Ferrari oil leak inspection and diagnosis near San

We were asked the following question by Forza magazine:

"I think the valve cover gaskets are leaking on my F430. The car is stored for the winter, so I’ve got some time to tinker. Is this a straightforward job?"

They wanted to know our thoughts based on past experience specializing in Ferrari repairs.  Here's what we had to say:


The introduction of the F430 brought sweeping changes to everything Ferrari owners knew about Maranello’s V8 powertrains. The gearbox hardware and software had been upgraded, an electrical differential was added, and the engine was all-new. Compared to the 360’s V8, the new engine boasted more displacement, more power, computer adjustment for all four camshafts, and no timing belts. While the additional 90 horsepower was nice, that last item was a game changer for Ferrari owners who had long agonized over the high cost of timing-belt services.


Over the last 13 years, the F430 has proven to be very inexpensive (by earlier Ferrari standards) to own. Aside from problematic headers and some convertible-top issues on the Spiders, these cars are worry-free. Routine maintenance and away they go!


We’re just now starting to see some small issues with the lovely 4.3-liter V8, one of which has been oil leakage from up high. The cam-cover gaskets are as updated and beautiful as the rest of this powerplant—they’re one-piece, molded rubber as opposed to the fiddly, four-piece, cut-it-out-and-glue-it-yourself green paper gaskets Ferrari used to use—but, as with anything that is heated and cooled, oiled, expanded and contracted, they do eventually lose their structure and start to leak.


When they do leak, it most often shows up at the rear of the cylinder heads, where the gasket is shaped like a pair of half-moons. Spotting oil here is not where the diagnosis stops, though, as there have been many mistaken “cam cover” leaks that were actually caused by leaking variator control solenoids.

Ferrari’s fantastic adjustable camshafts are adjusted via oil pressure, and not the regular engine-oil pressure. Instead, there’s a high-pressure oil pump, driven by an intake cam to an accumulator, that operates the system. The variator control solenoids regulate this high-pressure oil to phase the cam angle. Due to the high internal pressure running through these solenoids, over time oil tends to push through the wiring and out of the connectors located on top of the cam covers.


All four connectors come from the factory wrapped in a foil cover and closed with blue zip ties. My recommendation when diagnosing an oil leak up-high is to open up all these foil wraps and slide them back. Even if you find one or more leaks, don’t stop there. Next, using two small picks (I use two paper clips slightly filed at the end), lightly pry the solenoid connector tabs open, slide the connectors apart, and check inside for any signs of oil. If pressurized oil has forced its way inside the connector, that solenoid must be replaced.


If a shop is doing this work, given the cost of parts and labor it makes sense to replace all four solenoids while everything is apart. Unfortunately, this can run the repair cost up quickly. If you’re doing this job yourself, however, you have option to repair just one bank or just one solenoid; all the parts are available separately.


To answer your specific DIY question, this is not an extremely difficult job. Owning a coupe will make the job tougher, as you will have to do some deep reaching to the front of the engine. I have never removed the interior access panel for this job, but that may be a worthwhile step if time is not a factor for you.


A few tips for the DIYer. There was a service campaign (#225/#274) that fitted breather vent covers, which look like odd-shaped rectangles, to the tops of the ignition coils. At first glance, they may seem like they’re part of the coil, but when you remove a coil bolt these will fall straight off—so take care when you’re removing the coils (which you need to do in order to remove the cam cover) and be sure to collect all the parts. When reassembling the cam covers, don’t stress over the position of the solenoid pass-throughs. They’re not fussy even though they look like they’re keyed in place.


Finally, it’s important to apply a dab of silicone at the points where the timing cover on the front of the engine meets the cylinder head (there are two points for each bank), as this is a potential leak point. Also apply silicone at the corners of the gasket’s half-moons at the rear of the heads.

Slow Down Light

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Slow Down Light

I’ve been having this new problem with my F430 lately.  I have been getting a Slow Down light and the car gets stuck in gear and will not shift.  This has been happing more and more.

Started late in March when on the track.  Then I did a run of 5 track days in a row at Thunderhill Raceway Park late April and after a few laps at speed it would get a solid Slow Down light and stuck in gear.  Most times it would come back to normal after a few corners and I would pit.  One time it had a clunking like sound and I stopped in the bypass of turn 5.  At the end of that session it started and seemed fine as I once again returned to the pits.  Later laps I reduced the RPMs to no more than 7,000 and I would get a few laps in before the problem happened.  By the end that 5 day stint at the track I was down to half a lap before the problem would occur.  On the street it doesn’t ever have this problem.

I’ve had some issues with the exhaust on this car.  Late last year I put my Tubi exhaust on the car as it appeared my old stock muffler was blowing white powder over the engine.  Looked to be the headers and they were replaced last year also.

After this new problem started happening I also managed to have the Tubi tips on the left side break off on track.  So I put the old stock exhaust pipes and a different center stock muffler I got from Jesse and installed that.  I also replaced the thermocouples and rear O2 sensors.

When all this was happening I noticed that the left side of the that different center stock muffler seemed like it was torched (see picture below).  And the usual white ash on the the inter tail pipe when running on the track appeared on the right side but not the left (also see photo below).

So with all this I’m thinking maybe some how the left side is not working correctly and heat is getting backed up into the system and eventually the thermocouple gets triggered and the solid Slow Down light happens.

I have seen flashing Slow Down lights on hot days at the end of a track day before.  But never a solid Slow Down light and the car stuck in gear.  And these were cool days by Thunderhill standards.

Finally I did get a nice take off F430 stock muffler and pipes which are on the car now.  Did a few touring laps at Laguna on the Ferrari Challenge weekend running a bit high RPMs with no issues, but that is not much of a test.  We’ll see what the next track day brings.

Any thoughts on what can  an F430 Slow Down light and the car to be stuck in gear?

The complexities of these cars can be intimidating and quite frustrating at times!  It takes years of experience and training to diagnose the technology that keeps Ferrari so respected and exhilarating.  And I find it so fun and important to have a basic understanding of what’s going on with each click, buzz, and whine while out on the open road or all-out hustling around the track.

For decades Ferrari has used exhaust temperature sensors known as thermocouples to monitor engine performance and catalytic converter safety.  Threaded into the exhaust are thermocouple probes that don’t look too different to the probes used in your oven for that prime rib roast or turkey.  They are wired to thermocouple ECUs.  The ECUs translate the thermocouple analogue signal into a warning light on the dash.  Or, on later cars the signal is converted for the main engine motronics to read and interpret.  The exhaust temperature is a great way to monitor engine efficiency from a basic safety point.  An engine running without enough fuel (lean) can get extremely hot and damage itself.  An engine with too much fuel (rich) or misfiring (passing unburned fuel to the exhaust) with start to overheat the catalytic converters.  Too far advanced ignition timing can cause engine damage through pre-detonation.  A precursor to the damage is hot exhaust.  So, this is a reliable system to get the driver to pull over or “slow down” to protect the engine.  When the exhaust starts overheating the dash will indicate to the driver a “slow down” light.  On late cars a slow-down light can be accompanied with engine torque reduction.  As most Ferrari owners know, the engines and cats have been far more reliable than the individual components of the thermocouple systems.  Most slow down lights that I have encountered are due to a failing thermocouple or thermocouple ECU rather than a cat failing or engine malfunctions.

The F430 introduced an all-new powertrain system known as “E-Diff”, standing for electronic differential.  The system takes what we know as a standard limited slip differential that was automatically and mechanically controlled and takes full control through hydraulic pressure with electronic modulation.  This E-diff (like most things Ferrari) takes traction control to all new heights.  With the introduction of the E-Diff also came the steering wheel manateno.  The pilot could choose between different settings of electronic intervention for ABS, throttle, and traction control to meet road conditions and driver skill.  

The reason E-Diff is being discussed in a slow-down/thermocouple article is because Ferrari hydraulically tied this to another vital system on these cars: the F1 gearbox.  E-Diff shares the F1 reservoir, pump, accumulator, and valve block.  On a gated shift F430 these components are present solely to run E-Diff.  The combined demands of an active differential clutch, gearbox clutch, and automated shifting hydraulics can sometimes overcome the F1 system pump and accumulator.  Instead of creating yet another driver warning, Ferrari alerts the driver to cool-it with the slow-down light.  If there is an outright failure with a sensor there are other failure lamps that will come on along with some sort of limp mode.

Any developing issue with the E-Diff will first manifest with the slow-down light and start storing faults in the sand-alone E-Diff module and/or the gearbox module.  Our reader’s symptom of not being able to shift gears is the determining factor to start looking at the E-Diff for the cause of their slow-down light.  The fact that gears become unavailable leads to reason that the F1 pump is unable to keep up the track demands of gear shifts and E-Diff use.

Our scan tool would be able to hook up to the car and read stored and live data.  Aside from stored faults to guide our diagnosis, we’d be looking at gearbox parameters such as F1 pump run time and base pressure.  Just opening the door on an F430 will tell me much about the health of the F1 pump and related system.  The pump is programmed to run to prime the F1 system upon door opening to apply the clutch and achieve neutral for start-up.  A weak sounding pump or one that runs too long can be indicative of a failure.  Ferrari has bulletin **_(FNA29?)_** to monitor pump on-time as a percentage and determine if it is running too much.  An early issue while I was at the dealer with these cars under warranty were loose bleed screws on the hydraulic actuator.  These would allow internal fluid to bypass and use more circuit flow than needed from the pump.  Another suspected internal issue may be a worn F1 accumulator.  An accumulator that does not hold/maintain pressure anymore can overrun the pump and also start polluting the F1 system with metal.  This metal normally gets caught in one of two filters in the system.  I generally pull these screens and inspect as a first step in the diagnostic process for a pump running problem.  A pump that flat-out won’t run can also cause those symptoms and could easily be identified during the slow-down event with an ear.  The relay would be my first stop in this case.  Pumps that run too long generally wear out prematurely and would be replaced in conjunction with another component as a secondary failure.

Ferrari Cooling-System Service

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Ferrari Cooling-System Service

In the world of Ferrari maintenance, there arefierce debates about virtually everything, whether you’retalking about miles versus age when it comes to timingbelt changes or driving versus storing when it comes to collector cars. Of all the contentious topics, however, there’s onethat always stands out in my mind: that mysterious green fluid flowing through every Prancing Horse’s veins called coolant.

Without getting into the nitty-gritty, I’ll just say it sometimes seems like there’s more thoughtful debate around climate change than there is about cooling-system decay. There’s little need here to get into the subject of electrolysis and corrosion. For our purposes, let’s just says it’s something that happens and is impossible to prevent entirely, but the best way to slow it down is to service the cooling system every three years. This means flushing out all the old coolant and replacing with new. If you want to add a cooling-system conditioner such as Water Wetter, so much the better (though opinions vary widely there, as well).

To my knowledge, there’s not a single Ferrari that will not suffer some specific harm if its coolant isn’t flushed. The gearbox-to-cooling-system heat exchangers on F355s, 360s, and F430s, for example, are subject to settling debris and internal corrosion. The large metal radiators that keep frontmounted V12s cool can corrode inside and leak at the welds. If one of those weak welds makes contact with a speed bump, what was once just a green hue can easily become an active drip.

During a cooling-system service, it’s important to drain as much coolant as possible.That means all radiators must be drained (the mid-engine V8s havetwo, located up front), and here at San Francisco Motorsports we always pull theengine block drain and at least one of the major coolant hoses attached to theengine.

No matter how and where you drain, however, refilling is the most important part of the job. Because of this, I think using a vacuum filling system is a necessity. (Sorry, DIYers: This may be the one specialist tool you absolutely have to buy. Otherwise, bite the bullet have a shop so equipped do the job.) The main reason vacuum filling is so important is that there are many internal passages and high spots that can trap air so that it will never bleed out on own. Furthermore, the airbleed screws on F355s, Testarossas, and earlier cars cannot be trusted; they are often nearly welded closed [WHY?], and the soft pipes they are braised or pressed into can easily be damaged.

What happens if you have air trapped in the cooling system? Consider the 360. The Modena’s cooling fans do not run based on a sensor on the engine block, but based on a fan switch on the right front radiator. Air can easily be trapped in that exact spot, causing the fans to never run or to run too late— your only clue something’s wrong will come when you spot the engine-temperature gauge climbing into the red.

Coolant is only part of the coolingsystem story, however. On 1990s and earlier models, such as the 328, F355, 550, and Testarossa, electrical issues often cause problems. On high-amperage circuits such as blower motors, radiator fans, and fuel pump(s), I commonly find fuse-board failures, so when in doubt, test the fuses. The second most common reason cooling fans don’t work is poor wiring contact at the fan switch or a failed switch.

One problem that’s starting to crop up regularly is imbalanced cooling fan blades on F430s. This can be severe enough to vibrate the steering wheel when the car is idle. I’ve disassembled them to look for chips, pits, or even tire clag, and found nothing, and so far attempts to rebalance the blades have failed. The only cure appears to be replacing both fans.

Source: Forza Magazine - ShopTalk (November 2018 - By: Jesse Westlake)

Ferrari 550 Alarm Remote

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Ferrari 550 Alarm Remote

       I’ve been a FORZA subscriber for many years and always look forward to the “Shoptalk” column—until now, though, I’ve only read it for pleasure! I have a 550 Maranello I bought five years ago. It’s been completely trouble-free but now I have a problem I’m not sure how to solve. When I was playing with my 3-year-old son in the back yard, he somehow scooped the key and fob out of my pocket and tossed them into our pool. I fished them out quickly but it was too late for the fob, which hasn’t worked since. I’ve now been told I can’t simply replace it without “the red fob” or the alarm code, both of which apparently came with the car when new, neither of which I ever saw. I only had the one key and fob. My questions are as follows: 1) Is the red fob real, and if so do I need it? 2) Where do I get one and/or the code? 3) If I have the code, can I start the car without a replacement fob?

Great questions! The alarm systems found on the F355, 360, 456, 550, and 575M are generally reliable, easy to diagnose, and get the job done. The main downside of Ferrari’s alarms from this era is their focus on internal security, which makes servicing and programming remotes a long process and limits repair options.

The red remote is real—very real. (That said, on new replacement remotes, this red “master” remote is now black.) It is the gatekeeper for the trio of remotes, and is paired to the two black remotes, and no others, via a secret code.

When a new 550 Maranello was delivered, the client received a few very important items: two ignition keys, two black remotes, a secret code slip, and a red remote. It was suggested in the shop manual that the client put the code, one key, the red remote, and one black remote in a safe place. This is a great idea, at least until one of two not-sogood things happens: Either the car gets sold and these items are forgotten, or the batteries corrode in the red remote.

The red remote is required when your technician wants to program another set of remotes to the car for diagnostic purposes, with the intent of later programming the original remotes back to the car. Without the red remote, the black remotes will become permanently orphaned once a new set is introduced. Furthermore, the remote programming process, whether manual or assisted by the factory-approved SD2 diagnostic computer, requires the red remote to be activated as one of the first steps. No red remote? No remote programming.

A black remote that took a swim is not the end of the world if you have the other remotes on standby in the aforementioned safe place. However, Ferrari doesn’t sell individual replacements, only a full remote kit, which consists of three new remotes (one master and two slaves) and a new secret code.

Even if all the remotes are missing, all hope is not lost, as the car can still be started with the secret code. The method is outlined in the owner’s manual, and involves entering the code by turning the key in the ignition, waiting, and turning it some more, all while monitoring the dashboard. While it’s a bit cumbersome, this process will disable the alarm and allow the car to be driven until a new remote kit can be purchased and programmed.

Since you say you don’t have the code, things get a little dicey. Ferrari keeps on file all codes that have ever been supplied for your car’s VIN. If all the remotes used on the car since new have come through the dealer network, you can get the code from Ferrari by supplying proof of ownership and paying a fee. But if a past owner bought a used factory remote or turned to the aftermarket, Ferrari will have no record and won’t be able to supply a code.

If this happens, you’re stuck staring down the rabbit hole of buying a complete alarm system—and as you can imagine, factory replacements aren’t cheap!—or trying to hack the original. There are vendors out there who claim they can “jailbreak” the factory alarm and supply cloned remotes, but I have seen both success and costly failure down that path. You can’t simply remove the factory equipment because the car won’t start without it, and while there’s a kit available that bypasses the system and allows the car to start, then you won’t have a functioning alarm. Whenever possible, I prefer to stay with the factory setup.

You can’t simply remove the factory
alarm equipment because the car won’t
start without it.

Any time you buy a new factory remote kit, the remotes need to be programmed. This is easy with an SD2, but there’s also a passive way to do it [IS THIS ALSO OUTLINED IN THE OWNER’S MANUAL?]. Using a series of key cycles, choreographed on/offs to put the remotes in programming mode, and button pushing, you’ll have three brand-new remotes programmed to your car and its new code.

For anyone who buys a new remote kit and still has the original code and red remote, be sure to keep them. This way you’ll be able to program “away” from the new set, and back to the original, if diagnosis is ever needed.

Finally, just like Ferrari recommended in the first place, take the secret code, the master remote, and one slave remote, and put them in a safe place—and don’t forget about them! The factory recommends replacing the remotes’ batteries every six months, which seems excessive to me. Instead, I recommend bringing all three remotes to your shop during your car’s annual service for battery replacement.

Source: Forza Magazine - ShopTalk (April 2019 - By: Jesse Westlake)