Ford 3.8-liter V6 is a lightweight naturally aspirated engine produced by the Ford motor company in 1977-78.
Since then, it has remained in service in most passenger cars and light pickup trucks. Its compact design with good power characteristics proved vital in its success.
Is The Ford 3.8 V6 a Good Engine? Ford 3.8-liter V6 is a 6-cylinder engine with 232-233 cubic inches displacement. It has a cast-iron block with aluminum head construction to make it lightweight. It is a good engine with a power rating ranging from 110hp-230hp in various versions and upgrades. It has a split port induction system to increase output power, torque and improve its fuel economy. It is a reliable engine except for frequent failure of head gasket issues faced by many owners.
Details of Ford 3.8 V6 engine
Ford 3.8L V6 engine has 6-cylinders having longitudinal alignment and both cylinder banks oriented at an angle of 90o to each other. It was used in millions of Ford vehicles from 1978-2003.
Ford uses the Essex engine production facility in Windsor, Ontario, for this engine. Therefore, it has another name as Essex V6 engine, due to its origin place.
The 3.8L V6 has an engine displacement of 232-233 cubic inches. Its cylinder bore dimensions are 3.8-3.82 inches. Another important measurement is piston stroke length that is 3.78-3.8 inches.
It has a short block size to reduce the overall weight and compact design for better fuel economy and fit in passenger cars like Mustang.
Material of construction
According to the initial design, Ford adopted the die-casting technology to have both aluminum block and heads and several other components to reduce the engine’s overall weight.
However, they switched to cast iron block due to increased costs. However, all 3.8L V6 engines have aluminum heads.
In earlier versions, the aluminum head with cast iron block led to the head gasket problems. Aluminum has a lesser weight than iron, and it expands and contracts at a faster rate due to high temperatures.
There are differences in thermal expansion between the iron block and aluminum head; as a result, head gaskets have to bear extra stress, causing wear and tear and their failure before their design life.
Power and torque ratings
Ford designed a 3.8L V6 engine for passenger cars and mini pickup trucks. Its earliest version has 110-115 hp of output power and 170-180 lb-ft of torque.
Later on, introducing a multi-port fuel injection system increases the horsepower rating to 135-145 and a torque rating of 210-220 lb-ft.
Ford 3.8L V6 with split port induction system has a maximum power rating of 195-205 hp and torque output of 220-235 lb-ft.
Supercharged 3.8L V6 engines have further improved power rating of 210-230 hp and torque rating of 310-335 lb-ft. In addition, it has an excellent power rating per unit area. You can get these details from the Ford Window Sticker.
Fuel injection system
Ford 3.8L V6 uses gasoline as fuel, and earlier versions have a carburetor system for fuel spray in cylinders. However, engine models after 1984 had a direct fuel injection system to improve the peak power and torque rating.
4 years later, Ford upgraded the fuel system to a port injection using a single port per cylinder. The latest engines after 1996-1997 have a split port induction system to improve the fuel efficiency further.
It splits the intake air port into 2 parts with a valve controlling the secondary port.
This valve controls the injected air to each valve according to the engine parameters and its operating conditions. Many people like Ford 4.2 V6 engine for their vehicles.
It has 2 valves per cylinder resulting in 12 cylinders. It has a traditional overhead valve (OHV) design compared to the latest single or double overhead camshaft (SOHC or DOHC) designs.
It has a camshaft as part of the cylinder block, and a combination of lifters, pushrod, and rocker arm operates the valves.
Due to many moving parts, it has more maintenance issues. However, it is compact and lower cost than overhead camshaft designs.
In addition, it has a small timing chain that is easy to replace, reliable, and durable in the 3.8L V6 engine.
Ford’s 3.8L V6 engine has good fuel economy due to lightweight aluminum parts in its design. Its purpose was also to make it compact and fuel-efficient for use in passenger vehicles like Mustang, Granada, Mercury Capri, and Windstar.
According to EPA reports, 3.8L V6 in the Mustang IV has both city and highway combined mileage of 19-21 mpg.
These are promising figures for a large V6 engine. The improvement in fuel efficiency results from split port induction and other upgraded parts.
Acceleration is an essential parameter of a vehicle showing how quickly the engine responds and delivers power when you press the accelerator.
For example, Ford 3.8L V6 in Mustang IV has a maximum of 9-9.5 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph. In my opinion, it is not a remarkable figure as compared to the latest engines with that time under 5 seconds.
3.8L V6 remains a part of most Ford vehicles from the 1980s to early 2000. It is compatible with compact and large cars, pickup trucks, and vans.
In addition, it is compatible with luxury cars, including the 1980-1996 Ford Thunderbird and the 1987-1995 Lincoln Continental. Ford Windstar minivan has a 3.8L V6 with modified cylinder heads and other upgrades to produce better torque and power ratings.
In the category of pickup trucks, it is available as an option for seventh-generation F series trucks F100 and F150.
Above all, it is also compatible and is part of Ford’s longest-selling car brand Ford Mustang. Mercury Sable and Ford Taurus sedans are other popular vehicles consistent with the engine.
3.8L V6 engine has a version available that is compatible with the supercharger. In addition, it has modified cylinder heads and blocks according to the increased airflow.
Other modifications include using an intercooler to cool the intake air as its temperature can increase during compression resulting in backfiring problems.
Supercharged 3.8L V6 has an enhanced power and torque rating than other versions. Compatible vehicles are Thunderbird Super Coupe and Cougar XR7 cars.
It is an economical option due to its lightweight materials. However, the manufacturer has discontinued its production.
However, you can buy its remanufactured version with a warranty of 100,000 miles. Remanufactured engines with replaced parts can cost you around $1300-$1600.
Is Ford 3.8 V6 Reliable?
Ford 3.8L V6 is reliable with excellent performance and efficient operation. However, customers have frequently faced the head gasket failure problem during its operational history.
Its symptoms are white smoke from the exhaust pipe, failure to start, overheating, and misfiring.
In severe cases, it can result in cracks in the engine head or block due to excessive temperature due to a coolant leak from the seal. Coolant leaks can also damage the catalytic converter.
The main reason for the problem is using 2 different materials to construct the engine head and block.
As a result, they expand differently due to thermal pressures causing stress and damage to the gasket. It requires several hours for labor to remove its parts.
Furthermore, It can cost around a few hundred to a thousand dollars for repair. Therefore, regular maintenance is essential to prevent the problem.
According to my experience, if you upgrade the head gasket, it is a decent powerplant with good horsepower and torque ratings. You will find several vehicles above 100,000 miles with the same upgrade.