Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt, The Strenuous Life

My excuse for not posting is my recent work on our 1997 F-150 Ford pick up, the oldest operating vehicle we own. We used it a normal amount in the early years, but now we drive it less than 3000 miles a year, usually for hauling gravel, refuse, plywood and other heavy loads, and for getting back and forth to work in snow storms.  We have owned the truck since new, taking delivery late in March 1996. It has just under 70,000 miles on it. We factory ordered it, equipping it with the optional 4-wheel anti-lock brakes, 4-wheel drive, limited slip low range rear end, and the five speed manual transmission. I usually change the oil annually, but this time I slipped down to 18 months. For years I have added coolant. It quickly was lost, returning to its new normal level in the coolant recovery tank. After I filled it, I caught whiffs of coolant, but could not find a leak. Recently the truck was so low on coolant, it over-heated and knocked, so I decided it was time to find the leak. I added a Schrader valve to a spare radiator cap, and added air until the coolant system reached 16 psi. I scouted all the likely sources of leaks, including the water pump weep hole, using a mirror, flashlight and appropriate bifocals. I found none.

This was cause for alarm because the only place for the water to be going was in the engine. A few minutes of web research illustrated that unexplained coolant loss was, indeed serious, costing many owners their engines. The 4.2 liter engines built in 1997 through 1999 were failing due to the piston coming up on water, bending crank shafts or connecting rods and ruining engines. One adviser mentioned ceasing operation immediately when water loss occurred and having your truck towed in for repairs. Ford, through their Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs), advised changing the lower intake manifold gaskets and the front cover gasket. They even had a recall for the front cover gasket, which fails on every truck, but it ended in 2001! I received a bunch of recall notices, but not that one. Here I was treating the leak as a common annoyance, adding water for three or four years. What a fool!

Then things got interesting. Of course, we stopped driving the truck in preparation for the repair, giving me time to buy the gaskets and other parts I needed. A few weeks later, the engine stopped rotating when I tried to start the truck to move it into the garage for the repair. The stall was temporary; rotation resumed, the engine started and the check engine light came on. Oh oh. A quick scan showed #3 cylinder had misfired. My immediate thought was I started it once too often and had ruined the engine. I cleared the fault and it didn’t return. The engine sounded fine, so I presumed I had caused no harm and decided to proceed with the repair.

I’ll tell you about the repair and the aftermath in my next posts if you’re interested!


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