One of my hobbies is acquiring free or cheap cars, and either fixing them up and using them or selling them to someone that needs them. This is not a full time thing for me, being an engineer these days, but as a former mechanic, it’s something that I like to do.
I do far too much driving for my day job to use these secondary vehicles as a daily driver. I usually have a newer car to use as my primary vehicle (for example, my 2012 “Datsun” pictured), whose job is to get me to work without incident, and not drink too much gas doing it. However, this hobby can sometimes get me a decent second car that offers some utility that my primary car doesn’t, and hopefully, on the cheap. I do fix these project cars right, but try not to get deeper into one, than what I can sell it for. It’s not really about making money, as this isn’t my day job, but I do like getting a car to someone that needs it, or getting use out of a utility vehicle for my various home and car projects.
So that brings me to my current project, which I have been working on periodically for the past year, a 1992 Ford Explorer XLT. Purchased from a coworker and friend of mine for less than the cost of the four new Goodyear Wranglers it came with; it is a well equipped, but high mileage vehicle that was sitting unused in a parking garage in downtown Wilmington, Delaware for the past 5 years.
The Exploder, as it’s affectionately known, was their family hauler for many years, until time caught up with it, and it was parked in favor of newer Ford SUVs. It did however reward their family with 269,000 miles of service on it’s original engine and transmission. Leaking power steering hoses and bad u-joints in it’s Dana-manufactured twin traction beam front end, are what finally caused them to park it. On the up side, it came with 4 new tires, working 4 wheel drive, a good running 4.0L V6, a limited slip 8.8 inch rear dif with 3.73 gears, converted manual locking front hubs (used to be automatic), and the towing package (but only a bumper hitch).
Since acquiring my latest project, I fear that I broke the cardinal rule of putting more into it then I can get back out of it. But I did so thinking that I’d get some use out of this one, as I don’t currently have another truck or SUV. And for the brief period of time that I had the Explorer roadworthy, I did use it for several runs to the local home improvement store and even used it to move some heavy logs around on my property. As shown in the pictures, it had quite a lot of rot on the body and spring perches from frequent use on the Delaware beaches, all of which had to be repaired to pass Pennsylvania’s state inspection.
I am an amateur when it comes to bodywork, but I used the Explorer to practice my skills. I welded in two new “dog legs” (the section of the rocker panel around the rear doors and wheel arches), and fabricated my own driver’s side rocker, and several other patches underneath out of 16 gauge steel. A little plastic filler, some sanding and a rattle-can paint job, and I think it came out halfway decent for a beater truck.
I also cut out and replaced both rotted front spring perches, put in new front coils, all four shocks, axle bushings, front axle u-joints, steering box (junkyard replacement), power steering pump, all new brake lines and hoses, removed the non-functioning rear ABS module, full tune up, and replaced the valve cover gaskets. I successfully got it through the state and emissions inspection, and it drives well for an Explorer with that kind of miles on it. On the downside, the AC still doesn’t work, and it has a leak around the windshield that I didn’t get to yet.
Now on to my conundrum. After getting a few hundred miles out of it, I am thinking that the transmission is shot. While I’m sure moving the logs in the picture above didn’t help, the overdrive didn’t work from the moment I started driving it. This could be a stuck solenoid, but at that mileage, it could be a burned up band, and the A4LD trans is known for grenading its OD clutch hub, among other things. It also starts puking transmission fluid out of the bellhousing when it gets hot (after driving it for a few miles). It’s either the front pump seal, torque converter, or something that requires removal of the trans. It may be that the trans is getting hot from the OD slipping and fluid gets pushed past the seals. Regardless, it’s serious enough that it lost a couple of quarts of fluid the last time I drove it.
So what should I do? I didn’t, and really still don’t feel like putting more money into this little truck, but I’m pretty far along to call it quits also. It doesn’t look too bad, but it’s still a rusty old Explorer with high miles, and I’m not the type to try to sell a problem to someone else. I could probably come close to break even if I parted it out, but that’s just as much work as swapping out the trans for another, or attempting a rebuild. I’ve never rebuilt an auto trans before, the C4 in my 65 Mustang was going to be the first one I attempt, but should I experiment with the A4LD in this one? What do you guys think?