Trucks Of A Lifetime: 2003 Ford F350 Crew Cab

One of the ‘For Sale’ pictures from 2015

LT Dan’s excellent piece recently on his long serving 1996 Dodge Ram got me motivated to keep resume writing the stories of the trucks of my life. (Following my 19721986 and 1995 Ford truck stories)

With a baby on the way and 9 trouble free years with the 1995 F250 4X4, it was time for a new truck. Once again, for the 4th time, spring was what got me motivated to find a new truck. It was possibly the busiest and most chaotic time of my life and how this truck ended up with me reflected on that.

The much derided 6.0 Litre Ford Diesel was about 3 years old at this time. At that point, it wasn’t quite as disliked as it became. This was the “new” Ford Diesel, quieter and more powerful than the venerable and well loved 7.3L Power Stroke it replaced. I put little thought into what I wanted: Crew Cab, F350, 4X4, Diesel. And air conditioning, for the first time in my life. If I’m getting a Diesel, I better get the newer engine because why not. No time to research that, no sir. I’ll just get the new model. What could go wrong?

I had a budget, and those trucks at 2-3 years old were tough to fit in my budget. I tracked one down locally, called about it and it was what I wanted. XLT (no carpet, air/cruise/tilt), 4X4, Diesel, 8 foot box, White and 70,000 km. I couldn’t make time to go see it. No problem; the salesman knew our company and offered to bring it by. I had a quick look, and I cannot recall if I even drove it. It ticked all the boxes and I made a deal in the parking lot. It was a time of 10-12 hour days, lots of travel, and general chaos in our rapidly expanding business. Taking time to buy a truck was a nuisance more than anything and not as enjoyable as it had been in the past.

Two weeks later after a long business trip I finally got around to picking it up.  It was a little rougher than I remembered. Turned out it was an out of Province truck, from Alberta which was going through a major oil boom at that time, and trucks were being bought, driven hard, then sold regularly. I definitely did not set out to buy an Alberta oil field truck, but some investigation showed that’s what I had.

The first clues were the front shocks being totally shot which I noticed when I installed my camper. Next up was the sway bar links and bushings, and a host of other clues which showed this truck had had some hard living. The 6.0L showed its true colours early on. Three turbos later the local dealer was pretty good at changing them, all on warranty. The last failed turbo also came with a busted exhaust ‘Y’ pipe at the back, and some other issues which necessitated the cab coming off. I saw it at the dealer on the floor, with the box attached and the cab high up on a hoist. It wasn’t the only one there either . . . . All in all that cost me nothing though.

However, other than undoing the oil field wear and tear and some clean up, it was a good truck. It was quiet(er) for it’s time than most diesels, and pulled a big trailer just fine. The fuel mileage was decent, and the horror stories of EGR coolers, Oil coolers, injectors, FICMs, High pressure oil pumps, head bolts and every other bad thing continued to elude me. I changed oil, I continued to put front end parts in it, and it worked great for me. I brought my baby daughter home from the hospital in it, and took her on many long rides on logging roads to get her to sleep. It was capable on and off road.  It returned decent 20-ish MPG, and appeared to be impossible to overheat regardless of the load, the mountain or the temperature. The interior was comfortable, functional and easy to keep clean with no carpet. Basically, everything worked, and stayed working.

I added some full length checker plate running boards which helped to protect it. Bug deflector, stainless fender trim, rocker panel stainless trim and new wheels and tires cleaned it up nicely. I kept it clean and tidy as I always did, and it was a good truck. I was super busy at work, and used it for a long daily commute as well as commuting to other locations for our company and general business purposes. It towed boats, skid steers, cars, travel trailers, trucks, tractors and even the odd airplane in pieces. It was a familiar sight on Sundays at the snowmobile areas, and I spent many nights on the back roads with that truck for the volunteer Search and Rescue unit I belong to.

Back at the truck after a long, difficult night on the mountain

A change in my life came along in 2010. With the end of my marriage, I was becoming a single dad every other week. The crew cab proved again to be a good choice with a 3 year old and a large dog and only one vehicle. The truck was the grocery getter, commuter, camping/sledding/fishing vehicle and in short was all I had. The mileage continued to climb and by 2013 it was showing over 280,000 KMs. Still nothing major. Brakes and ball joints and tires and batteries, the life of the diesel truck owner. The long wheel base with front and rear leaf springs gave it an excellent ride, the best of any truck I have owned before or since. I added a leaf in the front, and one in the back and it was still very smooth, and handled reasonably well for an 8000 pound truck. I got a 28’ travel trailer and the truck barely noticed the 7500 lbs even with my ATV on the back and kayaks on the roof rack.

One of the first trips with the trailer.  The camping loads only got larger, and larger.

My dad sold and serviced Webasto diesel engine heaters as a part of his business and this truck got one in the first year. For those not familiar, the heater runs on diesel from the main tank. It fires a small furnace and heats and recirculates engine coolant through a heat exchanger. It’s a compact unit we usually mount under the driver’s feet on the frame. I can’t help but credit some of the (relative-for-a- six-litre) longevity from never having a cold start. I would set the timer at night and every morning when I started it the engine temperature was about 160F. It worked flawlessly and was great as a secondary heat source in very cold temperatures (Calgary, Alberta in February once at -40).

By 2011 I had, and still have someone new in my life and although we’re not “married” in the sense of having a wedding, we all but are married. We were now a family of 5 and the crew cab was perfect for all of us for camping and travel. In 2013, on a trip to Vancouver for a concert I commented to my wife on the way home that I was getting exceptionally good mileage but with a lack of power. Here it comes – the first real engine problem. A colleague had the same problem, and sent me to his mechanic. Sure enough, it was the high pressure oil pump which drives the injectors. The EGR cooler was leaking when it was apart, so we should do that. And while we’re there, let’s do the oil cooler. $4000 later I drove it home. Pulling away from a stop light – on the way home from picking it up – the truck suddenly jumped, for lack of a better term and my head hit the door frame as it lurched sideways. It continued to run, but with some blue smoke out the back. Long story short, the new High pressure pump worked so well it blew the guts out of one injector, which blew a literal crater in the #8 cylinder’s piston.

It still ran OK, no real difference other than the blue smoke. I made plans to replace it and found a used engine from a wrecker from a burned truck, with 120,000 kms on it. Common wisdom was to pull the cab to replace the engine, however that wasn’t feasible at our family’s shop. Instead, we would pull it out the front. Common wisdom also said that was a terrible idea, and it really was. For instance, it required taking everything off the front, including the bumper, and even disconnecting the steering linkage. Nonetheless, two stubborn mechanics (being my Dad and I) – one more stubborn than the other (him) – got it done after 3 long hot days in July and the new engine worked well. I considered pushing it off a cliff at some point during that 100 degree weekend but kept pushing along.  We put the new parts from the old engine on the replacement, and did the upgrade to cylinder head studs instead of the failure prone bolts prior to install.

 The engine practically fell out the front after dismantling half the truck

After that, it was fine. My Dad pulled the damage piston and bent rod out of the old engine, installed new and we did the head gaskets and studs on that engine as well. I eventually sold it and recouped some of my money. Unfortunately, the fellow I sold it to left it in the back of his truck and the engine was subsequently stolen, which is a bizarre thing to steal. Especially when we saw it weighed 1100 lbs on the hook when I picked it up.

2 years and 70,000 kms later I saw another blue cloud of smoke on the way home one day. Then it got worse. And people started giving me the one finger salute by the time I got home, particularly those in convertibles. I took it to a friend of mine and he diagnosed at least one bad injector. He pulled them out and found one failed, and two on the way. Eight new injectors ended up being $5500.00 and signalled the end for this truck. Despite the engine replacement, and the final kick in the teeth I couldn’t fault it too much. It was my only vehicle for 9 years, and suffered through a lot of use and abuse. It did exactly what I needed it to for over a quarter million kilometres and while in the last two years it cost me some (a lot) money, it always got me home.

Looks like a firewood expedition, maybe trail clearing

I tried to trade it in and got the same reaction as my previous two trade in attempts – no thank you, please don’t ask again. Especially a 6.0L diesel with 350,000 kms on the clock. As was my custom, I kept it insured and moved it to back up duties. It took a few months but the right buyer came along and drove it away, quite happy. Happy, until the starter went when he took the truck to go mountain biking that exact night. I felt bad, and got him a starter and ran it out to him.   After that, he never looked back. I saw it a year or two ago, with somewhere north of 550,000 kms on the clock and he said if it blows up, he’s buying another one.   Good for him. Me, I was done with 6.0L diesels.  Then oddly enough in some corruption of the Curbside Classic Effect,  the night I finished this post I just saw it again in a small town nearby, still working hard and looking good sporting a new headache rack on the box.  It was a productive relationship, not as long as some we’ve heard about recently but the truck did what I needed to do, every day and looked pretty good doing it.  The next truck was the same but different in a lot of good ways.