Tech Q & A


I have had a problem with some of our Ford F-150 5.4Ls ejecting spark plugs. It’s caused some serious head-scratching around the shop and a lot of aggrevation. Any insights? Gilmer Lewis, Boise, ID

A common and costly repair issue with that engine. There are only five threads at the bottom to retain the spark plug in the aluminum head – and the OEM 100,000-mile plugs are multi-piece. So the plugs can be ejected from the engine or broken off during removal. Also if the spark plug is over-tightened, even one time, the weakened thread can give way when the engine’s running. Ford’s has a repair kit available so you can repair the stripped or missing threads inside the cylinder head instead of replacing the cylinder head. Time-Sert 5553 ($450) thread repair kit is another option for the engine repair specialist. The steel Time-Sert is longer than the original threads thus providing a much greater margin of reliability.



Is there a truck accessory store or company in the Tuscaloosa/Northport area that you guys use? One that stocks a great deal of the items and/or add-on parts that you have been dealing with in the magazine and web articles? I want to build up my truck this year, but operating out of catalogs and web pages is frustrating. Perhaps you know of an upcoming show where I could go and see what I want and how to do it. Any ideas from you would be greatly appreciated. J. Skelton, Hoover, AL

Truck Supply & Outfitters (trucksupply& here in Tuscaloosa carries just about every pickup accessory you could want and they have great customer service. As for shows, the NTEA Work Truck Show March 6-8 in Indianapolis (Indiana Convention Center) is a very good trade show to attend to see pickup-related products – as will our own ProPickup Truck Expo in Dallas (Aug. 23-25) at the Dallas Convention Center.



We run a number of Ford Ranger pickups in our landscaping business. They are a good alternative to our Ford and Chevy full-size pickups for a number of uses. I just learned from my dealer that Ford is going to discontinue the Ranger in the U.S., but continue to sell them abroad. Why? Stockton Adkins, Cleveland, TN

In a word, volume. The compact truck market in this country has dropped off dramatically. In 2000 the compact truck market represented eight percent of North American auto sales, last year it accounted for only two percent. Annual Ranger sales dropped from 350,000 to 55,000 over that same period. When a truck like Ranger drops below 100,000 units a year the volume will not support the brand. While the compact truck market has declined in this country, it’s booming abroad with the Ranger likely to become Ford Motor Company’s top seller in Australia in 2012.



We have several 2000-2002 Ram 1500 pickups in our fleet and all have cracked dashes. We want to keep the trucks in service for a couple more years. What is the best way to repair the cracked tops? S. Martin, Wilmington, NC

There is really no way to repair the OEM dash itself; they get brittle and weak with age, causing them to crack and fall apart. Your best alternative is installing an overlay like those offered by DashTop( and others. It is a relatively simple process that makes the OEM dash look like new – keeping your sunglasses and notebooks from ending up inside the A/C. A new dash top also improves re-sale and trade-in value.



We use CBs on our construction sites and when we go hunting. But two we just installed aren’t performing very well. What’s the right way to ground the systems? Bob Harrison, Stamford, TX

According to Wislon, after you have verified that the antenna is properly grounded to the chassis or frame (not the battery), the next step is to include an additional ground from the chassis to the radio to a good metal ground within the vehicle. (Note: This is not the power ground, but a separate chassis ground). To do this loosen a screw from the side or back of the radio, connect a wire to this point and re-tighten the screw. Attach the other end of the wire to a known good ground. If a power amplifier is used, it should also have a separate chassis as described above, installed. Remember to keep both the radio and the amplifier ground wires short as possible.



I was looking to replace a couple of our full-sized ½-tons in our fleet and could not find one on any dealer’s lot with a manual transmission. We have always had manuals in our trucks. Why have they fallen out of favor? John Bell, Enid, OK

John, you are correct, the days of the manual pickup transmission in the half-tons has almost come to an end (they are still available on Toyota’s Tundra.) There are three main reasons that manufacturers have discontinued manuals: 1) The demand was so low it wasn’t economically prudent for the manufacturers to keep building them; 2) automatics have gotten so good that manuals no longer have a fuel mileage advantage; 3) and even when manuals were offered, automatics were typically rated to tow heavier loads. Fortunately the manufacturers still offer manuals in heavy-duty pickups.