You may be wondering which 5.4l Ford engine you have in your car and which problem you should be looking out for. Is it the 3v which is known for spark plugs breaking off in the cylinder head when you remove them or is it the 2v 5.4l that is known for shooting loose spark plugs out of the cylinder head.
I know when I first bought my 1998 Ford 5.4l I was perplexed as to which problem I was going to be facing in the near future and how to prevent it.
With some exceptions, the 3v started to come into the market in the F-series trucks around 2004. If you have a 5.4l before 2004 likely you have the 2v version.
The easiest way to tell 2v vs. 3v 5.4l Ford engines is to look around the engine bay. If you see “3v” anywhere on the air filter housing or baffles then you have a 3v. However, if you just see “Ford Triton 5.4l” and no mention of the “3v” anywhere then you likely have the 2v engine. Also, if your truck, car, or van was built before 2004 it has the 2v 5.4l engine and if you have a 2004 or newer 5.4l then you likely have the 5.4l 3 valve engine.
Another quick check to tell is to look up your VIN number and find out what “engine code” you have by doing a quick google search. One last check, if your coils have a bend in the rubber insulator (that slips over the spark plug) then you have the 2v– if you have straight coils (see photo) then you have the 3v. You can also find out by simply searching for coils for your year make and model and seeing if the coils are bent or not (without having to remove the coils to verify). As for common problems, 2v’s shoot spark plugs out due to lack of threads and 3v 5.4l’s have spark plugs that break off in the cylinder head upon removal.
However, here is some quick and easy ways to tell in case you are confused or want to be sure which version 5.4l you have.
1. Check Air Filter Housing:
The air filter housing on a 2v Ford 5.4l won’t say anything about how many valves it has. If it just says “Ford Triton” or something along those lines then you have the 2v engine.
However, if it has 3v written on the air intake housing then you know it is a 3v engine. Here is how it shows up on a later model 5.4l with the 3v engine.
2. Check the VIN:
The VIN number always includes valuable information about what engine your vehicle has. On some Ford’s it is the 8th digit in the VIN and you can search based on what your VIN has what engine you have. You can also call the dealership and read them your VIN number and ask the service/parts department what engine you have.
Check this Ford VIN decoder some enthusiasts built for you to use (free).
3. Bent or Straight Coils:
This trick works great for quickly telling whether you have a 2v or 3v 5.4l without much hassle. If your coils had a bend in the rubber part that slips over the spark plug then you have a 2v 5.4l.
No bend in the coil? 3v 5.4l
Simple as that. Don’t want to take the coils out to check whether yours have a bend or not? Look up “OEM ford coils (Your make/model/year)” and click on the first reputable parts seller links. Are the photos of the coils with the bend or straight?
If you entered everything right that should tell you right away. Maybe your car had an aftermarket air intake and you don’t see any 3v or Ford lettering to alert you (my first tip). Then this works just as well and is pretty fast.
2v VS. 3v Ford 5.4l Problems:
The 5.4l 2v Ford engines are known for shooting out spark plugs. When replacing the spark plugs you need to be extra careful to torque them properly and follow good procedure. If you just replace them willy nilly without paying attention to how tight you put them in they will likely blow out of your cylinder.
How to tell if you have a blown out plug? Does your car make a loud popping noise repeatedly? Did you find a coil with broken off somewhere in your engine bay? Maybe a spark plug floating around? Probably a blown out plug.
The later 5.4l 3v Ford engine was far from perfect either. In fact, many enthusiasts argue that the 3v Ford engine is actually much worse.
The problem? When you go to remove the spark plugs from the factory they love to break off flush with the cylinder head. This was because of poor spark plug design (two pieces) and a lack of proper anti-seize applied at the factory to prevent seizing.
Just like with the 2v you need to pay extra attention to spark plug installation, on the 3v you need to pay extra attention to spark plug removal. If you are NOT comfortable breaking a spark plug off in the cylinder head then please take it to a shop that has experience with these engines. You may be looking at around $500-1000 for a shop to take on the spark plug change and replacing any broken plugs.
Some proper maintenance and preventative care should help prevent any of these problems. However, both 5.4l engines have some pretty scary tendency when it comes to their spark plugs.
My last pro tip is to call around and ask shops if they have experience drilling out the plugs or doing inserts. There will likely be a shop near you (it may take some calling) that is super efficient and knows what they are doing with the Ford engines. You want someone that has done this repair many many times. Like a surgeon, they will get better every time, and your car will be more reliable for it.
Can I still drive with a blown out spark plug on a 5.4l 2v?
In an emergency yes. The car will run low on power (it is down a cylinder) and it will sound weird. Try not to push it too hard, but as long as it will limp you will be okay driving it. You should do one thing to be safe and prevent engine damage to the cylinder– unplug that cylinder injector. This will keep it from firing and filling the cylinder with unburned fuel which will damage your catalytic converter and foul the oil in your car fast. It is also a fire hazard as the cylinder will be pushing unburnt fuel out of the cylinder into your engine bay. All it takes is a spark and the entire engine will go up in flames. Unplugging the injector is as simple as finding which plug blew out, locating the injector plug, and disconnecting it. If you do it right you should get an immediate check engine light and the car should no longer smell like unburned fuel (gas).
What is better the 2v or the 3v ford 5.4l Engine?
The 2v is an easier fix and less daunting. The 3v takes more of a surgical approach and can go downhill faster if you don’t know what you are doing. The 3v 5.4l also has other reliability issues that make it more of an expensive engine to maintain and less reliable. However, the 3v definitely has more power and is a more modern engine. It is really up to you and what you can afford, however, I recommend staying away from the 3v Ford 5.4l engine as much as possible.