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Thread: replace engine or rebuild top end?

  1. #1
    Member Serious divemaster5734's Avatar
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    Mar 2007
    Lynnwood, WA

    Default replace engine or rebuild top end?

    I'm new to actually working on diesels, but I do have a lot of 351/350 experience.

    I have a 1989 7.3 Centurion. The head gasket is starting to go. There's water in my oil, and I've lost about 25% of the oil pressure.
    There's a non waste gated ATS turbo on the engine.
    My question, is it easier to rebuild the top end, or just replace the engine?
    I've been given conflicting advice.
    Which is easier/quicker?
    I dont have the resources to do the swap at home, so there's another $1500 to have to replaced by a shop.
    I think there's about 220k miles on the existing engine.
    I've been told I can replace the heads without pulling it.
    I had a 6" suspension kit installed, but have a topside creeper, so accessing heads in place wont be an issue, but what are the other engine issues to address when considering what to do?
    Yes I want to save money, we all do, no matter what the present economy, but I don't want to have to worry about the engine other than maintenance once the repair is done.
    thanks in advance for your help.
    "Happy are those that dream dreams, and are ready to pay the price to make them come true"
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  2. #2
    Senior Member Sucked In sheepman's Avatar
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    Nov 2007
    Denton County, Texas

    Default Re: replace engine or rebuild top end?

    Those engines have a long track record of running for a long time. IMO is for you to replace the head gaskets. It will be much less time an money and you'll be better off in the long run. 220k mile is what some would call half life and other would call it just broke in. With that millage check around on a price to have the heads redone. The top end will go before the bottom end will more times then not.

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  3. #3
    Senior Member Sucked In SMOOTH's Avatar
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    Apr 2008
    Holly Springs, NC

    Default Re: replace engine or rebuild top end?

    Hey look, I'm famous!
    So, I guess I'd be about as good to answer this as anyone, since I've done both. I replaced the Driver's side head gasket twice before I eventually replaced the engine. What I can tell you:
    head gaskets aren't too bad to do. Just front accessories, valve covers, valve train, injector pump, heads and valley pan. I would recommend while doing this to have your injectors pop tested (I had two bad) and replace your return line and o-rings. I also had my head pressure tested. I couple of things to remember, unless you are doing this as precautionary, it's likely only one head gasket so I would try and pinpoint which one, if you can and just replace that side. My engine would hydrolock sometimes when I tried starting, so one time, I just pulled each glow plug, one at a time, until the engine would turn over (and I got a diesel fuel/coolant bath). Also, when you go to remove the head, it's ridiculously heavy, I ended up using an engine hoist to lift it, and I hit it with a hammer to break it loose. Also, a couple of the back head bolts can not be removed from the head once they have been unscrewed, you'll have to just zip tie them up while removing the head. Remember to put them in place before putting the head back on. Speaking of which, another nightmare, the first time I had me and two other guys, the second time, me and one other guy. It really sucks and it's hard to do, I marred (and ruined) one head gasket trying to get it down. Oh, also, you can leave the exhaust manifolds on when doing this. And another thing, if you end up doing the driver's side, replace the oil cooler O-rings and gaskets, you won't find a better time to do it.
    The reason for my replacing the engine was that the coolant in my oil was not a blown head gasket, it's a cracked cylinder wall, so when you remove the heads, pay CLOSE attention to the cylinder walls. I knew which cylinder it was and still didn't think I had a problem. I, like you, had never worked on a diesel and didn't know what to look for, so what I thought was just marring on the walls from running it with water was actually cracks.
    This brings me to engine replacement. It's not too bad, really. I put a van engine in my truck, so I had to swap over A LOT of parts. I had no idea the engines were so different on the exterior. If it's possible, look for a 93 or 94, serpentine belt system and supposedly stronger bottom ends. I don't know what kind of limitations you have that would cause you to have to pay someone to do it, but if it helps, I did mine in a car port with some siding, on a dirt floor covered in old carpet, with basic hand tools, an air compressor and air tools, floor jack and engine hoist. It took me a while (like I said, swapping over the parts was a lot of it) but I did it by myself. The only other engine I replaced was a 302 and it was when I really knew almost nothing about engines and was watching A LOT more then I was participating. If you have the time and the tools, it's very doable. That's one of the beauties of our engine. Since it's all mechanical, you don't have any crazy wiring and computer issues.
    The thread to the engine swap is here: http://www.fourdoorbronco.com/board/...ead.php?t=5661

    Feel free to ask any questions you may have, I'm happy to help.

    Good luck!

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  4. #4
    Junior Member New User
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    Nov 2019

    Default Re: replace engine or rebuild top end?

    Ford threw a few curveballs out there over the years in terms of part interchangeability like changing the internal balance or making it so that certain blocks require specific cranks and that means to offer parts for the ford you have to invest in more tool for less volume. The chevy stuff is cheaper and more plentiful but the old fords sound pretty good...

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