What Should A Good Mechanic Do About Engine Sludge?

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When there is a noticeable build-up of sludge in an engine, as evidenced by a gummy accumulation in the oil pan, what should a good auto mechanic do about it? The vehicle in question is a 1986 Ford Econoline E150 (4.9L, in-line 6 cyl, 155,000 miles). Over the years, the oil and filer have been changed regularly, but it is a service vehicle, so it does a lot of stop and go driving. It was taken to the shop for oil leaks. The mechanic replaced the timing chain cover and gasket, the valve cover gasket, oil pan gasket and changed the oil. (The repair also included a couple motor mounts, a fuel sending unit, water pump and some belts) Just 1300 miles later, while driving 75 MPH on the Interstate, the oil pick-up tube clogged up so completely that it suddenly lost all oil pressure. By the time I got safely off the highway, the engine damaged. After having the truck towed back to the same mechanic, he removed the pick-up tube and showed it to me. It was dripping with gummy, black sludge like it had been excavated from a primordial sludge pit. He said that the clogged oil pick-up tube was the reason I lost oil pressure. He stated that the oil pick-up tube and oil pump would need to be replaced. Because the engine was evidently so heavily gummed up with sludge, I asked why he hadn't flushed the engine or taken some other corrective action or at least advised me of the problem on the initial repair. He said that there is no safe way to flush the engine. (Is this true?) So, having seen what had to be an obvious build up of sludge in the oil pan and/or on the valves, what should this mechanic have done other than to just ignore it? Thanks for your comments, John [email protected]
 

tpi

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Any action the mechanic takes is a risk here. He could have tried to flush the engine but who's to say if the junk dislodged would have clogged the screen later. He can't inspect every surface in the engine to see if it is clean. He should have cleaned any exposed areas. Sounds more to me like an 18 yo tired engine which more or less is an failure waiting to happen. The one concern I would have is during his disassembly, did lots of junk fall into the oiled areas such as gasket material, etc.?
 
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Things don't add up here. The oil pan gasket was replaced, so obviously the pan was removed. If the pan was gunky it should have been cleaned at that time, without question. Plus the oil was changed. In the remaining 1300 miles to failure, there is no way that the new clean oil dislodged trash from the engine, so much so as to become sludge itself. No oil is a solvent to the extend it could sludge itself in 1300 miles. The one possibility is that he did put in a very aggressive solvent without telling you to change it out. [ July 22, 2004, 09:25 AM: Message edited by: TooManyWheels ]
 
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I am not understanding something here. I am assuming he took off the oil pan and cleaned the sludge out when he changed the pan gasket. If so, he should have then alerted you about the heavy sludge problem. You should have gone more then 1300 miles with a clean oil pan. Or did he just replace the pan gaskets without cleaning the sludge? In either case, I would think twice about going back to him. Is it now running again? If so, an Auto RX clean and rince cycle should applied soon. This 4.9 I6 is a good forgiving engine that should last a long time.
 
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I also agree. My Stepfather had a 300 with over 200,000 miles without even regular oil changes. The entire outside of the engine was covered with sludge and dirt, but never had a clogging problem. No matter what condition of the engine he should have cleaned the parts he had to remove.(timing cover, oil pan, ect.) Where was this sludge hiding? Either he failed to clean out the sludge or he introduced another substance into the engine, whether by accident or not. -T
 
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I'll give the guy the benefit of doubt by saying he probably cleaned as mush sludge as he could out of your engine. I'll bet he did his best and didn't want to run a solvent engine flush in fear of what eventually happened anyway. But even in the cleanest environments, he must have loosened up some sludge without being able to get it out. The loose sludge would have packed up your filter and bypassed it, then it probably started to pack up the screen on the oil pickup. He should have cleaned out he oil pickup tube, pulled the valve cover and inspected the head. If the head was full of crap, then he should have come to you before re-assembly.
 
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I wonder what you would see if you pulled the valve cover? I remember, when I was a kid back in the early 1960s, a cousin of mine bought a used 1958 Ford convertible with a 312 ci v-8. After he got it home, he pulled the valve covers, and to our shock, they were so full of sludge, it was like solid grease with indentations where the rocker shaft and rockers were. It was so thick that we removed it with an ice cream scoop. Before using additive cleaners, it would probably be best to see exactly how bad things are under the valve cover, and remove as much physically as possible.
 

tpi

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One thing I failed to mention in my post is the tech should have informed him about the sludge. I'm not so sure any action could have been completely risk free. Opening engine disturbed the sludge. Tech should have cleaned pan and area around timing gears and cover. Problem is without complete disassembly and cleaning there is no way to remove all traces of the deposits. And I picture very thick deposits here, chunks could fall behind timing gears, clog oil return holes, etc. Picture cleaning area around rockers and valve springs. How do you keep this stuff out of oil return? The only way to clean that puppy up is to take it apart and tank it. The tech should have explained risks involved, given evaluation of engine condition, and if the vehicle was still in good condition, perhaps recommended an overhaul or crate engine. The 300 engine is stout but 160,000 miles over 18 years and heavy sludge is pretty much it.
 
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quote:
Sounds more to me like an 18 yo tired engine which more or less is an failure waiting to happen.
That statement above best describes this situation in my opinion. I don't see how you can blame the mechanic for this, how can he predict something like this. If he did something wrong, it would have failed within a few miles. This just sounds like mere coincidence to me. Flushing a engine that is this bad is not easy thing. Best to trash the engine before starting a major labor intensive job like this. Only way is to tear down the engine. Nothing in a can can fix this, it will never clean it out. [ July 22, 2004, 11:27 AM: Message edited by: Mike ]
 
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I can tell you what has worked for me. My dad used to own a used car lot. He bought a honda prelude with a 2.3L 4 cyl. engine. We pulled the valve cover off and to our surprise there was crystalized sludge around the perimiter of the head. We pulled the oil pan off and took a warm diswash soapy solution and poured it on top of the cams and rocker arms. We took a soft brush to lodge and stubborn sludge off of parts. We then rinsed the engine with a power washer and then blew compressed air on top of the head and to the crank. Put it all back together and filled it with oil and drove it down the road for an hour on the highway to burn out all the rest of the water. Since then the engine has had 84,000 miles put on it with no problems.
 

J.CARLTON

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... This a very good, stout engine, and should provide much more service than this. ...Apparently the vehicle was running adequately before the work was done, or else it would not have been sent for the preventative maintenance it had. Has the oil pump/pickup tube been replaced, and if so, is the vehicle again running?
 
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quote:
155K on 18 yo engine w/ heavy sludge used in delivery stop and go conditions is an engine "used up."
The age of the engine per se has nothing to do with it being "worn out", nor does the mileage. We have had countless reports on here of engines still running well at 3-400,000 miles. Chances are that more than a few of those engines accumulated those miles in a harder manner than this engine did. The sludge could be a real issue though. Since the engine is in a commercial vehicle but has less than 10K/yr, I wonder if it sat for long periods, with mileage based OCI's, allowing condensation buildup.
 

J.CARLTON

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"... This a very good, stout engine, and should provide much more service than this." "...Apparently the vehicle was running adequately before the work was done, or else it would not have been sent for the preventative maintenance it had." "...Has the oil pump/pickup tube been replaced, and if so, is the vehicle again running?" You are absolutely correct about this being a tough little engine. It was running like a top when I brought it in for an oil leak. There's no doubt that this engine had many more good miles left in it. Over the years I have had it painted twice, transmission rebuilt, new exhaust system, 2 catalytic converters, new carburetor and more. The the oil pick-up tube and oil pump have now been replaced, but even with a heavier grade oil, it has a bad knock. Thanks again to all for such excellent comments...
 
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Originally posted by J.CARLTON: The the oil pick-up tube and oil pump have now been replaced, but even with a heavier grade oil, it has a bad knock.
As in bearings... [freaknout] What oil/filter are you currrently using?
 
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quote:
The the oil pick-up tube and oil pump have now been replaced, but even with a heavier grade oil, it has a bad knock.
We got off on a tangent before we discussed your statement that the engine "damaged", but apparently it seized. Under those conditions the mechanic should have pulled the bearing caps off. Sounds like you have a lazy mechanic.
 

tpi

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quote:
Originally posted by TooManyWheels: The age of the engine per se has nothing to do with it being "worn out", nor does the mileage. We have had countless reports on here of engines still running well at 3-400,000 miles. Chances are that more than a few of those engines accumulated those miles in a harder manner than this engine did.
The age, the mileage alone doesn't indicate worn out. Of course under certain conditions that engine will see 300,000 plus miles. The combo of age, mileage, sludge and history of slow delivery service do. If I disassembled this engine I would expect to find parts well outside of Ford's wear limits, the cylinder walls in particular. In fact I would expect the out of round and taper to be several times the wear limit.
 
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tpi, the car was bought at an auction and looked as if no one ever changed the oil. I am guessing from the constant heat and cooling, crystalized the deposits on the sides of the head and onto the valvetrain. So we decided to try the idea that was posted earlier, ( I can tell you what has worked for me. My dad used to own a used car lot. He bought a honda prelude with a 2.3L 4 cyl. engine. We pulled the valve cover off and to our surprise there was crystalized sludge around the perimiter of the head. We pulled the oil pan off and took a warm diswash soapy solution and poured it on top of the cams and rocker arms. We took a soft brush to lodge and stubborn sludge off of parts. We then rinsed the engine with a power washer and then blew compressed air on top of the head and to the crank. Put it all back together and filled it with oil and drove it down the road for an hour on the highway to burn out all the rest of the water. Since then the engine has had 84,000 miles put on it with no problems.) It seemed to work, just took about 6 hours to complete. We never did check the bearing clearences or anything, that would have been cool to do an analysis on the oil that was in the oil pan. It was very nasty.
 
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Hey pooter,did the exact same thing years ago on my old 68 chev impala,s 250 six banger and it lived for three years until we had a tree jump out in front of us,also poured cold water down the carb to decarbizer her.Come to think of it I ran straight diesel in the crank for a few minutes to clean her out once too.Yea guy,s I was a idiot at one time [Roll Eyes]
 
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