COAL: 1986 Ford Taurus LX – Taming The Bull, With Dad

Does my bull have a temper?

In between my March 26 update and today’s post, I attempted to take the Taurus out for a spin so it could stretch its legs. Unfortunately, I was rewarded with a coolant leak and an apparently erratic temperature gauge. Those issues convinced me to put the bull back in its stable, where it basically sat until last week. That’s when I finally had the parts and tools I needed to fix what ailed it.

Long story short: The Taurus no longer gets heated and the cooling system seems just fine. However, the 34 year old still needs a bit more TLC. And it seems my father and I have reached a new understanding when it comes to working on cars together.

In between my Rock Auto and Harbor Freight orders, I purchased some other things that needed to be replaced on the Taurus. First up was the hood struts, which had completely worn out to the point of being useless. Fortunately they were relatively simple to replace. And now I have a hood that stays open by itself.

A blown license plate bulb needed to be swapped out too. Instead of replacing it with a regular bulb I decided to go for two LED lights. I hadn’t really considered doing that until some conversations with CC’s own Daniel Stern turned me on to the idea. Dan deserves a shout out for his assistance. At this time, all the other exterior and interior lights work. And aside from the headlights, I will probably switch to LED bulbs when needed. As you may have already guessed, I am pleased with the license plate bulbs. The picture doesn’t really show how much brighter the LED is when compared to the regular bulb, but the difference was stark.

And here is the end result. Aside from the brighter light, the LED units emit far less heat. After about five minutes the old bulb became pretty hot. That doesn’t happen with the replacements. Presumably, that means I won’t have to replace them for a very long time.

I also purchased some reading material to help guide me through the thermostat replacement, and for future projects. You might think getting more than one of the guides is excessive, but each book contains slightly different information. For example, the Taurus DIY guide and the Haynes manual both recommend putting RTV sealant around the thermostat gasket but the other two don’t mention it at all. I decided to use sealant and it seems to have worked out.

May 23 turned out to be the perfect day to get started with my first wrenching experience. A rainy Saturday in May prevents lawn work from getting in the way of doing other things. Plus, it was nice and cool out, which made working in the garage a bit more tolerable.

I originally envisioned using dye to check for cooling system leaks but opted to rent a pressure tester kit instead. I don’t know if any other auto parts retailers handle it this way, but at Advance Auto Parts, you basically just buy the kit at full price and the store registers it as a return when you’re done. Overall it was a completely painless process and I’m glad I went this route.

Before the test I assumed the leak was coming from a heater hose or the thermostat housing itself. Turns out the hose clamp just needed to be tightened. My original goal was to replace the upper and lower radiator hoses but they seemed completely fine so I left them alone. I think the previous owner might have replaced them last year.

It was a bit of a pain to get to the housing, as there were a bunch of wires and fluid lines in front of it. But once we figured out that the bracket holding them all together could be unbolted they were easier to deal with.

And that was extremely helpful when it became apparent the lower bolt wasn’t going to be removed without a fight. Unfortunately, we ended up stripping it. Not too badly but enough to make it impossible to be removed by a standard socket wrench.

The difficulty involved with removing the bolt ignited some tension between the two individuals working on the bull. Up to that point dad exhibited a surprising amount of impatience with the pace of my work. This was my first wrenching experience so naturally I was being cautious while trying to work through things. It was really disheartening to have him be so disgruntled at me just because I hadn’t done any type of wrenching before. And it’s not like he had anything else to do. Even before the pandemic hit his schedule wasn’t exactly full.

But to place the blame entirely on him for things boiling over would sugarcoat my actions leading up to the somewhat stripped bolt. Whenever I became unsure of what I was doing I went straight to my phone to ask my mechanically inclined friends for some advice, as they regularly work on cars. I’d then bounce their suggestions off dad. It turns out he is more experienced with automotive repair than I knew. The signs were all there too; the Taurus sat on ramps he used for cars long since junked. But I never witnessed him work on a car in my lifetime, so it didn’t really occur to me that the knowledge I was seeking could be found right in front of me. To be fair, he didn’t exactly volunteer this information, but at this point in our relationship, I should have realized the need to be more explicit with my questioning.

By complete coincidence I happened to watch an episode of Community called “Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” later that night. Here’s some relevant dialogue from that episode:

“Do they like each other now?”

“Are you kidding me? They can’t stand being in the same room. I also don’t think they can handle being apart. And I think they just found a way to avoid doing either. And that’s the best most fathers and sons can do.”

With Saturday now in the rear view mirror, it was time to regroup and finish the job. The first task involved cleaning up the area where the housing would be affixed to the engine. Some brake cleaner made quick work of all that gunk.

Putting the new housing and thermostat in wasn’t a difficult process but the problematic bolt wouldn’t cooperate. The original plan was to place it in one of the upper holes. For whatever reason it didn’t like its new accommodations so we relented and put it back where it’s lived for so long. We also opted to replace the two heater hoses that connect to the thermostat. I purchased other hoses too, but since none were leaking or looking like they needed replacement we left them alone.

With everything back in place, it was time to think about the coolant. I decided to flush the system out. My inexperience meant the first drain was messier than it needed to be so by this point I had the procedure down pat. Essentially I just followed the directions and drove around blasting the heat each time.

Thankfully, the flush seems to have done the trick, and the system has fresh coolant now. Although the older coolant didn’t look terribly bad.

With the cooling system under control it was time to give the car another wash. I’m a big fan of this particular soap, as it works excellently on the Focus.

I’ll need to do a more extensive wash in the future, including using clay bar and wax. But for now this wash did about as well as can be expected. To my delight, the vast majority of the scratches disappeared once the paint got wet, which means they didn’t penetrate the clearcoat. At some point I intend to get an estimate from a body shop on what they’d charge to get rid of them. Although I’m pretty confident I can do it myself.

I also cleaned the glass all around. Oddly enough, the inside glass was filthy. Not anymore!

After the detailing work I decided to take the Taurus for a very minor victory lap. The bull and I went to the Poughkeepsie waterfront, right on the banks of the Hudson. I fully intended to get better shots of the Taurus but it started raining.

The rain stopped by the time I got home, so I parked the car on level ground and went about checking the transmission fluid. This is something I should have done earlier because clearly more needed to be added.

Plus, I had already seen the seepage coming from the pan. One of my next steps will involve a top off while I decide whether or not to have our mechanic tackle this stuff.

There’s more fluid leakage too. Power steering fluid is definitely leaking and there is probably a minor oil leak, although I’m less sure about the latter.

Something is also leaking onto the subframe.

Additionally, the struts are worn out and need to be replaced. And there’s a whole host of minor issues too, like a non-functional windshield washer pump. But the bull is worth it. Quarantine life would be far less interesting if I didn’t have the Taurus. I think dad and I are on better footing too. If I tackle some of the more serious stuff in the future I have no doubt he’ll be a willing partner in whatever I end up doing.