Q: My father-in-law gave me a 1997 Ford Escort wagon 11 years ago. He’s a retired airline mechanic, and the car was well-maintained. I have taken great care of it, too. It runs fine, but here’s the problem: I have to run high-test gasoline in it for it to run well. I hate having to put high-octane gas in a four-cylinder economy car! Also, even with the high-test gas, when the car climbs a steep hill, or if I try to pass a car on the expressway (while already cruising at 55 or 60), there is a tinny sound, sort of like the sound of shaking a can of spray paint. I have to back off the gas. This sound does not occur in basic “around town” driving (as long as I’m using the high-test gas). My local mechanic has said, on two separate occasions, that it is not happening for him. I have put Chevron Techron additive in it many times, but it doesn’t solve the problem. It’s a handy little car, and I love it as much as, well, a Honda owner. If you have any ideas, I’d be grateful for your reply.
First, we need to understand the tinny noise, also known as ping. That noise is caused by the firing of a cylinder when the valves are not fully closed. The very first thing I would do to diagnose your problem would involve pulling off the timing belt cover and checking the alignment of the cam and crank sensor. A misalignment of the timing belt would cause the problem you describe. Also, carbon on the valve faces would cause it, as well. Why would this happen on the highway? One reason is higher cylinder temperatures, as well as advanced engine timing and a lean air-fuel mixture. Your ’97 Escort is a highly underrated car, and it would behoove you to take good care of it.