Four Power
Q: Are there any relatively inexpensive things I can do to improve the performance of the 2.2L four-cylinder engine in my '98 Chevy S-10 pickup? I'd prefer bolt-on modifications. I don't expect V-8 power, but I'd like to not be the slowest truck on the block. Is there anything I can do to improve the shifting quality of the five-speed manual transmission in my truck? Any suggestions would be appreciated.
Nelson Bradford Jr., via e-mail

A: Most buyers choose the 2.2L four-cylinder for economical reasons, both in terms of initial cost and fuel economy. Depending on the condition and how attached you are, you might consider selling the truck and finding an S-10 with the 4.3L V-6 engine. Besides its extra 35 to 75 horses in stock form, the V-6 is much easier to hop up.

There are some basic changes that will provide extra power for your present engine. One of the simplest changes is to replace the stock air filter with a K&N Filtercharger or similar hi-po filter. Remove any of the little restrictors between the air inlet and the throttle body. These restrictors are designed to reduce air intake noise. Removing them gives incoming air a straighter route to the throttle body.

Another simple change is with the thermostat. Install a 160-to-180-degree unit to lower engine temperatures. Lower air inlet temps help reduce the possibility of detonation.

A custom programmed computer chip will help get the most power your engine has to offer. Companies such as Hypertech [(901) 481-8800, www.hypertech.com]can set you up with a customized computer chip.

A local muffler shop that has experience with high-performance exhaust systems may be able to make some modest improvements to your exhaust system. We don't know of any company that makes exhaust headers for your application, but a performance muffler and catalytic converter should provide a little extra boost.

There is a Hurst Competition/Plus shifter available for S-10 pickups with the New Venture five-speed transmission. It will give you shorter throws and smoother shifts.

Rough Stuff
Q:The idle on my '86 Ford F-150 pickup is pretty rough and very annoying. The truck is a shortbed regular cab with the 300ci straight six-cylinder engine and the five-speed manual transmission. I've always liked this combo in a relatively small truck like mine, because it has good torque and gets reasonable fuel economy. I use the truck for daily commuting.

I took the truck to two local independent repair shops and they wanted to sell me everything but the kitchen sink. Their estimates were both well over $1,000, because they wanted to do things such as a valve job and replace a bunch of sensors.

Before I dump that kind of money into an almost 20-year-old truck (with more than 200,000 miles on it), I thought I would seek your opinion. Are there any simple things that I could check out myself to save some money?
Kevin Jakowski, Stockton, CA

A: Rough idle problems are common for all makes and models of cars and trucks. We get lots of letters on the subject. Rough idle problems were common back in the days of simple carburetors and no smog equipment. The engines were less complex and solving rough idle problems was relatively simple.

Today's sophisticated engine management systems mean there are more things that can affect idle quality. That means it's harder to diagnose. Ford has issued some Technical Service Bulletins that could apply to your truck.

TSB 87-3-20 suggests a number of checks involving variations within vehicle calibration limits. One of the checks is inspecting the condition of the engine mounts. This is something you could do yourself. Ford has a redesigned fuel inlet needle and seat assembly that's detailed in TSB 85-16-22.

Vacuum leaks are a common source of rough idle problems. TSB 86-9-11 deals with vacuum leaks and problems involving the electronic engine control system.

An improperly fastened exhaust or intake manifold can cause rough idle problems. TSB 86-9-18 covers checking for properly torqued bolts. This is something you can do if you have a torque wrench.

A couple other possible problems could be a defective MAP sensor, a bad idle solenoid (a strong possibility), or a defective coolant temperature sensor. You could just replace these parts hoping to stumble onto the cure, but you'd be better off taking the truck to a Ford dealership.

As to the pros and cons of spending a grand or more on an older truck, that's a decision only you can make. It's very easy to run up a thousand-dollar bill at a repair shop given the high cost of labor and parts. If the rest of the truck is in good shape and you still enjoy driving it, we'd get it repaired.

Elevation Escape
Q:I bought my wife an '04 Ford Escape. She loves it and doesn't want me to start modifying it like I've done to my Ford Lightning. She did agree to let me lower the Escape a little as long as it doesn't screw up the ride. Do you know of anyone that makes a lowering kit for Escapes? Is this something I could install myself?
Xavier Montoya, via e-mail

A: Ground Force [(724) 430-2068, www.groundforce.com] has a new 2-inch lowering kit (#9973) for '04-'05 Ford Escapes. The kit consists of four lowered coil springs.

Swapping coil springs is something someone with a reasonable amount of mechanical ability should be able to do. The important thing to remember when working with springs is that they can be very dangerous due to their stored energy. You should have the suspension alignment checked after installing the new springs.