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Old 05-16-2019, 04:27 PM   #1
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Engine replacement in a T1N Interstate

Ordinarily you might think that this would be better topic for Sprinter Forum, but because of the Interstate's build specifics and typical usage patterns, I'm going to put it here. These are not ordinary FEDEX vans, not ordinary contractor vans, and their engines may not be wearing in the typical manner - I don't know. But you T1N Interstate owners should know this stuff for reference - it can't hurt you. Plus, Joel and I may eventually be able to deduce a preventive measure so that this kind of fault can be caught before it destroys an entire engine.

Anyway, as I began to say on my tow thread, my engine blew up west of Smithville TX the other day. I had the rig flat-bedded back to east Austin, a process that involved multiple tertiary mishaps.

The verdict on the engine is that the #1 piston cracked and scoured out the cylinder in the process of failing. We almost certainly need a new engine.

I now have 3 different mechanics in 3 different cities and they have something approaching 40 years of T1N experience among them. None of them have seen anything remotely like this in a van of this profile. In a T1N that was abused, never maintained, and had the crap kicked out of it for a half-million miles, maybe. But not in a kid-gloved T1N with only 72,000 miles on it. We take the very best care of it. For God's sake, most of the time we don't even leave it outside when it rains.

Am I surprised that this happened to us? Not in the slightest, for reasons I won't go into here for brevity (plus few people would believe me even if I explained it). Suffice it to say that we never anything did anything to cause this. There was no negligence or extraordinary circumstances.

Now, it takes A LOT of logistics and work to get an engine replaced - I already have a picture in my mind of the looming complexity of it, hence my hatching of this thread. I'm going to have to build the thread gradually, because I'm not even sure yet how we will decide to proceed.

I will kick it off with two exhibits. First, a pic of the offending region:



And next, an 8-second video of what the T1N engine looks like when it is running with only 4 of 5 cylinders achieving compression. Hint: The whole engine is not supposed to be going shake, rattle, and roll. I didn't want to take a very long video here, in case it was doing itself more damage by running. This was taken just for Million Mile Sprinter's diagnostic purposes.

More to come, I hope.

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Old 05-16-2019, 06:39 PM   #2
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I'm not too surprised, based on the fact you already expected something was very wrong. Still, a shame and unexpected in such a low mileage motor. I actually expected a chunk out of the piston based on how it was running.
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Old 05-16-2019, 07:18 PM   #3
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I would certainly be contacting Dennis at LinDen Enginneering in Colorado.
This has come up pretty recently.

Of course, there Ďshouldí be a good source closer to you- but Iím pretty skeptical in general. I would be doing it myself, but Iíve done that sort of thing many times before.

Iíve read other reports on SprinterSource about pistons breaking. It does not seem particularly common at all with a low miles engine. More seem to be related to cooling issues from what Iíve seen. Of course, wasnít it your rig that has a shop improperly install the oil filter? That could most certainly cause some rather major issues (I suspect anyway).
I would guess there is a big oil jet that cools the underside of the piston (although Iíve never been into one of these) - and if that was not working properly then I could see excessive heat damaging the piston.

Good luck, Iím way too far away to be of much assistance.

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Old 05-16-2019, 11:28 PM   #4
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Interblog: So sorry to hear about your troubles. I just had a $5K repair to replace the intake manifolds due to carbon buildup in my 2015 with 90,000 miles but that wasn't nearly as serious or unexpected.
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Old 05-17-2019, 01:09 AM   #5
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Hi, looking at your picture makes me think that this engine has been chipped or electronically modified.

I was shown a bad diesel engine by one of my diesel mechanics. What he showed me was the fact that the flower pattern on the top of the piston shows that the fuel system has been chipped. I asked him, "How can you tell that?" His answer was that the flower pattern on the top of the piston is from the fuel injector. A proper pattern should show the flower pattern in the piston bowl only. With the flower pattern outside of the bowl shows that the injector timing was too advanced / or early. And this is how a diesel engine died and the warranty was denied.
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Old 05-17-2019, 05:56 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lotus54 View Post
...wasn’t it your rig that has a shop improperly install the oil filter? That could most certainly cause some rather major issues (I suspect anyway)....
No, we do our own oil changes (and did one just a few weeks ago). MB initially sold us the wrong filter, despite a 4-year history of me buying the correct filter from them. But we resolved that issue, and the correct filter has been continually present.

You may be remembering me speaking about the person who emailed me to report that his shop busted his filter mounting apparatus and did not tell him about it. From what I understand, they left his oil filter swimming freely in the engine port, with no O-rings to seal it in place or direct the oil through the filtering media.

Edit: We also had no obvious issue with cooling. We did a cooling system flush about 12 months ago, and the reservoir was one of the very first things I checked upon popping the hood. All good there.
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Old 05-17-2019, 06:11 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ROBERTSUNRUS View Post
... With the flower pattern outside of the bowl shows that the injector timing was too advanced / or early. And this is how a diesel engine died and the warranty was denied.
Joel Sell (Million Mile Sprinter) has speculated that mis-use by the van's original owner could have led to premature wear of the injectors prior to us purchasing it.

Specifically, poor maintenance. In the T1N, it is essential to replace the FUEL filter (not just the oil filter) at regular intervals. Otherwise, it is possible to wear the injectors such that they begin over-fueling, which can lead to a cracked piston. Lab analysis of an injector can determine whether that is the case.

I cannot immediately confirm or deny that hypothesis. Our van's first owner was also the owner of an automobile dealership. IIRC, he had his own shop of mechanics at his disposal. It would make no sense that he skimped on maintenance given that it would not cost him anything to do it. Plus he knew about cars, being a dealer. He took meticulous care of our van.

Furthermore, there are physical signs in advance of fuel filter degradation (efficiency losses). We never experienced any of those signs. And we bought our van at 25,000 miles, almost too young for damage of that type to have had time to accumulate.

Could our fuel filter have been damaged by bad diesel, leading to a cascade effect? It's possible. I will say that in Texas, 99% of the time, I only buy diesel from two sources - Bucees, and one particular Shell station that is known to me (both have excellent reputations). Only one time in the past several years did I need to get diesel from a Texas retailer unknown to me (a highway stop in Flatonia TX a few months ago).

Of course, driving cross-continent each year, I don't have that same control over my diesel vendors. But I've always picked the best looking places. And I've never used formulations with more than 5% biodiesel (which is said to not impact the T1N engine anyway - it's the NCV3s that have trouble with biodiesel). Not even one time have I used anything higher than 5%.
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Old 05-17-2019, 07:18 AM   #8
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Are you getting a short block, long block or rebuilding what you have? The quickest answer is to purchase an off the shelf replacement long block - but that cost the most but you can get a good warranty.
It seems that the cracked piston problem was likely caused by a faulty injector. This can happen at any time with any diesel engine. You can't do anything more than have a good preventative maintenance schedule. You could have the injectors sent out for a balance test which would tell you if this was the cause. Injectors are expensive but I would only buy new ones make sure they are tested and balanced before installation. This is a good time to find a reputable diesel shop that knows something about Sprinter vans.

Some days the black clouds finds you.......
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Old 05-17-2019, 01:02 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by InterBlog View Post
... In the T1N, it is essential to replace the FUEL filter (not just the oil filter) at regular intervals. Otherwise, it is possible to wear the injectors such that they begin over-fueling, which can lead to a cracked piston. Ö
Replacing the FUEL filter regularly is also essential in NCV3 Sprinters as it is in all modern diesel engines. Injectors are the weak link in most diesel engines.
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Old 05-17-2019, 01:55 PM   #10
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Are you getting a short block, long block or rebuilding what you have? The quickest answer is to purchase an off the shelf replacement long block - but that cost the most but you can get a good warranty.
It seems that the cracked piston problem was likely caused by a faulty injector. This can happen at any time with any diesel engine. You can't do anything more than have a good preventative maintenance schedule. You could have the injectors sent out for a balance test which would tell you if this was the cause. Injectors are expensive but I would only buy new ones make sure they are tested and balanced before installation. This is a good time to find a reputable diesel shop that knows something about Sprinter vans.

Some days the black clouds finds you.......
Now THERE is a person who knows what he's talking about. And I don't mean with respect to the black clouds. I mean the whole post.

We have wa-ay too much invested in this rig to go cheap. I'm having a long block built for it. Three year, 36,000 mile warranty.

There is no "off the shelf" option for a van of this age, which is more than a decade out of model. They are built to order. It'll be installed by Freightliner of Austin TX with the engine being built and shipped by Detroit Diesel.

Now, I would like to give you a concise description of how I arrived at those simple decisions above, but they involve detailed conversations with many, many people across the country - twelve pages of handwritten teleconference notes, in fact.

A lot of this process is highly dynamic, and purchase decisions have to be based on lesser-of-evils. Due to the vagaries of the system (franchising crap??), some shops can get their hands on some stuff that other shops cannot. Believe it or not -- AND THIS IS FREAKIN' SCARY -- Sprinter of Clear Lake TX could not procure a long block engine for me (whereas Freightliner could). MB does not have the best access to MB parts. MB would have had to install a short block and hook up all the other existing junk to it. But because we suspect that the fault might lie with the injector(s), if I did that, I'd end up importing the same problem into a new engine, plus I'd lose my shirt on extra labor. No Thank You Sirs. I'd rather spend the money, get the warranty, and take the whole mess off the table.

It sucks, but it is what it is.
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Old 05-18-2019, 08:11 AM   #11
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Whenever life bites us in the butt we're always glad, even though it's costly, that it's not our lives at stake. Strangely reassuring when we say to each other "It's nothing money can't fix".
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Old 05-18-2019, 08:20 AM   #12
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Good decision!
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Old 05-19-2019, 04:49 AM   #13
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My husband heard me laughing uproariously yesterday. I was reading an email from Million Mile Sprinter, with whom I have been able to share more engine failure context than I can on the forums. I asked him what measures he thinks I should take. His reply, verbatim: "For the future? I would add in a security system with cameras to monitor all 4 sides."

Compare with:

"Here is what I *think* I want / need at this point in time - subject to change based on persuasive arguments that may be presented going forward:

(1) Three exterior and one interior HD cameras - the interior one on the windshield pointing forward, one on each side mounted forward and pointing aft, and one on the tail pointing aft.

(2) Continuous 4-channel DVR recording from all cameras - automatically when the vehicle is underway, and electively when the engine is off."

Excerpted from my February 2019 thread titled Comprehensive DVR and security camera system.

Yet another case of great minds thinking alike. But with the stuff I have been doing, I haven't had time to follow through on it.

Actually I DID get a mobile security camera system quote three weeks ago, and I'll go back and update that other thread next - not that the quote was actionable (which was part of my problem in not moving forward).
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