Gas Guessing
Q:
I don't trust the gas gauge on my '93 Dodge Ram pickup. It's hard to tell just how much gas I have because the gauge seems to hang in one place for a long time and then drop like a rock. The truck is two-wheel drive and has the 5.2L V-8 and automatic transmission. I've come very close to running out of gas several times, but I don't like to refill more often than I need to, either. Does this sound like a fuel gauge or a sending unit problem?
John Lehmann
Flagstaff, AZ

A: Your problem is most likely a poor ground for the fuel gauge and the sending unit. Dodge encountered similar problems with many '91-'93 fullsize Rams and '91-'94 Dodge Dakotas. Service bulletin TSB 8-58-93 addresses the problem. Some of the Dakotas also had defective sending units. Use your trip odometer as a backup to the fuel gauge. Determine the poorest fuel economy your truck gets and multiply that by the tank capacity. Knowing that your actual mileage is better, when you approach the magic number, head for a gas station.

Suspect Injection
Q:
I drive a '92 fullsize Ford Bronco with the small V-8 and the automatic transmission. The Bronco is very good on gas, but given the ever-escalating prices, I don't drive it on a daily basis. I drive it most in the summer when I go camping or tow my ski boat. It has been running rather rough and I don't know if that is due to the limited use or some other factor.

By rough, I mean it hesitates. Power application isn't super-smooth, but it's not lurching bad, either. In my attempts to make it run better I've replaced the spark plugs and installed a new EGR valve. I replaced the fuel and air filters. I didn't notice much if any improvement, so I ran a couple cans of fuel injector cleaner through the system. That didn't do much, either. Is there some other simple thing I might have missed? Or could this roughness be related to having more than 120,000 miles on the engine (even though not too many of those miles have been put on lately)? Would the combination of lots of miles followed by periods of relative inactivity contribute to the problem?
Ron Sethers
Rockford, IL

A:
We would suspect dirty injectors as the likely cause of your rough-riding problem. Given the mileage and off-and-on usage, it certainly wouldn't hurt to have the injectors professionally cleaned. A professional fuel-injection system cleaning costs many times more that the cleaner-in-a-can products, but you get what you pay for.

While you're having the injectors cleaned, it would be wise to have the MAP sensor, TSP, and EVAP system checked. If the injectors had substantial deposits, it would be good to check the idle air bypass. There is a Ford service bulletin (TSB 91-27-7) that deals with idle air bypasses. Ask the technician if the amount of deposits in the injectors might warrant installing a bypass upgrade kit. Problems with the MAP sensor could manifest themselves in the form of electrical irregularities. A rough idle and hesitation are symptoms of MAP sensor problems. There is a Ford service bulletin (TSB 91-14-49) dealing with this situation. All the sitting around could lead to a sticky thermostat. A malfunctioning thermostat will affect the temperature sensor and cause rough running. Thermostat driveability problems are covered in service bulletin TSB 93-24-8.

More Power 318
Q:
I have an '84 Dodge Ram pickup with a 318 and an automatic transmission. I would like to get more power out of the 318 without spending a great deal of money. I plan to take the engine apart and completely rebuild, so I figure I might as well add some horsepower while I'm at it. I plan to use the truck as an occasional daily driver, but mostly for weekends and shows. I'd like to be able to hold my own against any Fords or Chevys I might meet at a stoplight. Your suggestions would be most appreciated.
Tim Clinert
Chicago

A: You're dealing with a fair amount of weight and not a whole lot of cubic inches. You've also got a stock compression ratio of 8.6:1. It would be great if you could start with a larger engine such as a 360 or a 440, but if you insist on using the 318, it's a venerable old engine. It lasted so many years because it was a good design to start with. The type of modifications you choose may or may not be emissions-legal in your area. Trucks often get by easier than passenger cars in the smog-regulation department. As the fine print always says, check your local listings.

The basic thing you need to do is move more air/fuel mixture through the engine. You need to get more in and exhaust it more efficiently. Updating your cylinder heads could be worth about 30 hp. Find a set of later high-swirl cylinder heads. These heads appeared on the 318 in '86 and on the 360 in '88. It would be ideal if you could find a pair of 360 heads from a '90 or '91 Dodge pickup. These heads have bigger valves and ports. The casting numbers to look for are 4448308 or 4772576. If you can't find a nice set of used heads, you can buy new ones from Mopar Performance [(248) 969-1690, www.mopar.com/perf]. The fully assembled heads carry part number P5249459.

These high-performance cylinder heads have larger combustion chambers, so they need to be milled 0.060 inch to maintain your present compression ratio. After the heads are milled, the intake manifold will also have to be milled 0.057 inch so everything still bolts together correctly.

Speaking of intake manifolds, a good aluminum aftermarket intake and performance carburetor would be a good investment. Edelbrock's Performer RPM intake manifolds would work well on your engine if you switch to the better cylinder heads. The part number for your application is 7576. If you stick with your current 318 cylinder heads, Edelbrock's Performer 318/360 EGR intake (#3776) would be a better choice. A 600-cfm Holley double-pumper would work well with the Performer RPM intake. Edelbrock's Quadrajet for Mopars (PN 1905) also would be a good match for the Performer EGR intake manifold.

You would be well advised to ditch your current ignition system. You have what is known as a lean-burn ignition system, and it isn't a high-performance item. A better choice would be a high-performance electronic ignition conversion kit such as the #P3690426 offered by Mopar Performance.

A better exhaust system should be a priority. Headers and free-flowing mufflers will make a noticeable horsepower improvement. Your small displacement engine only needs 1-5/8-inch primaries and 3-inch collectors. There are lots of satisfactory headers on the market, including the ones Mopar Performance sells under part number P4529440.

Depending on emissions restrictions, you could hopefully go with a true dual exhaust system. If you have to use a single exhaust system, use 2-1/4-inch pipes to neck the header collectors to a single 3-inch pipe that leads to a 3-inch high-performance catalytic converter, and a 3-inch high performance muffler. Once the collectors meet, the rest of the system should be all 3-inch stuff.

Once you determine most of the components you plan to use, consult a camshaft company such as Comp Cams [(800) 365-9145, www.compcams.com] for its recommendation of an ideal camshaft. A camshaft such as one from Comp Cams' Xtreme Energy series would probably suit your needs.

You mentioned that you planned to disassemble the engine. If your budget allows more than new bearings, rings, and gaskets, consider having the reciprocating parts balanced.

Crank Call
Q:
I'm trying to assemble a low-dollar 350 small-block V-8 for my '71 Chevy C-10 project. In order to save money, I've been buying parts at swap meets and on the Internet. The best block I have is an '87 casting, but the best reciprocating assembly is from an '84. I'm 99 percent sure of the years.

I would like to use the crankshaft, rods, and pistons from the earlier engine in the newer block and with the corresponding cylinder heads. My problem is that the crank is the so-called two-piece design, while the block is the one-piece rear-seal design. Is there any way I can use the earlier crankshaft and related parts in the newer block, or do I need to keep looking?
Lee Swanson, via e-mail

A: Regarding the two styles of crankshafts, you can go one way, but not the other. Fortunately, you want to go the correct way.

The '85-and-earlier cranks are known as the two-piece style. The rear seal is in the block casting and rear main bearing cap. In 1986, GM changed to a one-piece seal design. The rear seal is housed in an aluminum adapter that attaches to the block. The two-piece seals were known to leak oil, so the new design was conceived to reduce those leaks.

You can't put a newer-style crankshaft into an earlier block, but you can put your preferred early reciprocating assembly into the '87 block. GM makes a two-piece rear-seal adapter (PN 10051118).

All Fired Up
Q:
I think those realistic-style flames that you see on so many sport trucks and on TV shows such as "Monster Garage" are way-cool. How do they do them? Are they something an inexperienced painter could do at home? What is involved? I'd appreciate any inside information you could give me. Thanks.
Jeremy Latham
Pueblo, CO

A: The key to painting realistic flames is real artistic talent. Lacking tons of talent, you can still do a passable job by paying careful attention to details. This is the kind of custom-painting project where it would be best to practice on an old hood or fender before committing to your actual truck. Custom paint is getting increasingly expensive, so consider using some water-based airbrush paint for your practice panels. A bad flame job is worse than no flames, so practice before you make the big step to paint your truck.

We've watched the process several times as performed by a couple different custom painters, including Mike LaVallee, whose work you may have seen on "Monster Garage." Mike is one of the foremost practitioners of realistic flames. Mike has done so many of these paintjobs that he is a blur of activity as he applies the various shades of House of Kolor paints with his Iwata airbrush.

A tip that Mike passed along was that he burned pieces of paper in a fireplace and took photos of the flames so he could study them. These flames are much more random than traditional flames, but the randomness still needs some constraints to look right on the truck. A great thing about the randomness is that the two sides of the truck don't need to match.

When you're doing this style of flames, step back frequently and notice how the flames look from a distance. Don't get too focused on how they look up close. Most people will see the flames as a whole view of your truck.

There are numerous variations on this technique depending on which painter is applying the flames. In general, start with the darker colors. You can start with something as dark as a reddish purple or maroon. Go easy with the initial colors because these flames depend on building layers of color. A typical color progression could be maroon to red to orange to yellow to white. You could also add some tan. Getting the right mix of colors is one of those experience things.

If you can visualize where the different colors should be for the finished product, it will make it easier to build the layers of color. This type of flames doesn't start to look right until you're approaching the finish. Even when you think you're finished, they still won't come alive until the clearcoats have been applied.

Mike LaVallee uses an Iwata Eclipse HPCS airbrush with a small gravity-feed paint cup. This style of airbrush requires frequent refills, but Mike likes the added control. He premixes the paint in small squirt bottles for quick and easy refilling of the tiny paint cup. Air pressure is usually set around 40 psi and the House of Kolor paint is mixed two parts reducer to one part paint. The exact paint mix and air pressure are things that require adjustment depending on your equipment and conditions.

The various flame licks can be applied freehand or with the use of a stencil. Mike uses a combination of the two. The stencil is called an Artool solvent-proof stencil. This plastic stencil has a variety of curved edges. The stencil is available with a variety of common shapes; there are even ones made especially for flames. The hard edges of the stencil can help establish starting points for the design. Then the freehand stuff will soften the flames.

You can add some pearl to the final color (white or pale yellow) for extra highlights. Pearl can also be added to the clear topcoat for sparkle. The use of pearl paint is another one of those practice-to-determine-what-works techniques. The final phase of realistic flames is the standard drying, clearing, wet-sanding, and buffing. Any sanding or buffing needs to be done with care since the airbrushed paint is quite thin.