Q: My '97 F-150 Lariat SuperCab is losing automatic transmission fluid and I can't figure out where it's going. I haven't noticed any puddles where I park, either at home or at work. The truck has four-wheel drive. The engine is the 351 with the automatic transmission. I use the 4x4 when I launch my boat in the summer and when I go skiing in the winter, but I don't do any hard-core off-roading or any other abusive driving that might be hard on the transmission. Do you have any suggestions as to where the transmission fluid is disappearing?
I follow all the rules about checking transmission fluid, so I know I'm not misreading the dipstick. I bought the truck new so I know it has the right dipstick. I would appreciate your help.Gary McLean, via e-mail
A: The most likely cause of your mysteriously disappearing transmission fluid is the transfer case input seal. Other Ford F-series pickups and Broncos from 1987 through 1997 have experienced similar fluid losses. Ford issued a service bulletin on the problem. There is a new seal (part number F77Z-7B215-AA) that should solve your problem
Q: I'm in need of a third radiator for my '94 Dodge Dakota Club Cab. That seems like a couple too many. Shouldn't a radiator last at least 100,000 miles? My truck has a little more than 114,000 miles on it. I replaced the stock radiator at 63,000 miles, and now it's leaking again. The truck has the V-6 and automatic transmission if that matters. The radiator is leaking around the seams of the upper tank. The symptoms are the same as the last time it gave up. That time it burst and I had to be towed home.
I don't care to buy a new radiator any sooner than I have to, but I'd like to buy a stronger unit. I bought the last one at my Dodge dealer, since it was an exact replacement for the original radiator. These radiators have plastic tanks and I get the feeling that's why they fail prematurely. Is that the case?
Can I buy a replacement radiator without the plastic tank, and should it be stronger? Thank you.Dale Iverson, Flagstaff, NM
A: Dakotas with the plastic-tank radiators are known to fail prematurely. Besides the suspect plastic tank, the bigger problem is the soft copper core. Most plastic tank-topped radiators have aluminum cores, not copper such as yours. The aluminum core radiators are superior at handling high temperatures. High temperatures also equal higher pressures, which can lead to seam failure. The solution is to buy an aftermarket all-aluminum heavy-duty replacement radiator.
Phat Phlake Phacts
Q: I want to do something wild and retro on the roof of my '02 Chevy S-10 standard-cab pickup. I'm thinking about using some big, fat metalflake, maybe something really flashy, such as bass boat flake. My truck is all black factory paint. Since it's a relatively small roof, I'd like to paint it myself. I have some painting experience, but I've never done flake
I thought about putting some flames on top of the flake. I'd like the flames to be flake, too. I don't know if I want the same basic shade for the flames, or if I want something very high contrast. A couple possibilities are a silver-flake roof with purple flames or a purple-flake roof with lime-green flake flames.
I'd like the flames outlined, but I don't know how to pinstripe, and I'm not so sure I would want pinstripes. Is there a way to outline the flames in a different shade of metalflake and keep everything smooth and under the clear? Any advice you can give me would be most welcome.Jason Fong, Sacramento, CA
A: Flaking the roof of your truck is an excellent way to add flash without doing the whole truck. There are a couple different ways to do the flake, depending on whether or not you want flames. The particulars of applying the paint are related to the brand of paint you choose. We like the wild colors available from House of Kolor.
Flake paintjobs can require a great deal of clear to bury the flakes. The little flake particles don't always lay flat. When they stick up on end, it takes extra clear to bury them.
If you use a base color that is similar to the flake, you won't need as much flake. The base color should be metallic. The metallic will help cover any mistakes or areas where the flake was a little thin.
A silver flake such as House of Kolor Silver Mini Flake would look great with your black truck. You could have the base silver flake with purple- or lime-green-flake flames. A base of silver metallic or silver pearl will help intensify the silver flake.
A trick to helping the flake sit right is to first apply a base tack coat of wet clear without any flake. This serves as a base and a "glue" for the flake. You want the flake to stick to the roof, not blow around. The House of Kolor Silver Mini Flake is dry and comes in a small jar. You add the flake to the clear or to HOK Intercoat Clear (SC-100).
Shoot the flake from a greater distance than normal. Be sure your spray gun has a sufficiently large fluid tip to allow the flake to pass through. The flake is dusted or fogged on. Use a 50 percent overlap pattern. Many painters like to spray a crisscross pattern to avoid any missed areas or odd patterns. You want as thorough coverage as possible.
It usually takes about three coats of clear to level the flake. Then you pick the HOK Kandy shade you want the roof to be and apply it over the flake base.
To make the roof two-tone with silver-flake outlines takes a fair amount of masking, but the results will be spectacular. Apply the silver base of flake. Lay out the flames with 1/8-inch blue fine-line tape. Make the flames approximately 1/8-inch wider than normal to allow for the spray-on pinstriping. After the flames have been laid out, tape the inside of the design.
Apply one of the many wild House of Kolor Kandy colors, such as Purple or Violet. When the purple has dried sufficiently, remove the masking from inside the flames, but leave the border tape in place. Follow the blue border tape with 1/4-inch fine-line tape. Attach the 1/4-inch tape to the inner edge of the flame outline. That will provide a wider area for the rest of the masking tape. You don't want any leaks around the flames.
Spray the silver-flake base inside the flame design with either Lime Time or Organic Green Kandy; they both make a wild contrast to the Purple or Violet on the rest of the roof. When the paint has set up enough to remove the tape, do so. You'll be left with a 1/8-inch silver-flake outline between the green flames and the purple roof. Another coat of clear should be applied to the whole roof. Finish with wet-sanding, buffing, and polishing, and you'll have some flaky flames.
If you'd like less contrast, you can make the roof and flames a variation of each other. Apply the silver-flake base. Lay out the flames with 1/8-inch fine-line tape. Spray the whole roof with one coat of whatever candy color you choose, then carefully tape off the inside of the flame design. Apply one or more coats of candy to the rest of the roof. That will make the roof a darker shade of the flames. When the 1/8-inch tape is removed, you'll have a nice silver-flake "pinstripe" between the two shades.
Q: The 305ci V-8 in my '85 Chevy Silverado has a big problem with surging. I'm having trouble determining what's causing the surging. The engine is stock with a four-barrel carburetor. I thought the problem might be a poor state of tune, so I had it tuned up. That didn't stop the surging.
I thought maybe there was a problem with the automatic transmission, like maybe it wasn't going into gear correctly or maybe something was slipping in the torque converter. A local transmission shop said I needed a new torque converter lockup valve. It seemed a little better after the transmission shop worked on the truck, but the problem was still there, especially in hot weather.
Can you suggest some other sources and cures for the surging? Lucas Guelker, Hartford, CT
A: The first thing we would check is the EGR valve. A sticky EGR valve can cause the engine to surge. If the EGR valve wasn't replaced or at least checked as part of the tune-up, have it checked now.
You mentioned that the surging is particularly bad in hot weather. The air-conditioning compressor could be causing the problem. You know how the engine sound changes when you're idling and you turn the A/C to Max? A compressor that's drawing too much power could be constantly cycling on and off, which could be interpreted as surging.
One mildly unpleasant way to eliminate the air conditioning as a probable cause is drive around on a hot day with the entire ventilation system shut off. If the surging stops, have the air-conditioning system checked.
You could add an auxiliary electric fan to help keep the air-conditioning condenser as cool as possible. That should lessen the burden on the A/C system, but we still think the problem is with your EGR valve.
Q: I bought a '91 Ford F-150 XLT standard-cab shortbed pickup about a year ago. It has the 5.0L V-8 engine and automatic transmission. The front tires seem to be wearing out rather quickly, and the ride isn't super-smooth. When I bought the truck, I noticed that the front tires were in much better shape than the rear ones. I think the previous owner may have rotated the tires to hide the problem. The tires are cupping. I don't know if the bad ride makes the tires cup or if the cupping causes the ride to be bad. I'd just like to fix it. What do you suggest? Jeff Norton, via e-mail
A: Your problems stem from the F-150's twin I-beam front suspension system. This twin I-beam design is hard on front tires, even on relatively new trucks. We bought a brand-new F-150 with an I-beam front suspension and the front tires barely made it past the 30,000-mile mark, while the back tires looked almost new. On older high-mileage used trucks, the problem can be more severe. The front springs tend to sag with age, which aggravates the tire-cupping problem. Your truck might benefit from a set of new front springs. If other frontend parts are worn, they should be replaced along with the springs.
Frequent frontend alignments are important if you own a Ford twin-I-beam-equipped truck. Tire cupping is one of those problems that quickly becomes annoying. The more the tires bounce, the more they cup, and cupping increases bouncing. Another cause for cupping is worn shocks. On the I-beam frontend, opt for the best and biggest shocks you can get to keep the wheels planted firmly on the ground. We also suggest feathering the front tires on these trucks since the I-beam front suspension goes through a lot of caster/camber changes when it moves up and down.
Your best bet is to check and rebuild the entire front suspension. Start with a fresh set of tires and have the alignment checked on a regular basis. Watch for tire-shop coupon specials on alignments.
Q: There seems to be a problem with the left rear window of my '96 Chevy Suburban. The windows are power windows. The window often has trouble going back up, although it always goes down fine. My son who usually sits on that side likes to play with the power windows. Could the extra use have worn out the window motor? Is there something else that could be the problem, or should I just make my son sit on the other side? Trent Sullivan, via e-mail
A: If the window goes down without any problem, the motor is working fine. If there was trouble in both directions, the motor would be suspect.
You didn't mention whether the problem occurs with just the left rear door switch or when either that switch or the master switch on the front left door is used. If the problem occurs with both switches, look for a faulty body to door connector.
If one window switch brings the window up and the other doesn't, the problem could still be in either switch. The two switches are on the same circuit. This next suggestion may sound like the old smack the TV approach to electronics repair, but try moving each switch from side to side, forward and back, and pressing on it. Do this several times to see if any of this wiggling improves the upward function. If wiggling makes a temporary improvement, that switch or its connection is faulty. Replace the switch. Check for any signs of corrosion when you replace the switch. Maybe your son has been pouring cola on the switch?
Q: I've always used premium gas in my '01 Ford Lightning pickup, but since gas prices have skyrocketed, I've been thinking about dropping down to the medium grade. I don't drive too aggressively, although that's difficult with a truck as powerful as the Lightning. I don't tow or carry anything heavy in the bed. What do you think? Brad Brownlee, Great Falls, MT
A: You should weigh the minimal cost savings of dropping an octane grade compared with the cost of repairing your engine. That makes the more expensive gas a bargain. Your truck needs the higher octane to avoid detonation. This is extra important during the hot summer months and for people who live in mountainous areas such as Montana.
Q: I drive a '92 Chevy S-10 pickup with a 4.3L V-6 and 700-R4 automatic transmission. My problem is that the tranny's slow to shift, or occasionally doesn't upshift at all. I don't like driving around with the motor revving like crazy. It doesn't do this all the time, but often enough that I thought I should write to you guys. Is there some simple cure for the problem that I could do myself, or do I have to take the truck to a transmission shop? Bill Schiedel, Baker, OR
A: You're probably going to have to visit a transmission shop. The most likely cause of slow upshifts or no upshifts at all in '90-'93 Chevy S-10 and GMC Sonoma variants equipped with the 700-R4 is a stuck throttle valve. This valve is inside the transmission, which takes the repair out of the range of most home mechanics. You might try draining the transmission fluid and installing a new filter and pan gasket to see if fresh fluid will free the valve.