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Ford Escape runs poorly after it rains

(2003 Ford Escape)
in Cedar Rapids, IA on August 31, 2010
My Escape runs poorly sometimes after it rains. I've taken the car to 3 mechanics now and have had the exhaust system replaced from the front catalytic converters all the way to the tailpipe. It doesn't happen every time. It idles rough and has no power. The engine light comes on sometimes but no codes show up on diagnostic. First time, I replaced the catalytic converter under passenger seat-worked fine for 6 months. Second time replaced both front converters-worked fine 5 months. Third time had muffler replaced and all other exhaust parts not brand new-went 3 months without a problem. Now today it rains heavily and back to square one. Every other time it's happened after a heavy rain and there is water coming from the tailpipe immediately after starting it up. Any ideas?
Displaying 9 answers & 21 comments
Popular Answer
on February 02, 2013
2001 Ford Escape, 3.0 V6, AWD/4x4
262,000 miles
Original motor and transmission
Yeah, I know. These high miles impress me.

I had the same problem and fixed it. Engine was running absolutely horrible after washing the car. I poured a bucket of water over the windshield with the hood open. The water ran down into the engine. I lightly splashed some water in the front engine area to rinse. Next day after doing this, I started the engine. The check engine light was flashing, and it had a horrible miss, shuddering and making a strange noise from the intake. It sounded like an old 4 cyl John Deere tractor with 2 pistons not firing, and one with a hole in it. Was horrible.

What I did to fix it:
Removed the intake plenum, removed all 6 coil packs, rubber boots, and connecting springs.
What I found:
4 out of 6 spark plug tubes were full of water.

The design behind these engines is good but, not good for water shedding. Water can easily collect on top of the engine heads which have a cover that allows water to collect and run right into the spark plug tubes. I also noticed that fancy cover that is over the front of the engine will actually help collect water. The cooling fans, since they are pullers, will actually pull rain or water that enters the front of the car, and push it RIGHT into the motor and the plastic cover will deflect it down directly where the spark plugs are!
Depending on how much rain you get, and how fast you drive, more water/air will be forced RIGHT INTO that area!! It would be better to take that cosmetic thing off so at least it won't act like a hood scoop, forcing air/rain water right into where the spark plugs are, where water cannot run away. If your engine is warm enough, I suppose it could dry off before being sucked back into the motor but, if it's a cold rainy day, or blowing snow which collects in the motor, I can see water collecting in those spark plugs tubes every time.

Once you have water in these areas, the water gets sucked back down into those spark plug tubes as the engine cools off. The water won't leave those tubes because of the rubber boot. It's like a minnow trap. I discovered the spring connectors corroded/rusted and oxidized. The aluminum cylinder heads which house the spark plugs, I call tubes were also corroded. I cleaned off the springs, scraped off the rust and corrosion, used pressurized air to dry the tubes out further and let them set for a bit to make sure.
I reassembled everything, started it back up and it was like a whole different car. Not a single issue whatsoever. No engine light, no shuddering, no strange sounds. Smooth as silk.

So, water got into those 4 spark plug tubes, shorted the spark plugs, made it run rich, which you could smell. The intake plenum and manifold were both inside coated with fuel.

If I had not poured water over the motor I would have been ok. If I had this happen again, after a rain storm, it would be fairly easy to just take the 3 spark plug coil packs/rubber inserts/springs out and dry it out. It won't happen again though, pouring water over the motor. Thought spraying water was a bad idea because of the forcing of water into areas. But, in this case, only pouring water onto a Ford Escape, or Mercury Mariner, or Mazda Tribute engine will cause this. Probably only the V6 too, because of the turned motor.
on May 02, 2014
Hi, I know this post is pretty old, but taking a chance you're still around. I'm having that same problem with a 2002 Mazda Tribute failing after it rains. However, I don't want to have to take the engine cover off and dry out sparkplug tubes everytime it rains. Any other suggestions on how to prevent this problem? Thanks
on May 02, 2014
You might try having the spark plug tubes replaced, otherwise have someone look at the coils. Neither are terribly expensive repairs.
on May 03, 2014
My suggestion would be to take the plastic cover off that would seem to funnel air/moisture into those spark plug tubes. Also, creating some kind of deflecting cover to block the electric fan air path into that area. That was going to be part of the solution for my car but, I sold mine before getting to that. One other thought I had was to actually make a hole in the area of the boot that seals off the spark plug tube so that moisture can escape/evaporate from engine heat during and after.
on April 12, 2013
I have a 2001 escaspe with 170,000 I have been dealing with this issue for over 2 years now (on and off) I have changed 3 of 6 coils AND the cat converter. (Not all at the same time) Just picked my car up last week after changing 2 coils and it down poured this morning check engine light on and flashing, going out to break at work after the rain stopped and it runs completly fine and no lights on. The shop said bring it back in its most likely another coil ...
on April 12, 2013
Don't have them replace the coils. It isn't the coils if this happens after a rain. Think about what I wrote above. You have water collecting in the spark plug tubes. These coil packs don't go bad like this. This escape I have, has 262,000 miles, same coil packs. Apparently they aren't telling you about the water in the spark plug tubes. :-/
on April 12, 2013
Yea I should have googled sooner, I didn't think anyone else was having an issue like this, just thought it was my luck, thanks for the help I'm def taking it elsewhere from here on out :)
on August 31, 2010
not sure what any exhaust repairs had to do with your issue. it would be all the time, rain or shine. anyway, there are several tsb available on coil and ecm problems with this model for poor running in wet weather. you need a better shop that can help you.

on September 01, 2010
The first time it happened, I drilled a hole into the pipe directly in front of the rear catalytic converter. Although loud, it did allow the car to be driven to the shop. One of the shops was the local Ford dealer/service center and the other two were independents. I park on a bit of a slope and it doesn't happen every time it rains, just seems to be heavy rains and if the car was sitting for a day or two in the rain. I see many other issues similar to this online, most ranging from coils, faulty PCM/ECM. I've already spent about $2000 on the issue and it's still there. Can't imagine what new coils, plugs, wires and a PCM/ECM would cost.
on May 03, 2011
I'm having the same issue with my 2003 ford escape....did you find out the problem?
on May 03, 2011
Yes I think I finally did. Knock on wood but the problem has not returned. I ended up having all of the ignition coils replaced, my mechanic discovered the faulty coils by spraying them with a little water while the engine. There were cracks in the coils themselves and when wet it was causing arcing. Hope this helps. I should mention that all catalytic converters were replaced too.
on May 03, 2011
Great! Thank you very much..converters are expensive :(
on May 22, 2011
I have had this problem many many times after rain and the vehicle not being run for that day. I have replaced 3 ignition coils so far (at various intervals) and that seems to solve the problem for a time. I have never replaced any exhaust components.
on June 03, 2011
Did u have all your coil packages checked?
on September 23, 2012
I had the same problem. I took it to my friends shop for inspection and the cat coming out of manifold was bad so I had to take it to the ford dealer and they put it on their diagnostics machine and it showed the packs were bad so they changed them along with the cat. ran well for a week and the first heavy rain caused the same problem. Still runs like crap and the emissions light wont go off. I have to start the car 15 minutes before I want to drive it. I will never buy another Ford until they improve their product.
Oh by the way, it took almost 4 months to get the cat because Ford didn't have any, and had to get an aftermarket made. Go figure.
on June 03, 2014
Evidently the moisture problems go on I bought my 2004 escape with169000 miles on it in may it runs great accept when moisture is introduced. Before I could leave the dealer the first day it had been raining for 3 days in a row. Started it up and it shuddered and engine light comes said they put 1 coil and 1 plug in it and I was off.until it rained for 2 days and same problem all over again.seems pretty obvious reading all the previous comments that poor design is to blame. However I want to know how to remedy it, sounds like an air hole for venting wood help a lot but mine acts up without being driven just parked. No water has to be forced in just in the air to affect it. I would also like to know how to turn off engine light now that moisture is gone and it's running normal
on June 03, 2014
The best remedy would probably be to seal off those spark plug tubes on the front. I bet they replaced a spark plug and coil on the front. Easy money job. Probably blew out the water and sent it along. The other solution could be to put a hole in the top of the boot so moisture can escape. To get rid of the engine light, the cheapest way is to disconnect the battery terminal for a few hours to let the computer and codes reset on their own. Good luck!
on June 05, 2014
I fixed the same problem recently on my own Ford Escape and did it myself. Instead of replacing coils one by one over the course of many months, it is much easier to replace them all at once, along with the spark plugs if they are also old (not necessarily related to this issue, but not a bad idea to replace). Many would not agree with this tactic, but it saves you paying many times more than you otherwise would on labor and many more trips to a repair shop. I picked up all six coils for a little over $400, and the labor only took a few hours. It seems that over time, as this only seems to happen to Escapes with some miles behind them, the ignition coils just wear down and become less resistant to invasive substances like water. Therefore, I fully endorse footing the bill and replacing all six at once, and doing it yourself if you have any technical know-how. The hardest part is removing the intake manifold, but a guide for that can be found here at

My rough engine running was caused by heavy amounts of rain, and solved by replacing the ignition coils and the very old spark plugs. My evidence for ignition coils simply going bad over time is due to another Ford I owned with the same coil ignition system, when I had to replace a single coil about once per month for a few months, which became beyond annoying. I eventually replaced all remaining old coils, and the problem ceased to exist. I respect nodakgaragedoor's insight, but I believe many of his claims about the ignition coils not being the problem could possibly be incorrect, specifically because the water entering the spark plug cylinders could be caused by the ignition coils being old, not only poor engine design (which surely plays into it). Good luck to anyone else headed down this road! I hope I travel it rarely in the future.
on April 12, 2015
Yup same deal. Running rough when raining. Previously replaced plugs with NGK Laser Platinum plugs.
I replaced all of the coils. Got them on Ebay for about a hundred bucks for 6. Coils did the trick. I have done 50,000 miles after that with no problems in wet weather. Did the job myself in 3 hours with no experience. This may help if you have nothing to do on a Saturday.
on April 19, 2015
Alright a lot of the responses here make no sense. Exhaust has NOTHING to do with this problem. Idk why you would spend 2 grand replacing exhaust. Sounds like your mechanics don't know how to check or clear any codes either! First time this happened to me, I didn't even pull out of the driveway, I pulled it into the garage and didn't drive. When you're rough idling and the check engine light is on, DO NOT DRIVE. You will damage your catalytic converter. This rough idle is characteristic of a misfire, and you need to run your cars codes to figure out which cylinder the misfire is happening on. The code reader will tell you ie: Misfire cylinder 6, and two other codes about the ignition coil. Go to an auto parts store and buy a new coil for 40-60 bucks, or if you can wait a day or two go to rock and get one for less than twenty bucks. Buy a new spark plug too, they're only 2-4 dollars. Remove the engine cover, you'll see the ignition coils. Disconnect your battery terminal to avoid electrocution. With a simple socket set and extension in hand, unplug the coil, unbolt the coil, take out the plug, then put the new plug and coil back in. Hook everything back up and you'll be good to go. When the coils are old, they don't like moisture. Doing all the coils yourself wight the parts from rock auto will be less than 100, but at a dealer it could be up to 600. The serpentine belt doesn't like it either. Mine runs slow for a little bit but once the engine heats up it runs like a dream. Has 100,000 plus miles on it too.
on April 20, 2015
I am getting a misfire on cylinder 6 when it rains. Instead of buying a new coil I cleared the codes then swapped coils 5 and 6 to see if the coil was truly causing the problem. The next rain I am still getting a misfire on 6. Any suggestions?
on July 15, 2015
I think its elementary - You've got water in Cylinder 6. Check the nodagragedoor guy's info.
on August 25, 2015
If anyone is still on here, I have same issue it just down poured for a couple days.but a 97 chevy blazer-4wd island car.
My car now is reluctant to start up to start up at first without a heavy hit to gas pedal, but once it does it sounds watery, then fine, and theres a buzzing in the speaker in my passenger door. My worry is (call me stupid-but)< will i get electrocuted if a lot of water got into the electrical . I have a leaking problem by some of my doors and window. its an old junker but trying to hang on till end of year. Please let me know I dont want battery or car to blow up when I'm driving. SHoudl I just not drive it. Scared..haha and ignorant obviously haha
on August 26, 2015
"islandash, August 25, 2015, 20:09
If anyone is still on here, I have same issue it just down poured for a couple days.but a 97 chevy blazer-4wd island car.
My car now is reluctant to start up to start up at first without a heavy hit to gas pedal, but once it does it sounds watery, then fine, and theres a buzzing in the speaker in my passenger door. My worry is (call me stupid-but)< will i get electrocuted if a lot of water got into the electrical . I have a leaking problem by some of my doors and window. its an old junker but trying to hang on till end of year. Please let me know I dont want battery or car to blow up when I'm driving. SHoudl I just not drive it. Scared..haha and ignorant obviously haha"

What do you mean by "heavy hit" to gas pedal? Sounds watery? What do you mean? It sounds like your vehicle is electrically failing due to corrosion from salt/moisture exposure. Not a whole lot you can do about that. You won't get electrocuted unless you have a power inverter and touch the high voltage output. Your vehicle won't blow up unless you have a fuel leak where there is excess heat/spark.
on August 27, 2015
thank you @nodakgaragedoor for replying. I appreciate it.

when I said 'heavy hit' to gas I guess i meant I have to push down on gas pedal to get the car going.
Itsounds watery in that its gurgly I guess? But i just tried to even turn it on just to roll windows up and down (electric), and cant even do that I think its somehow shorted out because of all the rain and insides getting wet under the hood. Water leaked out of my steering column so that probably means the electrical or fuse box got wet ...
New question is if my battery area is wet or all those electrical areas got wet, is it safe to try to jump start the car? Forgive my stupidity - haha appreciate the help, no brothers, or guy friends around to help.
on December 22, 2015
I had a similar issue with my Ford Escape 2002 after a heavy rain; running very rough, low power, check engine light flashing. I had the car in my driveway for over an hour (still raining) but when I drove it to my mechanic/friend's house, it started up fine, was running smooth & no check engine light. He couldn't find any error codes.

He suspects that moisture has gotten into the rubber boot that protects the coil/plug. after the engine had warmed up the coil/plug dried up. It's a rebuilt engine that just had major tune up, new spark plugs, etc., but I don't know if the guy that sold it to me replaced the boots? Friend said that old boots can have micro-cracks in them. you might not see them unless you squeeze them.

My friend didn't have time to do it, but he suggested using silicone grease inside the boot seal to help keep the moisture out. May not help enough if there are cracks, but might help after old boots are replaced with new ones. I'm no expert, but it sounds to me like putting a hole in the boot to let moisture out, would also let moisture in?

I'm hoping that it won't happen again, but if it does, will take it back to the guy who sold it to me. If we figure out what happened & how to fix it, will repost here. I'm going to send him the link to this thread. Thanks.
on March 04, 2012
my car act like it not getting enough gas once it start it runs fine until i stop at a light i had the idle air control valve change
on February 07, 2013
Try changing the ignition coils. We had the same problem with ours and that is what we did and it has been working fine ever since.
on February 07, 2013
This is for a wet condition. If a mechanic replaces the coils, they will possibly find water in the spark plug tubes, clean them out, and probably not say anything except that yep, the coils were bad. It runs great now. Coils don't go bad often enough to cause these issues. The coils on my Escape have been on the engine for 262,000 miles, and 12+ years.
on February 25, 2016
Just a thought here as well. When I worked at Mazda, we would spray the ends of the coil pack boots with CRC silicone spray. Just a little. It repels moisture and makes the pack easier to pull for the next guy. Keeps the rubber pliable too.
Got same issue with my Escape. Will be replacing plugs, coil packs and intake o-rings in a few weeks. The issue is water infiltration.
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