Oil and the 2.3L Engine

The Oilin' section looks at oiling problems of the engine: the cause of 0 psi oil pressure and the cure. Is synthetic oil good for this engine? And how to convert your dummy oil gauge to a real working gauge.

Interesting oil problem popped up. I was driving along at a steady speed and the engine started pinging like crazy. There were HUGE clouds of blue smoke behind me. I thought I blew the engine so I do what any normal person would do. I floored the gas. The pinging immediately stopped and so did the blue smoke. A little while later, again at a constant speed, the same thing happened.

After talking it over with my nephew (journeyman mechanic), we figured out that I had overfilled the oil. I was topping it off and had probably added an extra litre to the crankcase. The extra oil was now hitting the crankshaft and getting atomized. It was getting sucked in through the PCV into the intake. The oil would predetonate like a diesel thus the pinging and lots of blue smoke.

Stomping on the gas, would lower the intake vacuum and stop the PCV from opening - not enough pressure to open. The pressure needed to open the PCV valve is to have the crankcase pressure pushing and the intake vacuum pulling. So with the gas wide open, there was little vacuum and the PCV would close. No crankcase atomized oil would get into the intake and the smoke and pinging would go away.

Synthetic motor oil

This one surprised me as the engine really likes synthetic oil - it quieted down big time and added a couple hundred more rpm at the low end!

2.3L with low oil pressure

Around 1992 (year of my 2.3L), they used a silicone based oil pan gasket. After a number of years, the gasket breaks down inside the oil pan and clogs the oil pump intake. If you have a 2.3L that has low oil pressure, you may be able to solve your low oil pressure by removing the oil pan and unclogging the oil pump intake screen. That's all I had to do with my 2.3L - it had zero (0 psi) oil pressure when I purchased it 60,000 km ago. Unfortunately, it required removing the engine to get to the oil pump screen.

Photo of clogged oil pickup provided by Kevin in Salmon Arm, B.C. - he had to take the tin snips to it to clean it out! Ouch!

The oil pump pickup has a pitiful small opening about the size of a dollar coin that is easily clogged. I took my tin snips and made a huge opening to the screen portion. After I cleaned out the gasket material from the oil pump pickup (it was CLOGGED like Kevin's!), and reassembled the engine, I had lots of oil pressure and with the modification to the dummy oil gauge as noted below, I had 1/2 to 3/4 oil pressure, depending on rpm, reading on the gauge (the gauge isn't calibrated to anything). Don't know why Ford makes such a small opening in the pickup.

Dummy Oil Gauge to Working Gauge Conversion

On 1987 Fords and later years, the oil gauge is a dummy gauge. It has an oil pressure switch for a sending unit instead of an oil pressure sender. When there is oil pressure greater than 8 psi (VERY LOW), the gauge moves to the center of the dial. It is basically an idiot light with a needle.

How do you know if your gauge is a dummy gauge? The needle should move as the rpm increases. The lowest pressure should be at idle and the highest pressure at high rpm. The oil pump has a bypass spring in it to limit the amount of pressure so after a certain rpm than there should be no increase in oil pressure. If the gauge moves while driving then it is a true gauge, if it never moves from one spot then it is a dummy gauge.

You can easily convert it to a true measuring gauge by shorting the 20 ohm resistor that is on the back of the gauge. The color code for 20 ohms is: red-black-black (gold if 5% resistor). Then put in a pre 1986 Ford F150 pickup oil pressure sensor. I did this about 5 years ago and can't remember if I had to use an adapter. You can tell the difference between an oil pressure sender and switch by the size. A switch is small about the size of a car cigarette lighter, a sendor is quite large about the size of a lemon.

Here's a good site that shows you step by step on how to convert to a true gauge: Ford idiot oil pressure gauge. It's not a Ranger but it runs through the same basic steps.

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Copyright February 2011 Eugene Blanchard