How to Troubleshoot a Ford 351W

by John Stevens J.D.

Aside from the 289 and the 302, the 351 Windsor is quite possibly Ford’s most popular small-block engine. Not coincidentally, all three engines use essentially the same components, as they are from the same engine family. Whereas Ford increased the displacement of the 289 to 302 cubic inches in 1968, Ford again resized the engine in 1969 to create the 351. Fortunately, unlike the 351 Cleveland, troubleshooting the 351 Windsor is fairly easy due to its simple design.


Check that the vehicle has fuel in the tank. It is often the most obvious problems that are most commonly overlooked.


Check the voltage of the engine’s battery with a voltmeter. The battery should have between 12 and 15 volts when the engine is turned off.


Wiggle both battery connections by hand to check for a loose battery clamp. Tighten the clamps with a screwdriver, if necessary.


Attach one alligator clip from a single jumper cable wire to one of the two large threaded rods on the starter solenoid. The location of the starter solenoid varies depending on the year and the automobile. It is usually located on the passenger’s side of the engine compartment, next to the battery. Touch the alligator clip at the opposite end of that same jumper cable wire to the other large threaded rod on the starter solenoid. If the starter motor turns, the starter solenoid is defective and must be replaced. If the starter motor does not activate, or does not turn the engine, replace the starter motor.


Pull the coil wire off the top of the distributor. Hold the metal tip of the wire just above the metal contact inside the post on the distributor cap, and wear a heavy leather glove. Have an assistant crank the engine and observe whether a spark jumps between the wire and the cap. If no spark exists, replace the ignition coil.


Pull a single spark plug wire off the top of a spark plug. Hold the metal tip of the wire just above the metal contact on the top of the spark plug, wearing a heavy leather glove. Have an assistant crank the engine and observe whether a spark pumps between the wire and the spark plug. If no spark exists, the distributor requires service.


Check the engine’s timing with a timing light if the engine backfires. The number of degrees depends on the year the engine was produced, as well as whether the engine is a regular-production 351 or a high-performance 351, such as those installed in the Boss Mustangs.


Clear the carburetor of too much gasoline, if a strong smell of gasoline emanates from it. Known as “flooding,” too much gas can be injected into the carburetor if the gas pedal is repeatedly depressed with the engine turned off. Press the gas pedal to the floor, then crank the engine with the ignition key until the engine starts.

Items you will need


About the Author

John Stevens has been a writer for various websites since 2008. He holds an Associate of Science in administration of justice from Riverside Community College, a Bachelor of Arts in criminal justice from California State University, San Bernardino, and a Juris Doctor from Whittier Law School. Stevens is a lawyer and licensed real-estate broker.