreciable effect.

The noticeable hiss is a recent developement. I wonder if my problem might be related to a vacuum leak somewhere. Is this a fault that would be easily identified by the computer. When I suggested this possibility to the service tech, he dismissed it out of hand. Can anyone suggest trouble shooting tips to help identify probable locations for a leak.

The fuel filter is brand new and I'm getting fuel so I don't think it's the fuel pump.

Are there any other possibilities for a solution?



12-10-2003, 05:58 PM
go to Auto Zone or O'Reilly's auto parts if there's one near you. they will come out in the parking lot and pull the trouble codes for free. definately have a sensor problem. my educated guess would be the throttle position sensor or the air bypass valve sensor is bad. also escorts are bad about the EGR valve clogging up with carbon. this can be fixed simply by removing and cleaning.

12-11-2003, 07:52 AM
Thanks, for the suggestions I'll check them out and let you all know how it goes.



12-17-2003, 01:59 AM
i know exactly whats wrong with it. you have a vacum leak going into the throttle body, i had one also, it costs about $15 to fix it......... theres a hose going into the throttle body, it is probably what is leaking the hissing sound is air being ucked into the throttle body....... get some propane, and let it leak out of a hose, put the hose around the throttle body and see if the idleing get better in omeplaces

12-17-2003, 06:59 AM
Well, I finally got an answer to the problem. I took the car to another mechanic. He did a compression test on the cylinders, paying particular attention to the one that kept misfiring. While the problem was occuring there was almost no compression in that cylinder. We've decided that the valve in cylinder 4 was going wonky. We're going to have to remove the head, rework the valves, replace all the gaskets and at 97,000 miles the timing belt is due to be replaced anyway.



12-19-2003, 12:05 AM
The steel valve seat insert has loosened in the aluminum head, your one of the lucky ones, and appear to have caught it before it cracks, falls out, and smashes the piston top and head all to crap, this is really common with this engine, Ford should be ashamed of themselves to have such a highly repeatable problem.

10-31-2004, 06:02 PM
I think I have this same problem with my girlfriends car, it's also a 97. Do you need to replace the head or can you install the revised valve guides listed in the TSB?

07-26-2006, 03:21 AM

1996 Tracer (build date 4/96) 2.0L, 145 kmiles. Daughter's car. Well maintained. Little warning. Did get misfire code on cylinder #4 ... similar to Darklamb's (above). The engine suddenly started up noisy and quickly locked-up solid. Had to be towed home.

At this point, I've removed the cyl head. Head and piston have been pecked-up pretty good in #4 cyl. Intake valve insert totally chewed up into small pieces. Head may not be reusable, I'll go by machine shop tomorrow and determine if it is or not.

Cyl #1, #2 , and #3 are almost perfect: no carbon build-up, just soot, on piston crowns ... no detectable wear on cyl walls. Synthetic motor oil. But piston #4 is obviously broken, and the piston crown stays at top of cylinder ... I have not yet opened up the short block. Just hope the crank and block are reusable.

(The really scary part is; I have another daughter who also has a '96/'97 Tracer!)

EDIT UPDATE: After examining, the guy at Dover Cylinder Head Repair says the head is repairable ... and that he's seen many of them ... always seems to be cyl #4.

So now for the short block inspection .....

08-07-2006, 03:05 PM
Crap, 1st post here, and it looks like it's a bad one. My wife's 1999 Escort made a lot of noise and wouldn't start for her the other morning. When it finally started it sounded awful!! Me and my brother did some exploring on saturday. The timing belt was fine, but when we tried to roll the engine over by hand with a ratchet, it wouldn't turn all the way over. We pulled the plugs and found the electrode of the #4 plug smashed flat against the tip. Crap! I stuck a magnet in there to see if I could pull any pieces of anything out, nothing.

This reall ticks me off. Only 127, 000 miles on the thing and it takes a dump in the driveway with no warning!!

I guess we'll pull the head off next to see if we can salvage the engine. Any more tips from guys who have been trhough this?

Thanks for any help!

08-07-2006, 04:07 PM
Sorry you may have joined the "busted valve insert gang" ... but you're lucky there was no tow charge.

Just today I've gotten the block to the machine shop and found its rebuildable ... in fact the bore be may just honed and stay "standard" saving me many bucks not buying oversize pistons, etc. A testimonial for synthetic oil! The head is also in the shop.

I expect this is going to cost under $1000 and that includes new hoses, belts, mounts, etc ... but I may be getting too much Sun!

We'll all find slightly different conditions inside the engine. In my case, the piston had broken in-rwo just at the oil ring and the upper portion of the piston stayed at top of travel. The bottom protion, the "skirt" was sideways trapping the bent rod in place. I had to drill a hole in the piston upper, and install a 1/4" lag bolt to remove it from cylinder. Then there was access to reach down with long nose pliers and break the skirt into small, extractable pieces.

The engine is normally only removable, according to the "book", attached with the tranny. But if you strip the engine down to the block ... there's no problem coming out and up. Four 10 mm bolts, a couple of 4' lengths of chain, a 8' length of deck board across the fenders ... and you have a rig that will allow a couple of weaklings to lift the block and crank.

Had a bit of trouble separating the flywheel from the torque converter ... tooks lots of Rust-Buster!

If you've never use it, I advise you to look your engine up under the maintenance pages at

08-11-2006, 07:47 PM
An update on engine "overhaul" .... necessary because of inlet valve insert coming loose:

The block wasn't so "rebuildable" after all!

Cylinder #4 required an insert because of wall damage caused by wrist pin. I don't like the thought of cylinder inserts, but it may be the best in this case. (The cost keeps stacking up!) Now I'm waiting for four .020" oversized pistons to be shipped in. Next week sometime.

The cylinder head has been picked up from shop. Looks good. $135. They assure me all valve inserts are now "well-cinched" and will be no more problem. (Too bad Uncle Henry couldn't have done this initially.)

BTW, (I forgot to mention this before) as the intake runner was being removed from engine, I noticed that the gaskets on both sides had imperfections (gaps in the moulded seal) that looked as though they've been there forever. I'm sure these things have been leaking ... though not enough to give us CEL's.

Just remember this if you have intake leaks that you cannot find!!!

08-12-2006, 07:43 AM
On the dropped valve insert problem, what are your opinions on whether it is common enough that it would be worth having the valve inserts replaced in advance? My 95 1.9 pings a fair amount, I've started using 89/91 octane, has 105k miles on it. Wonder if a job to clean the carbon out would be worthwhile and fix the insert problem at the same time?

08-12-2006, 03:04 PM
I think it's an idea with merit ... but not on a 1.9. As far as I know, this problem only belongs to the 2.0 single-cam engines. ????

08-12-2006, 07:17 PM
Nope... my '94 1.9 screwed me twice with this problem. After the second time I decided best to just put in a new engine. No problems since. If I have it long enough to worry about it again, I would replace them in advance.

08-12-2006, 08:03 PM
MM22, thanks for giving this info ... I had no idea this problem affected the 1.9's. Interesting!!

08-16-2006, 08:16 AM
Well ours is going to be sold off. I don't have the time to tear an engine down in my driveway right now. I have the skills and the tools, but no time.

It just sucks because the rest of the car is pretty much perfect. Any idea what a good price would be? I was thinking $500 as a starting point??

08-16-2006, 01:25 PM
Do a compression check before you go and sell it. If that shows a problem... you may want to let it go. If compression is good, then you have a much easier problem to fix... EGR/PCV, leak in vacuum hose, maybe even a screwy alternator?
Don't be scared off by all the valve insert/engine damage talk. That may not be your problem!

08-16-2006, 03:13 PM
Thanks Moose, but something seriously wrong happened in #4. First hint was when I pulled the plug and the electrode was smashed flat. Next bad sign was when I stuck a magnet in the plug hole and could pull small metal shavings out. After that I shined a light in it and saw that the top of the piston looked like it been dropped on the asphalt. Final straw was when I couldn't even get it to turn over with a breaker bar on the crank with the plugs out. I think it's toast:disappoin

08-16-2006, 03:32 PM
Yep... join the club. Valve seat fell out.

The problem here is that you do not know the extent of the damage inside... it could be rapairable, but it could also require a new piston, head, etc. Repairs can be costly and there is no way to account for that in the cost of sale until the head comes off.

You'll either have to pawn it off on some sucker, or you'll just have to suck it up and sell it cheap.

In the shop, you are probably looking at $1500 for repairs at minimum.... unless you are very lucky. If it isn't turning over though... I don't think you are that lucky :P

Doing it yourself... lot sof time.

08-17-2006, 10:09 AM
Sorry to hear of the bad luck with some of these motors. I bought my '94 in part because it still sounded so good and got a deal partially because it had 155k miles on it. It's possible that it already had a replacement motor though. In light of the fact that many of these motors go up to 200k miles, I wonder if there is some key to this phenomenon.

A bit of trivia:

I do have some experience with loose valve seat inserts. Many, many years ago, my brother had a '65 Corvair that systematically dropped down to no power but idled smooth. As a matter of fact, it only idled at times.

For those not familiar with the Corvair rear engine, it was a flat 6 that was air cooled with a large fan with a single vee belt that ran everything. The cylinder heads were aluminum which was very unusual for that time period. Anyway, it was a bit puzzling since one could easily observe the twin carburators fully openning. When it did foul up, we could hear loud lifter noise.

After we pulled a head to check, we could see that the steel valve seat inserts sometimes followed the valve and then stuck in a raised position effectively throttling the intake down to an idle. The valves would rise for intake but they only lifted a hair off the now-too-high seats. Luckily, the total valve lift in this engine was not enough to ever allow the valve to lift far enough for the seat to fall entirely out. He must have ran it a couple of weeks with the loose seat problem with no major catastrophy and the seats sometimes re-inserted themselves and it all ran fine.

We pulled the other head and I tapped all the seats back into place. Then I lightly peened the aluminum around all the seats with a center punch to tighten the fit. We put the engine back together and never had another problem.

Previous to this problem manifesting itself, my brother had broken thee belt (since it only had one single vee belt) and the motor had gotten quite warm. So I wonder if these Escorts don't have an unusual heating problem with #4 cylinder head area.

08-17-2006, 01:36 PM
That's exactly what it is... these motors do not like to get hot. When mine went out on me, I don't recall the car overheating, though I may just not have noticed it.
It always seems to be the #4... so there is something about that end.

I used to let my car sit at idle a lot... temp would rise up then the fan would send it back down as it is supposed to. I wonder if that just happened one too many times. I don't let it idle for long periods anymore just to keep the temp down.

09-02-2006, 02:36 PM
Mighty M22,

How did you get two cases of insert-falling on the same engine? Did a shop repair your cyl head or was it a home-repair?

I am just doing the final assembly on D's '97. Hope to get it running tomorrow or next day. This was a full-blown engine overhaul. Total cost: somewhere between $1200 - $1500 ... that includes a lot of discretionary maintenance spending ... belts, hoses, plugs, cables, water pump, etc. The basic engine repair could have been approx $1000.

Dover Cylinder, who repaired the head, said I; "could be confident that no valve inserts would fall again" on this engine. I sure hope so, I don't want to go thru this again!

09-02-2006, 04:51 PM
It was because I was a dumbass :)

When it happened the first time I was around 170k and decided to put a new motor in. Well, the new motor ran fine, but I had other ongoing issues that I had put off, mainly because I didn't have other transportation and didn't have the time to tear things apart.

In short, with the new motor running fine, I later had a problem that caused the car to run hot... not exactly overheating, but hotter than it should be. After that went on long enough... it happened again and I learned my lesson about procrastination.

09-02-2006, 05:48 PM
A smart man learns from his own mistakes. A wise man learns from the mistakes of others. I've got 150k on my 97 and have never replaced any hoses or done any cooling system maintenance. I'm going to replace hoses and anti-freeze next weekend. I can see the handwriting on the wall. Thanks to everyone sharing their experience with dropped seats.

09-02-2006, 09:35 PM
As soon as I get this rebuild going again, I'm gonna check the operation of the radiator fan. Since I normally never drive this car very much .. I can only be suspicious.

I do know the old thermostat was "in pieces". No idea how long that has been.

09-02-2006, 10:09 PM
Buildup in the radiator and the thermostat housing seem to be the biggest problems. If taking the time to do some maintenance do a good flush and clean of the system and make sure there is good flow through the radiator.

While I associate the issue with getting too hot, I wonder if it is also just a matter of time... no telling if preventative maintenance will make a dif, but you can try!

09-03-2006, 08:21 AM
Though overheating the cylinder heads is never good, I've got to associate this problem (falling valve inserts) with process failure at the engine plant. The inserts are just not "cinched-in" as they should be.

07-07-2009, 04:42 PM
A little update on the engine rebuild necessary because of #4 cyl valve insert falling.

Well, the cylinder head failed after some 5 thousand miles. The valve insert didn't fall again ... but there must have been some undetected structural cracks that allowed the valves to move off-center to the seats and caused early valve burning. There was enough leakage in compression that engine began to run very unevenly. Dover did not want to waste timer repairing this head again ... and gave me a different head at no additional cost. Of course, I had to pay for new headbolts and gaskets, etc.

After the above incident, the car now runs well and we have about 45 k miles total on overhaul. Knock on wood!

07-08-2009, 04:37 AM
If a thread is over 3 months old start a new one rather than resurrecting an older thread.

07-08-2009, 12:53 PM
If a thread is over 3 months old start a new one rather than resurrecting an older thread.

Why? Says who? What is the concern? I reread the forum rules, and I probably just missed it again ... but I read no reference to this practice. Please help me correct my ways if I'm not within the rules or accepted practice.

... and then explain to me why there are "stickies" on some forums.

07-08-2009, 01:02 PM
Normally it is a nuisance to have an old thread restarted since someone will tack a new question onto the end of something resolved long ago.
This particular thread began in 2003. When old threads get resurrected it can get difficult to determine who is having the problem and what the circumstances are since 2-3 people might have ongoing issues on the same thread.
It is simply a matter of courtesy to start a new thread as it keeps things simple. That said, I see you did post to the earlier thread and were just updating it, but even so after 3 years it would be best to start a new one.

07-08-2009, 01:41 PM
Why? Says who? What is the concern? I reread the forum rules, and I probably just missed it again ... but I read no reference to this practice. Please help me correct my ways if I'm not within the rules or accepted practice.

... and then explain to me why there are "stickies" on some forums.

Yeah you probably missed it. Here it is taken from the guidelines:
Please avoid posting or voting in outdated threads. It merely clutters up the message board and makes it more difficult for fellow members to sort through the vast amount of information contained on the boards. If you have new and important information to add regarding a past discussion, feel free to start a new thread and if need be, add a link to the original thread.

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