Tag Archives: fail

Shifty Business – Another F-150 Failure

Pam and I had gone to the local pizza place for some takeout. In typical “I’ll buy, you fly” mode, Pam drove the F-150 with me in the passenger seat. She parked head-on by the front door and waited while I ran in for the goods.

It was just past closing time. Staffers killed the lights and ran out the door behind me.

Pam selected reverse and backed out, then pulled the lever for drive, hit the gas – AND THE TRUCK SURGED BACKWARD!

There wasn’t much room in the lot so she maneuvered to the curb, occupying about three marked spaces, and killed the engine.

It’s dark, beginning to rain, maybe three or so miles from home, hot food in the back seat, and we’re hungry. I called the kid for a lift home. We’d eat and think, then come back. Maybe the rain would pass.

The console lever felt sloppy, disconnected, I suspected a mechanical issue like a linkage or cable had worked its way loose. The console lever has a history.  I removed the plastic shroud and felt around as best I could in the darkened cab; nothing felt out-of-place and my earlier hack/repair felt intact.

Then the kid soon arrived. We locked up and left to eat.

Sure enough, a bit of Internet searching turned up lots of similar failures! The most common issue came down to the cable-end detaching from the transmission lever. We returned to the truck armed with a good flashlight and I crawled under for a look. Before you ask, yes, the rainwater had pooled underneath…

Now it was clear that the cable-end was no longer attached. By manipulating the console and transmission levers it was possible to reattach, but when the console lever moved the cable end fell right off. The press-fit retention was no longer retaining!

I figured we could get the truck home, though. That’d free up parking for the restaurant and make for more comfortable work. The safety interlock only allow the truck to start in park and I could manipulate the levers to do that from beneath. With the truck started I could move the transmission lever into drive while Pam applied the brake. Then I’d crawl out she could drive home.

Pam was less than thrilled with the idea. But she did it. She probably pressed that brake pedal almost through the floorboard while I was under the truck fiddling with the transmission lever, engine running!

Cable end at top, transmission lever at bottom. The white plastic bit captures that knob.

The Root Cause
The cable end is a roundish half-bowl of plastic molded onto the semi-flexible metal rod that extends from its sleeve. In the picture you can see a white plastic insert fitting in the black bowl. The transmission lever has a protruding machined knob that’s captured by that bit of white plastic.

Failure occurs when the white plastic insert no longer captures the knob.

The cable assembly is not adjustable. The length is exactly what it is. That’s important because…

When the console lever’s placed in park – that’s how the truck spends much of its time since being manufactured – there’s much linear force being applied against the transmission lever. By that I mean if you select park and slip the cable end free of the transmission lever (easy to do, now that the part’s failed), the cable end springs out extend a good 3/8″ past the transmission lever. You cannot put it back in place without manipulating the console lever positions, the end-to-knob alignment is that far off. So of course that 29-cent bit of plastic will fail eventually! It’s designed to fail!

The Repair
The cable assembly – part number 4L3Z-7E395-CA for my 2004 unit – is available on Amazon for about $48. I don’t have a shop manual – that’s another story for another time – but it looks like it could be replaced in a couple of hours. Beer optional.

Obviously, a dealership could handle the repair. I heard that runs around $300-$350, including parts.

Ascension Engineering’s current location, under construction when Google Earth grabbed this shot.

But let me introduce you  to Ascension Engineering. They produce a line of replacements for those little white pieces of plastic – apparently it’s a common failure mode across a wide variety vehicles, not merely Fords. The parts sell through their website, BushingFix.com. And business is apparently pretty damned good – Ascension Engineering’s principal relocated to some considerably nicer digs between May 2015 and March of 2016…

Shipping origin. Click for detail.

Y’know, $25 is a lot of money for a bitty bit of plastic. (Update: I learned, when sending a link to this article to the manufacturer for review, that the price is now reduced. My luck, right?) Okay, there’s design, tooling costs, manufacturing, but any number of Chinese outfits will do all that. Probably including the engineering design, too. It seems likely that they already manufacture those little bushings for the auto manufacturers.  That Mr. Smith, he’s one smart cookie!

Screw it. I ordered a kit. There was sales tax, we’re both in  Florida. And shipping was, I thought, a little high at just under $6 for USPS. The total cost was $32.29. I showed up at my door in a few days, shipped from Charlotte, North Carolina.

The cage-hack. See text for features. Click to enlarge for detail.

But First, An Interim Hack
A couple of weeks before the order and permanent repair, a simple hack was necessary to keep the truck on the road. A truck’s a useful tool here in rural Florida. There’s trash and recycling to haul, stuff like that.

I hacked up a little cage from (what else?) coat-hang wire – easy to work with, yet stiff enough to enclose the cable end.

It’s got some nifty features. First, it’s a cage. It’s solidly attached to the transmission’s shift lever and doesn’t contact the cable or its end except where it absolutely must, to prevent the thing from slipping off the knob. That contact is minimized by a custom thrust plate constructed of softer plastic. (Don’t be fooled, the thrust plate is from a plastic storage bin. We use the bins as high-walled litter boxes for our feline residents, and this is the material cut out to form a door.) Notice the bend in the thrust plate, and the cutouts so the cage retains it.

The hack would likely outlast the truck. But a replacement part was on the way.

The Replacement Bushing
It arrived in about a week. Here’s what $32.29 bought me:

The package, as received, followed by the individual parts and instructions. It’s actually well-thought out and about as foolproof as it gets. Click for a larger image.

Three bits of plastic: the bushing itself plus two more that served as press-blocks. Click to enlarge the image and see the instructions. Leaning way towards foolproof, I’ve gotta say. It took me longer to remove my hack than it did to install the replacement.

Debris in my cable-end cup. The rear of the truck is the right side of the image. The cable presses rearward when the transmission is in park. Click to enlarge.

Part of the install involves digging out any old bushing parts from the cable end cup. I use a carbide-tipped scribe and it cleaned up in a few seconds. Here’s a shot of what was left in my cup. Pretty disgusting. But what’s clear as an unmuddy lake is how the liner force of sitting in Park had basically ruined one side while the other remained basically unworn. Ford’s non-adjustable setup is designed to fail. It’s only a matter of time.

Bushing installed. Click to enlarge.

I assembled the sandwich of plastic bits and used a pair of Channellock pliers to give it a squeeze. I chose the Channellocks because of the  adjustable jaws but I think a pair of ordinary pliers like those found in the average person’s tool bag would have done the job just as well. You’d need pliers, though, it’s a bit much for fingers alone.

Repair complete. Click to enlarge.

The rejuvenated cable end mated to the transmission lever with a satisfying click. Then I exercised the console lever. It felt great.

Notice in the completed repair image that there’s a slight gap between the cable-end cup and the transmission shift lever. This tells me that the replacement bushing is the proper size for the job. If the knob sat too deep then the two parts would rub, wearing the cable-end cup.

So How’s It Holding Up?
It’s been a few months since all this went down and so far, so good.

No issues, no complaints, the repair feels as tight as ever. How long will it last? Hard to say. Ford’s designed-to-fail assembly of the subsystem remains unchanged. What’s a worse environment? New Jersey winters or the Florida heat? Time will tell.

Gone Missing

Whoa! Not sure how it happened, but a key file went missing – or, more precisely, became empty – the other day. The problem rendered all but the front page inoperable.

It’s fixed. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Dodge Dart

When I was in my twenties I went through one of my car-less periods, only a motorcycle for basic transport. Rain or shine, winter or summer, I rode. Jerry, a guy I knew, felt bad for me one wintry day. He gave me a car.

I don't recall the year, but it may have looked something like this. Certainly not as clean.
I don’t recall the year, but it may have looked something like this. Certainly not as clean.

It was an old Dodge Dart. I don’t recall the year. If you’re anywhere near my age you’ve probably seen thousands upon thousands of these old Dodge Darts on the road. They were bulletproof: slant-six engine; three-speed on the column; torsion-bar suspension; bench seats complete with the saggy back rest. This one was blue. The interior was all musty from sitting in Jerry’s mom’s backyard for months and months. (She may have pressured him to get it out of there, helping lead to my good fortune.)

I remember when Jerry bought the Dodge. He wasn’t much of a mechanic and he had asked for my help with its assessment. “The clutch is slipping some,  you’ll need to replace it eventually. But otherwise it’s reasonable.” I think he paid a couple hundred for it.

When I got my hands on that old Dodge the clutch was still slipping some. The engine had two operating temperatures: hotter than hell, and hotter than hotter than hell. Coolant boiled out regularly; the water jugs in the backseat were a permanent fixture. But that ol’ engine never faltered, not once. In fact, it always delivered excellent heat. And judging by the sludge in the crankcase I don’t think Jerry ever got around to changing the oil in the couple of years he had it. I know I didn’t.

I used to have fun with that slippery clutch! I knew a new friction plate would be cheap and easy to install. It became something of a game to see how much abuse the poor little clutch could take. I’d wind that little engine for all it was worth and sidestep the pedal just to catch a whiff of the burning plate.

I was using that very technique to enter the highway, pulling out of a local titty bar one afternoon, when the clutch signalled it had finally had just about enough. The sound was odd and clunky – not good at all. A bit of friction remained, though, and the car lurched ahead. I didn’t dare touch the pedal during the short ride home.

The decision had been a sound one. The very next pedal depression was its last. Oh, the pedal would move alright, but it no longer mattered. Engine on or off, pedal or not, any gear could be selected at will while the car no longer moved on its own.

So the next weekend I picked up a friction plate, release bearing, and other assorted parts and set to work. The drivetrain and transmission came out easy enough. But what remained of that poor clutch was a sight to behold. Some dust and shredded friction material along with some broken metal fell out of the housing to the asphalt. It was one of those moments that fairly begged for a digital camera. But this was WAY before that technology became ubiquitous. In short order the new clutch was again transferring engine power to the transmission!

I was working in Bridgeport, Connecticut at the time and Monday morning I set out from my New Jersey home with confidence. With a week’s worth of clothing (and several water jugs) in the backseat, all was well with the world and the ride up Route 95 went without incident. But as I reached the job site there was a mighty clunk from the front end as the left front quarter sagged nearly to the ground. A quick look confirmed my suspicion: the torsion bar had broken free, its mount in the frame rusted out.

At the end of the day, before I checked into my hotel, I found a salvage yard and limped the old Dodge to its final resting place.

The yard operator paid me just about enough to cover my clutch parts.

Lizard – –

We have lots of lizards in Florida. Today, one less.

Pam had been out in the driveway hosing down a trashcan. We like to keep ’em clean – bears, y’know – and Pam was handling that chore while I was in the garage installing new foot controls on her motorcycle. She called me outside.

Pam was saying something about the hose and the water and how it wasn’t flowing, and my mind raced ahead. I was thinking the worst, of course: plumbing failure, well pump failure, and so on. I caught myself and tuned back in. Pam had checked the hose for kinks and, finding none, removed the high-pressure nozzle. And the root-cause of the flow issue had become painfully obvious.

A lizard apparently entered the garden hose. Then Pam came along, connected the hose to a spigot and added the high-pressure nozzle in order to work on the trashcan.

The lizard was undoubtedly quite surprised by the face full of water.

The exit hole of the high-pressure nozzle is no more than 3/16 of an inch when fully open. The considerably larger lizard made a valiant effort at getting through that tiny hole, tail end first. It failed. But along the way it managed to slow the flow of water to a near stop.

And that’s where I came in.

Lizzie was in pretty bad shape, as you might imagine. I tried, for a bit, to clear the nozzle. But it quickly became clear that tools would be needed and it wouldn’t be the most pleasant of jobs.

I suggested the medium-pressure nozzle and Pam resumed her work. I left the lizard-clogged nozzle in the grass and resumed my work.

With that move the lizard assumed its place in the food chain. By tomorrow or the day after, I figure, the nozzle will be clear.

No pictures because, well, y’know, it’s really kinda gross. I’ve got no qualms dispatching insects but dead lizards are sort of sad.

Jury Duty – NJ Fails Again

I returned from some travel the other day to find this in the mailbox. It’s an unwelcome notice, if what I hear from many people is any indication. But this one brought some different feelings.

Richard is my Dad. He passed almost two years ago.

One would think that the various state and public records of Richard’s passing would have prevented the generation of this notice, but no – it’s a fail. To underscore the failure, I recall that Richard was summoned to Jury Duty some years back. I handled the notice because he was unable to read it for himself – stroke damage had robbed him of that ability.

On his behalf I had requested – and and was subsequently granted – an excuse. I cited reasons including health and ability as well as age, which alone would have sufficed (see the NJ Judiciary FAQ). Age only goes backward in the movies, and so I figured Richard would no longer be troubled by Jury Duty.

I was wrong.

I’m thinking that I’m going to fill out the form and return it, requesting an excuse on account of, well, death. Perhaps they’ll get the message.