The Heavy Price You'll Have To Pay For Extended Engine Oil Changes On Your 3.5 EcoBoost Engine
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The Heavy Price You'll Have To Pay For Extended Engine Oil Changes On Your 3.5 EcoBoost Engine

Sep 09, 2023

While EcoBoost engines are designed to offer a long service life, not carrying out timely engine oil changes can have some serious consequences

We all know how important regular oil changes are for your engine, even though we sometimes sail close to the wind and let our engines run a little longer than recommended in the manufacturer's service manual or dashboard cluster indicators. The Ford Ecoboost engine is the successor to the Duratec, and has proven to be a robust and reliable engine.

The 3.5-Liter turbocharged engine was first used by Ford in 2010 for the Taurus SHO and the Flex, in 2011 for the F-150, in 2016 they introduced the second generation version for the Platinum and Sport edition of the Explorer, and in 2018 for the Expedition. The F-150 pickup is by far the most popular model this engine can be found in. This engine was also used by Lincoln in their Navigator, MKS, and the MKC.

However, there is a creeping issue that is causing catastrophic engine and turbo failure, in spite of Ford owners changing the oil as per recommendations from Ford's onboard Intelligent Oil Life Monitoring (IOLM) system. The system is designed to notify owners when it's time for an oil change, however, due to some inherent design flaw, the notifications are delayed.

Recently, expert Ford technician Brian from the fordtechmakuloco YouTube channel recently put up a video explaining the issue in detail. In the video, he explains that he has been working on a lot of engines recently, a lot of which has to do with engineering problems from Ford. He mentions a Ford Fusion which broke at 63,000 miles and a 5.0 Liter failure at 175,000 miles.

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Brian has more than a decade of experience working with Ecoboost engines, and his channel is a rich source of information about everything related to your Ecoboost engine. In the video, he shows a couple of stripped engines and turbos to elaborate on this common issue faced by Ecoboost engines, especially the 3.5-Liter versions. He also clarifies that these engines are meant to run for up to 300,000 miles before anything significant happens and that the owners of these engines performed regular oil changes as per the IOLM system.

A part of this issue is that there is generally a lot of strain and wear on the internal components due to all the grime build up. Ford is aware of this issue and created a new propriety engine oil with the SM+ SP specification. The engine in the video had clocked in 2,24,000 miles when it failed, in spite of the vehicle owner regularly changing the oil as recommended by the instrument cluster indicator.

This is a scary thought as most rely on the manufacturer's warning is the last word on when to change our oil. Another reason which led to the failure was the clogging of oil filter screens of the turbo with debris and soot. The oil filter screen on a turbo is designed to keep fine particulate soot from flowing in. There is usually a film of engine oil, which helps in lubrication and temperature control.

In the video, he already has both turbos already dis-assembled, one of which was stock and the other, a replacement for the passenger side. He also shows us the extent of the oil screen obstruction and further explained how most service technicians neglect to change them out during routine maintenance, due to lack of expertise or general laziness. The turbo which got replaced at one point still had the old oil screen, causing the replacement to fail as well down the road.

The oil filter screen being clogged up, consequently starves the turbo of oil, which at 185,000 RPM can be disastrous. The stock turbo had never been changed and had undergone far more extensive damage, with the compressor fan basically been grounded from metal on metal contact. While there is some radial play on compressor fans of turbos, even when new, this was taken to an all new level of radial misalignment.

The damage from this caused the turbo to dump oil through the exhaust, draining the engine of oil. The engine lost approximately four quarts of oil, which left it running on two and eventually failure, after internal parts started failing one after the other.

This also meant that the fine screens on the Variable Cam Timing (VCT) became clogged with a mixture of grime and metal particles from the engine self-destructing. This deadly combination of easily avoidable factors caused this 3.5 Ecoboost engine to fail on the owner, leading to a very expensive engine replacement.

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Firstly, do not rely on the gauge cluster alone for making oil changes, Brian recommends changing the engine oil and oil filter in an Ecoboost engine every 5000 miles. He also strictly recommends semisynthetic or synthetic oil 5W-30 oil with an API spec of SM+. API stands for the American Petroleum Institute, and this grade can be found on the back of most engine oil containers.

Another solid piece of advice from Brian is whenever you go in to do any sort of turbo maintenance, insist that the oil filter screens be changed as well. Some common issues, the turbos on these engines face are the coolant fitment tents to fail and leak coolant, or the manifold sometimes break their studs, causing exhaust leakage. While all of these issues are bad in itself, this gives you an opportunity to avoid a much more major issue down the road.

Another maintenance recommendation from Brian for older engines, from the 2011-2016, is the changing of the original oil pump to a newer Melling M390 High Volume. Ideally, this change should be done at the 150,000-mile mark, but it can also be done at any time any major work is done on the timing kit. This pump is designed with 20-percent more volume for older engines, but come with higher PSI setting right out the box.

However, they come with a standard 85 PSI spring in the box as well, which can be swapped out. A lot of technicians do not want the hassle of reaching the pump as officially Ford recommends the removal of the oil pan and front axle to replace the old pump. Brian has devised a hassle-free method to replace the pump without removing the oil pan, which he goes into detail in another video. In the video, he also shows you how to properly torque the replacement spring.

While these issues have been reported, it's important to note that they may not affect every vehicle equipped with a 3.5-liter Ecoboost engine. Regular maintenance and promptly addressing any potential issues can help mitigate these problems. Many longtime Ecoboost owners swear by their engines, claiming that they will even hit 400,000 miles before major issues start cropping up.

We highly recommended that you consult with a qualified specialist or your nearest Ford dealership for a thorough diagnosis before and proper repair of any engine-related concerns. By staying proactive, properly informed, and ensuring regular maintenance, you can help prolong the performance and longevity of your engine.

Amrit has been in love with trucks ever since the first time he rode in his dad's work truck when he was 5 years old. Over the years, he has fallen in love with classic cars and spends all his spare time reading up on obscure cars and exotic beauties. He prefers manual to automatic, but anything with wheels piques his interest.