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ultraclyde Dork
5/9/13 11:42 a.m.

Okay, as titled, this is really more of a spruce up than a build, but I figure maybe I'll stay on task a little better with motivation. Or I'm a glory-seeking attention addict. Whatever.

1997 Explorer XLT, 2wd, 5L V8, factory tow package

We bought this lovely automotive backpack in 2000 with about 50k on the clock. For years it was my wife's DD, but as the mileage climbed and the price of gas went up, we made it semi-retired in 2006. Since then it has served well as the tow vehicle for our pop-up camper of about 3k lbs, hauling bikes and gear for mountain bike adventures, Lowe's runs, and the occaisional loan out to family members. Last year it clocked over 200k and I realized it had suffered a fair bit of neglect. I decided then to start fixing all the small things since it really is the perfect vehicle for what we do. Making it comfortable to drive anywhere, anytime facilitates all the other things we enjoy. I can also modify it without too much consequence as it's a third string vehicle for us.

Done So Far:

Replaced DPFE sensor to finally turn off that damn EGR CEL

Reupholstered the arm rest

found a replacement knob for the rear wiper

put bushings in the sway bar links - since it didn't have any

new tires - the last set lasted 11 years. no, really.

Front end alignment

Things to do:

Fix the A/C, please God! last year the compressor blew up. I had a guy put in a brand new compressor, manifold lines, et etc. It worked 2 days before it leaked down. I took it back, he wrenched, then it worked 2 weeks. Now, I have a leak detector kit and will try to find it myself. worst case I have to replace the condenser and a couple other pieces - less than $200 total on rock auto.

Change idler pulley(s) - I have a steady chirp from one of the pulleys. I thought it as the cam sensor shaft, a common failure point, so I replaced that. still chirping. Oiled the pulley directly in front of it, no chirp for 2 weeks.

Find water leak (water pump maybe) - I saw a little leak that I think was from the water pump, but I'm not sure. Hafta check it out while I'm in there for the pulley and A/C

hood lift struts - at some point. a stick works for now.

fix hard 1/2 shift - this is most likely a bad 1-2 acculmulator or broken spring in same. It's a common failure on pre '99 4R70W transmissions. post '99 (and replacements) use a redesigned piston and slightly heavier springs. parts are about $40, but the Mercon V trans fluid to refil it is easily twice that.

Trans temp gauge replacement- mounted an aftermarket gauge but the sender in the pan died. Might as well replace it while I've got the pan down, and upgrade to a slightly less fast n furious gauge

Shocks? I think the front shocks are nearly gone, and I'd love to have air shocks on the rear for trailer load leveling.

Cruise control buttons - the buttons are rotting apart but still work, as long as you can remember what each one does. Replacements are $100 from RA, but junkyard switches are all crap too.

Fabricated Safari Rack!! - mainly cause I want to weld something and bolt it to the truck, and additional cargo stowage is nice when rv'ing. I have several unique removable fittings planned to mount bikes overhead, and some different ideas on how to build it. I've redesigned it on paper at least 4 times. we'll see if it works...

fix recline handle on psg seat. they tend to break off, but I can make something functional from angle iron.

maybes - repaint D pillars, tint front windows, flood lights on roof rack, brake controller, WD hitch, louder exhaust (302 Ford!!!)

Tom_Spangler Dork
5/9/13 12:09 p.m.

Are you going to fix the rear main? I know you didn't mention it, but since it's a 302 with a bunch of miles on it, I just assumed...

hrdlydangerous HalfDork
5/9/13 12:15 p.m.

I didn't know you could get a V8 Explorer in that body style in RWD. I thought Ford made them all in AWD.

ultraclyde Dork
5/9/13 12:29 p.m.

Tom --- ahhh, no problem yet.....(knocks wood)

Hrdly - oh my, yes. I don't know what the real breakdown was, but easily 1/3 of all the running 2wd ones I see in 3rd gen body are V8s. Pretty sure it was the last thing still getting cast iron 302s as well due to the width of the 4.6 The factory exhaust manifolds are semi-crazy tube headers basically. It's a really, really good engine in this body.

Oh, I forgot, I also need to design some removable type mounts for towing mirrors. the camper's a little wider than the mirrors as is.

Prepping for a big bike trip last January:

I made the interior bike rack from MDF and some fork traps, but it requires removal of the seatpost which is kind of a pain. Not bad to load a couple bikes and pack around, but it also limits you two 2 ppl in the truck.

The_Jed Dork
5/9/13 1:36 p.m.

Yeah, Sploders had some funky looking "headers" from the factory.

The_Jed Dork
5/9/13 1:42 p.m.

What kind of real-world mileage do you get out of it?

ultraclyde Dork
5/9/13 2:00 p.m.

In reply to The_Jed: Averages around 18ish on the highway, probably 15 in town. the last time I actually calculated it was on a run from Macon to White Springs Florida (for that bike event) towing the camper at 75mph, overdrive off on I-75 and it was pulling a steady 16.0 mpg. Which is why I have no plan to replace it!

Adrian_Thompson UltraDork
5/9/13 2:15 p.m.

Always had a soft spot for these. The photo makes it look like it doens't really need a spruce up. Love the idea of a safari rack

SyntheticBlinkerFluid UberDork
5/9/13 10:51 p.m.

I see a Specialized there. I have an older one, but I love it.

bgkast Reader
5/10/13 10:30 a.m.

I'll keep an eye out for good cruise switches in the junk yard, they don't seem to rot here...probably because they rarely have the sun shine on them. I will have to research that cam sensor shaft, ours makes a chirp when quickly revving past 3k rpms. I replaced the tensioner with no improvement.

Adrian_Thompson UltraDork
5/10/13 10:33 a.m.

Would this work? $44 on fleabay now, 10 available. http://www.ebay.com/itm/95-98-Ford-Mustang-Cruise-Control-Switches-Buttons-95-96-97-98-OEM-with-wires-/380535037621?pt=Motors_Car_Truck_Parts_Accessories&hash=item5899a7deb5&vxp=mtr

ultraclyde Dork
5/10/13 2:31 p.m.

SynthBlnkr - yep, it's an 07 FSR-XC Pro. Outstanding bike, I have yet to ride anything that telegraphs position and control quite like it. Just rebuilt both shocks on it, and I'm watching the new Sram 1x11 gear systems as a future upgrade.

Thanks Adrian, but the Mustang stuff is a different part number. not sure how much is different.

bg, if you happen to find one, let me know. Motorcraft lists these years as compatible:

FORD EXPLORER (1995 - 1998) FORD RANGER (1996 - 1997) MERCURY MOUNTAINEER (1997 - 1998)

EDIT- somehow I never think of EBay for parts ( I know, I know...) The Mustang ones won't work but there are a lot of good Exploder switch sets for around $50 or less. I'll hafta check that when the time comes....

ultraclyde Dork
5/17/13 8:56 a.m.

Last night I replaced both the idler pulleys, which required unbolting the fan, grumble grumble. I swear this is the hardest vehicle I've ever dealt with to drop a serpentine belt. The tensioner is hard to get to and has no indents or ratchet squares to plug into. You have to pry the pulley against the water pump pulley, and it's sprung like a demon. I ended up having to make a pry bar out of a piece of angle iron with a slot cut in it for the belt to run though. sheesh.

I also filled up the AC system with UV leak dye and some R134a I had laying around. I ran it for 20 minutes with the low pressure witch jumpered, then checked for leaks. I can't find any trace of a leak anywhere. Condenser, hoses, accumulator, compressor - all clean...err, well, not clean, but not dyed. I figure I'll give it a few days and see what shows up. I seem to remember it took a couple days to leak down last time. The only part I can't see to check is the evaporator core, and I can't remember if it was replaced two years back when the guy did the compressor/hoses/etc. He did replace the accumulator/drier, and I'm hoping he wouldn't have done that without replacing the evap, but who knows. Maybe I can take the box loose enough to get the uv light in there and check for leaks without too much trouble.

The AC is cooling now, but not great. A couple years back I had some issues with a heater control valve and removed it. basically it just cuts off water flow through the heater core but only on Max AC. I think I need a valve in the system there to really get the ac to cool well, but I can't decide if I want to do the max-ac-only factory valve or just put in a manual valve. I'd have to pop the hood and open the valve to get heat, but I'm thinking I could make that change when cold weather sets in and leave it for a couple months, then cut it off when the summer heats up. That would give me better cooling on the normal AC settings and on the vent setting. Any thoughts good or bad on that plan?

Also, I think I'll have to add front wheel bearings to the to-do list. above 75mph I start to get a drumming/roaring from the front end. I figure it was probably hardened 11 year-old-tires, but it's still there. next guess is bearings, but the Timkens are only $6 each, so what the hey.

I picked up the last of the steel for the roof rack build, but I'm trying to get the other stuff fixed before doing the fun project. You can strap 80' of 10' iron sticks to the factory roof rack and not even feel it.

ultraclyde Dork
5/18/13 6:11 p.m.

So I got the heater control valve reinstalled and working, dead simple repair. I also reinstalled my rear hanger rack after painting it. The rack is made from a cut out piece of an old dog crate, I use it for hanging up light weight stuff, specifically bike helmets and sweatbands postride so they can dry on the drive home. Comes in handy for lots of stuff. I had to track down a water leak in the window behind it so while it was out I tacked on some hooks, scuffed up the old gold ano finish and painted it black.

I'm also fighting some AC questions, but there's a thread in the main forum with details if you have some ideas.

duetto_67 New Reader
5/19/13 11:24 a.m.

Thanks for putting this up, helps get me motivated to work on my own 'Sploder. Mine has the much maligned 4.0SOHC 6, which is really a good engine with a few bad parts.

My list is remarkably similar to yours, but my rack has to carry a pair of kayaks...

ultraclyde Dork
5/19/13 5:36 p.m.

glad to help. The 4.0 gets a bad rap, and I've seen a few have major problems, but I've also seen as many that you couldn't kill with a broad axe.

My intention with the overhead rack is to build a basic cargo basket that can then have different widgets mounted/dismounted quickly to facilitate different cargo types - and that may eventually include kayaks as well. It will also carry enough flood lighting to help with night loading/unloading and camp set up. And perhaps the occasional troll attack.

ultraclyde Dork
5/22/13 7:33 p.m.

After running it a week I found the AC leak, I think. The condensate water dripping off the evaporator has UV dye in it. Looks like I'll be pulling the big box on the fire wall and probably replacing evaporator, orifice tube, and accumulator. I bought a vacuum pump and gauge set from HF for testing after reassembly. All this will happen when the freon leaks down on its own. I wouldn't dream of breaking federal law by opening a charged system.

Luckily all the parts on rock auto total $86 shipped. Not bad.

On happier notes, here's a pic of the interior rack in use after Tuesday's road bike ride.

Eurotrash New Reader
5/26/13 1:03 p.m.

Funny i was just looking at an identical xploder on cl for my daily e30 v8 swap. Glad its getting fixed and not run down like most. Usually the funky headers are on gt40 p heads but i dont think the explorer saw the p heads til 98.

ultraclyde Dork
5/26/13 8:08 p.m.

I managed to pull the big black plastic box off the firewall and extract the evaporator. Bad news is that the evaporator wasn't leaking. I noticed after pulling the piece and finding no sign of leaking that the coolant dripping from the heater core has some UV light activity. I think what i saw on the ground was leftover coolant from fixing the heater control valve. Which means I didn't really need to ruin an accumulator/drier or spend half a day pulling it. I probably could have just put some more freon in it (pressure was still low) and trucked on.


OTOH, the evaporator was obviously original and had some serious crap in it, along with some corroded funk. It was probably a matter of time, so I'm replacing it now anyway.


ultraclyde Dork
6/3/13 12:21 p.m.

After a weekend of sustained labor ( okay, just Friday night, really) I once again have ice cold air in the Sploder!! YAY!

The HF gauge set performed acceptably, but did give me some iddues. I wish I had been able to pick up a used high quality set of CL in the time frame I needed it, but so be it. It got the job done. The vacuum pump worked great, pulled 29-30 inHg for an hour. I let the system sit overnight and still had the same pressure Saturday morning, so I filled her up and was presented with 50deg air with the truck running parked with no airflow over the radiator. In a 3mile loop around the house with ambients at 85 degrees I saw a steady 45 degree vent temp. I'd bet on the interstate it will get down to a flat 40. Pressures were 35/2105 sitting in the shop.

After the air was working I got to move on to the fun project - building a roof rack. I started by grinding the rivets out of the old bed frame so I could extract all the 1 1/2" angle. The nice thing about using this is 1. it was free and 2. you get spare parts - predrilled angle brackets for mounting lights to the rack and some 1950s plastic wheels for a future project.

So I started cutting, fabbing, and measuring.

Part of my design is to drill 3/4" holes in the base angle to make it easier to anchor ratchet straps. I was using an old HF step bit in my drill press, and it made six or seven holes before it locked up and popped the chuck loose. Considering all the abuse I've given the bit, I can't complain. Plus I was running it at 720 rpm, and it should have been more like 400. Lesson learned, new Irwin bit bought.

So here's a question for the masses - what color should I paint the roof rack? Semi-gloss black is traditional, but I also saw a Rustoleum Dark Gray that might match the lower paint coler on the Exploder. What do you guys think?

ultraclyde Dork
6/5/13 12:31 p.m.

The roof rack is progressing. I finally got the bottom frame tacked together and it's even square and straight.

Angled sides are the front

the next step is to fab up the mounting feet. I'm using the factory roof tracks because they should be solid and they're already watertight and won't require new holes in the body. They are basically a thin c channel and the factory stuff had little bolts into tapped metal chiclets that rode inside the tracks, allowing for adjustability. I decided I'd fab up a similar thing but I wanted slightly bigger bolts. I was also concerned that simply tapping the metal chiclets only gave a few threads for a massive cargo rack with crap piled on it to hang onto. My answer was to make my own, larger metal chiclets with 1/4-20 nuts welded into them. This was a process of trial and error until I came up with a way to do it fairly easily. It still takes a fair amount of clean-up grinding to get them to fit into the track, but it's stronger than the factory M6;'s. My welds aren't pretty, but I tried my best to hammer one of the nuts out of the first one I made and it mangled the metal without losing the captured nut.

So, drill a bunch of holes in a 1' strip of steel

Then tap the nuts in with a hammer, flushing them to one surface of the steel. Weld in nuts with a bolt threaded in each to keep the threads clean, then cut off the new retainer chiclets using the chop saw and polish on the bench grinder.

The lower frame will have flat 2"x1/8"x3" tabs welded at four points, and on the inboard edges these tabs will have 1" square tube welded to the bottom parallel to the side frame, but underneath. The square tubes will be about 4" wide and will sit on the existing roof rails and through-bolt to the chiclets I just made. Or, that's the plan.

I want to keep the rack fairly low. If this goes well I should end up with the bottom of my floor grate abour 3/4" from the rub strips on the roof. Using the pallet shelf as a floor means I don't need any full width cross bars - it's rated to support 500lbs with only perimeter support.

bgkast Reader
6/5/13 6:33 p.m.

I would go grey on the rack.

DoctorBlade UltraDork
6/5/13 8:14 p.m.

Grey is good.

ultraclyde Dork
6/7/13 10:36 a.m.

Got the feet tacked together and the bottom part pf the rack test fitted. Now I have to fill in all the welds, grind everythign out smooth, bolt in the wire rack and fab up the uprights and top rail....

AngryCorvair PowerDork
6/8/13 9:11 a.m.

outstanding roof rack!

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