COAL: Stormy Relationship – How Long Will A Ford F-150 Last (Without Transmission Fluid)?

When my 1969 F-100 finally accumulated more problems than I was willing to remedy (and which rendered it inoperable), I started poking around the local area for a newer, but still basic, plain old work truck. I eventually found and purchased a truck, but the relationship would turn out to be a stormy one…

The story of our family’s 42-year history with the F-100 is documented here–with all those memories, it was really hard making the decision to move on. However, I simply didn’t have bandwidth to take on a full restoration, and even a quicker “remuddling” project to get the truck reliable and safe again wasn’t that palatable. So I started looking for a safe and reliable replacement.

Options within my budget ($2,000) were limited and essentially boiled down to balancing the amount of rust on the truck against its mileage. I ended up with a 1995 F-150 4×4 with a 3″ lift kit and copious rust for $1,700. It also had a mere 112,000 miles, spotless cab interior and a DMI bumper hitch (perfect for pulling hay racks). While I would have preferred a manual, its EO4D automatic transmission sat behind what was perhaps Ford’s best engine ever, the 300 c.i.d. (4.9L) “Big Six,” making 150hp and 260 ft.-lb. torque. 1996 was the last year the I6 engine was used in production vehicles.

Things unfortunately didn’t get off to such a smooth start. The PO had mentioned the truck would often stall when put in reverse (and indeed, it did just that on the test drive). Some googling before I purchased revealed this to be a common problem, easily set right by dropping the transmission pan and installing a new filter. The truck also pulled and vibrated badly when the brakes were applied, and I figured a set pads would quickly set things right. Well, that was true enough, but the problem actually turned out to be caused by rust on the caliper rails causing the pads to hang up, which in turn had badly scored the rotors. Being a 4wd truck, this meant disassembling everything down to the axle shaft and pressing the rotors off the hubs. The first side took about seven hours(!), the second, with the benefit of experience, took about two. Additionally, the front gas tank leaked like a sieve, so off came the bed for a junkyard tank replacement (pic is from later, when the rear tank started leaking, natch).

The other big frustration was that the truck was literally eaten up with rust–every trip underneath (and they were frequent) resulted in showers of rust flakes in my eyes, mouth and ears. After numerous pressure washings and enough miles on our pothole-laden, teeth-jarring Illinois roads, it finally got where I could work under the truck without *too* much rust falling in my face. The lesson I eventually learned was that I should have opted for a higher-mileage, lower-rust vehicle! In my defense, I am from the South, where this kind of rust is generally not a problem.

The lift conversion had also not been well done, and it took repeated trips underneath before getting the undercarriage to stop shifting around (with resultant scary changes to steering inputs while driving!) due to improperly sized bolts being used to attach the lift brackets. I eventually got things reasonably sorted and put the truck to work hauling hay and picking up construction materials for our perpetual farmhouse remodeling project. The COLD a/c was a welcome change from the F-100’s “two-sixty” a/c (roll down two windows and drive sixty mph). The ‘Big Six’ was easily the most reliable part of the truck. The 4wd also came in handy when doing work out in the pasture where the 2wd F-100 had often gotten stuck.

But while the truck was back on jack stands Yet Again (failing U-joints this time), a tornado struck our farm and destroyed part of my large machine shed.

This was actually the second time the rear window had been broken out of the truck–the first was caused by the high school kids I hired to help with the siding tear-off on the house. They were blindly tossing stuff into the bed, and sure enough, one of them put a board right through the glass. In this case, along with all the tiny pieces of tempered glass, the storm dumped torrents of rain and debris into the cab. *sigh* Another trip to the U-pull-it and a few sweaty hours replacing the glass and cleaning up the mess eventually got that back in order.

I had owned the truck about two years at this point, and wasn’t feeling much charity toward it–it was definitely turning out to be a high-maintenance (literally) relationship. One morning when making my monthly landfill run, I noticed a pretty clean (with virtually *no* rust!) F-250 Powerstroke for sale in the tiny town of Victoria, IL, and stopped to check it out on my way back home. I ended up making an impulse purchase (saw on Saturday, drove home on Monday), because I was simply fed up with the F-150 at this point. The F-250 has a few minor issues itself, but has been a much more reliable vehicle so far.

Since the rear fuel tank on the F-150 had started leaking, and the front tank fuel level sender wasn’t sending, the truck got parked for a while. As seen several photos up above, the bed eventually came off again for another junkyard tank replacement.  I also pulled the front tank pump and cleaned the contacts, which put it back in working order (for a while). At this point, Son Number One had started gutting the house where he and his new bride were living in downstate Illinois, so I decided to trailer the truck down for his use in hauling debris and new materials. He was quite happy to have use of it! As I left for home, I reminded him that the transmission leaked and he would need to check the fluid level every few fill-ups (cue ominous music).

Well, the short of it is that he forgot, and a few days later rented a tow-behind construction lift for a video shoot (he’s a filmmaker by trade). The shoot went fine and the truck did great pulling the lift through the hilly roads in rural southern Illinios–at least until the EO4D ran dry. Bereft of fluid, the transmission ceased to transmit and they ended up stranded by the side of the road miles from town after dark. After spending the night in the truck(!), Son’s Father-in-Law brought a trailer and hauled them back home; I recovered the truck a few weeks later. I seriously considered repairing it Yet Once Again–it would not cost that much to replace the EO4D with a junkyard unit–but a replacement would be of unknown provenance and require several weekends to do with my current schedule. “A man’s got to know his limitations,” and this truck had clearly taught me where mine are. You can only put so much lipstick on a pig, and I’m outta lipstick. Anyone need eight extra quarts of transmission fluid?