F-150: Love It or Leave ItPosted 6/25/2007
By Craig Van Batenburg, AAM
This is our fourth year of wondering how we stack up in engineers' minds as they design and redesign the auto and truck fleet we labor on daily. So far, we have reviewed Japanese, Korean, German, English and domestics - including different vehicle types such as vans, trucks and cars.
We will now tackle the best-selling truck in the United States: the mighty F-150.
For 2007, engines include a 4.2-liter V6, a 4.6-liter V8, and a 5.4-liter V8. The V6 offers a choice of a four-speed automatic or a five-speed manual transmission, but comes in only the most basic regular-cab models. The 4.6-liter V8 comes standard in the popular models. Both V8s come with four-speed automatic transmissions, although the 5.4 comes with a heavy-duty unit. The flexible fuel version of the 5.4-liter V8 can run on E85 ethanol.
The 2007 model comes with dozens of options at every level. New for '07 is a DVD-based navigation system with in-dash screen. The old-fashioned pickup truck is gone; today it is more of a luxury vehicle with a box on the tail end, at least for the average Joe. Certainly many blue-collar jobs are done with the help of an F-150, but it is the all-purpose nature of extended cabs that appeal to many owners who use their F-150 as a car 95 percent of the time. Back in 2000, the Ford F series was offered with a standard 4.2-liter V6 engine, an optional 4.6-liter V8 and an optional 5.4-liter V8. This article does not include the F-250 but it is worth mentioning that the 6.8-liter V10 engine and a Power Stroke diesel V8 have been around for a while and have helped make the F series popular. It is, after all, the all-American truck.
Aside from engines, in 2000 there were five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions, short and long cargo beds, standard and four-door SuperCab extended cabs, flat (Styleside) and fendered (Flareside) bed styles, two- and four-wheel-drive models, and four trim levels: Work, XL, XLT and Lariat. The F-150 had had many variations for years so it would appeal to many buyers.
According to reports, F series sales have declined lately. Alan Mullaly, the new CEO of Ford Motor Co., spoke at the International Motor Press Association press days in New York in April. He was thoughtful and very open about the issues facing Ford in 2007. I had a chance to ask him a question about Ford's future in terms of hybrids. A hybrid F-150 would add a new segment to Ford's hybrid program. Mullaly explained that Ford is looking at every type of alternative fuel, and that hybrids are still in the plans, but not the F-150 anytime soon.
The F-150 and all the other half-ton trucks for sale in the United States are going to see the overall piece of the pie shrink as the fad of using a four-door truck as the family car ends. As energy costs go up, some simple math will make it a poor economic choice. Will Ford keep its market share? Only if it is as good or better than the competition. Auto and truck technicians influence a lot of truck purchases. Have you noticed all the print and TV ads that expound the virtues of the strength, brakes, safety and other parts of what makes a half-ton pickup strong? Since Toyota launched the new Tundra and joined NASCAR, the competition has been intense.
How far has the F-150 come in the last six years or so?
In 2000, the 5.4 liter F-150 was a very popular truck. It still is. Looking back with the help of Jordan Hoffman, a Ford tech in upstate New York, and reviewing the Identifix Web site, there were many issues that needed to be addressed as the truck aged. Identifix shows almost 250 technical service bulletins (TSBs) on the 2000 F-150 (the 2000 Tundra 4.7 has almost the same number). Some of the TSBs are revised TSBs that explain a previous one. Some concern noises or small items but many have to do with steering, brakes, no starts and parts of the truck that can cause concern for the owner. Some relate to wiring in the steering column that creates a short, many concern exhaust gas recirculation (EGR)-related issues or head gaskets that leak oil, and a few involve rear antilock brake system (RABS) modules that need replacement. Quality matters and problems like these hurt sales.
Rick Soderlund from Rick's 36 Automotive Service had an older F-150 that had excessive oil consumption and smoke coming from the tail pipe. He disconnected the positive crankcase ventilation (PCV) valve, and it cleared up for awhile after the vehicle had been driven. The PCV valve looked the same as a factory one, but he noticed the grommet was not as deep where it went into the valve cover.
He dropped in a new original equipment manufacturer (OEM) PCV valve, drove for some time and then let the truck set for two hours. No more smoke. Simple fix. Sometimes the wrong parts hurt the reputation of a brand.
In 2004 Ford was having fits. They made the ladder frame a lot stronger, and it transferred noise and vibration throughout the cabin and many owners complained. Remember that the truck was now being used as a four-door sedan and families by the millions were being hauled to school and vacation in a four-passenger F-150. Counter weights large enough for boat anchors were attached to the frames, new tires were fitted, and more fixes were prepared as trucks were asked to be cars. It took years to get it right.
In 2000, there were seven recalls that included the cruise control, running boards, lighting, wipers, seat belts and labeling. None of these were a major issue but they did create bad press and many visits to the dealership.
The 2007 F-150 looks a lot better. The 5.4 liter engine is more modern, the truck is stronger, Ford says quality is much improved, and although sales are way off from seven years ago, Ford still has the bragging rights to one of the best-selling pickups in the United States. Mullaly is not one to brag; he wants Ford to do better. But to do that, Ford will need the support of hundreds of thousands of auto and truck techs who can recommend a Ford over the competition. I hope Ford is paying attention.
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