Ford 3.8L Head Gasket Trouble

The Center for Auto Safety is the nation’s premier independent, member driven, non-profit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to improving vehicle safety, quality, and fuel economy on behalf of all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

Dear Consumer:


All across America, millions of 1988-95 Ford vehicles with 3.8 liter V6 engines have head gaskets that could fail at any time, costing thousands of dollars to repair each vehicle if the head gasket takes the engine with it. In 1998 Ford sent Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) # 98-4-9 to its dealers advising that the head gasket on front wheel drive (FWD) 1988-95 Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable, 1988-94 Lincoln Continental, and 1995 Ford Windstar were prone to failure. The TSB advised dealers Ford had designed new head gaskets and bolts which would take 7-9 hours of labor to install.

In June 1998 Ford notified 1994-95 Taurus/Sable and 1995 Windstar owners that it would pay for head gasket repairs through 5 years or 60,000 miles but told 1994 Continental owners it would cover them through 6 years or 75,000 miles. The difference is major because 40% of failures reported to the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) occurs between 60,000 and 75,000 miles. The notification, Ford Service Campaign 98M01, warned owners that “premature failure of head gaskets could cause engine failure.”

On November 24, 1999, CAS wrote William Clay Ford, Chairman of Ford Motor Company, about the 3.8L head gasket fiasco and asked that head gasket and engine repair costs be covered for the full 120,000 mile average useful life of these vehicles. CAS pointed out that the head gasket was a non-maintenance item in Ford Owner Manual and as such should last for the life of the vehicle but for the defect in manufacture. CAS pointed out that the 3.8L engine head gasket is just the latest example of Ford Motor Company trying to cover up a defect and avoid responsibility for complying with the law. Citing repeated fines and complaints from the Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Trade Commission and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, CAS told Mr. Ford that “no other auto company holds such a widespread reputation for lawlessness over the years.” By avoiding recalls, Ford forces consumers to pay for repairing defects while riding at risk of failures on the highway which can lead to costly repairs, if not accidents, deaths and injuries.

With the letter to Ford, CAS launched a campaign to get Ford to cover all 1988-95’s with 3.8L head gaskets including rear wheel drive (RWD) models not covered by TSB 98-4-9 but which had the same head gasket and problem. Newspapers across America carried stories on the Ford head gasket fiasco. Consumers such as Chuck Catanese started Website – – to alert consumers to the defect and how to take action.

Faced with rising consumer anger, Ford slowly responded. In March 2000, Ford issued Service Campaign 00M09 and extended the warranty on head gasket failures and related engine damage to 7 years/100,000 miles for FWD 1994-95 models covered by earlier Campaign 98M01. Owners of pre-1994 and RWD models not covered continued to complain. On April 26, 2000, Ford applied a bigger band-aid and covered 1994-95 RWD Thunderbirds, Mustangs and Cougars for 7 years/100,000 miles under Service Campaign 00M10. Ford still left pre-1994 model owners out in the cold even though they had the same head gasket and defect. 1993 model owners were particularly outraged since many of them were still within 7 years/100,000 miles. Now 1996 model owners report failures with the “improved” head gasket. The Cleveland Plain Dealer did a series and even got Ford President Nasser to consider extending the 7/100,000 warranty to other model years, admitting the treatment of 1993 and 1996 owners was “inconsistent.” But Ford refused to do anything.

For more information on Ford’s defective head gaskets, send a check for $12.50 to CAS at the above address for a package containing all three Ford Service Campaigns and CAS’ letter to Ford with all attachments including Ford’s TSB# 98-4-9 and a list of complaints on file at CAS at that time. If your vehicle is not covered, write Chairman William Clay Ford, Ford Motor Co., The American Road, Dearborn MI 48121 and demand it be covered. Consumer pressure got Ford to go this far; only consumer pressure will make Ford cover all models with bad head gaskets. Write your State Attorney General to request action on behalf of Ford owners in your state against Ford. Send CAS copies of your letters and complaints.


Clarence Ditlow
Executive Director