Project F-250: Making it Drivable

Update by Tom Suddard to the Ford F-250 project car
Feb 12, 2020

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After wanting more than our  Super Van could offer, we scooped up this V10 Ford F-250 for the dirt-cheap sum of $3300. Why so cheap? Yeah, we were patient and jumped on a great deal, but the truck also had its fair share of issues. Individually none of them were a big deal, but combined they lowered its price and its utility. 

Before we could start towing with the F-250—never mind improving it enough to earn its future name as the Super Truck—we needed to start fixing problems. 


The Elephant on the Roof

Our first fix was by far the most expensive, didn’t affect performance at all, and couldn’t even be seen by most people. But it was also the most serious: roof rust. Our truck sported a large area of missing paint on the roof that had started turning into surface rust. What caused it? Who knows. But we’ll blame 2001-era Ford white paint as the mostly likely culprit. 

Left unchecked, this rust would have spread into nooks and crannies it couldn’t be removed from, so we hit the easy button and had our local body shop, The Body Werks, take care of it as soon as we bought the truck. Having the roof repainted was a stinging $700 expense, but we considered it cheap insurance to snuff out the only spot of rust on the entire truck.


Yeehaw Tires

Next, we turned our attention to the tires. We’re not sure what the polite way to say this is, but our tires were very, um, Florida. The previous owner had installed giant unbalanced mud tires on the truck, and they made it drive like crap. Fortunately, this was an easy fix: The truck came with the original wheels shod in OEM-sized tires, and we found the corresponding lug nuts in the glove box. These tires aren’t great either—we don’t really like their 10-year-old date codes or the fact that they’re about 60% worn—but at a cost of $0 they’ll do the job for now. We listed the mud tires and wheels on Facebook Marketplace, netting $375 for our efforts.


Topper Time

Okay, this wasn’t a problem, but it was another time we got lucky. We knew we’d need to put a removable fiberglass topper on our truck to give us the enclosed storage we loved in our van, and a Facebook Marketplace alert delivered just days after we bought the truck. For just $200 and 45 minutes of driving, we scored a Leer fiberglass topper and clamps designed specifically for our truck. It’s not beautiful (unless you like the look of faded silver paint), but the price was right and it fits our needs perfectly. No keys were included for its locks—that’s the main reason it was so cheap—but we had an ace up our sleeve. It’s remarkably easy to replace lost keys online, and we ordered a new set for $10 from Lost A Key. One week later, we’d turned our truck bed into secure, lockable storage. To make the topper easy to install and remove, we mounted a $99 hoist from Harbor Freight in our carport’s rafters, plus a big eye bolt in the middle of our topper’s roof. Now we can switch between an open truck bed and secure storage with one person and 10 minutes. 


What About That Tailgate? 

Our truck had another major defect: the tailgate, which was smashed and broken. Rather than attempt a repair, we picked up a used tailgate in good shape from Facebook Marketplace for $250. It was the wrong color, but that didn’t bother us. Past experience taught us that the $38 off-brand vinyl wrap that Amazon sells is a perfect match for white Ford paint, and after an evening of work we had a shiny, white, dent-free tailgate with a working handle. We swapped our broken tailgate’s lock cylinder over to the new tailgate, too, so one key still works the entire truck.

For bonus points, we took this opportunity to fix the truck’s bent tailgate brackets, too. How? Simple: We used a tree and a Porta Power hydraulic ram, which pushed everything back into alignment.


Most Beautiful Truck on the Block

We’d fixed our truck’s most glaring issue—that horrible tailgate—so we turned our attention to making the rest of it presentable. First up: the stone chips, a hallmark of a vehicle from the Pacific Northwest (remember, our truck spent most of its life in Oregon). We stopped by our local auto body supply store for some touch-up paint and spent a few hours delicately painting over rock chips. Is it perfect? Absolutely not, but we’ve stopped any theoretical rust from starting and made the truck look about 80% better. 

In fact, we’d improved the truck’s appearance so much that the yellowed headlights stuck out like sore thumbs. The right way to fix these is to remove them, sand the yellowed plastic off with a dual-action sander, and paint with automotive clearcoat. To save time and money, we used a 3M Headlight Lens Restoration System and a drill to remove the yellowed plastic, then coated the headlights with a 3M Quick Headlight Clear Coat wipe to provide UV protection and prevent the lenses from yellowing again. After 20 minutes of work, we’d improved the headlights by about 80%, and they were no longer the truck’s ugliest feature.


Let Me In!

Next, we turned our attention to the interior. Well, we tried, but our truck’s power lock actuators were junk, meaning we had to unlock the doors manually like peasants. That wouldn’t do, so we ordered a pair of off-brand power lock actuators from Amazon for $20. Pulling door panels on these trucks is easy—it’s literally two clips and two screws—and changing both actuators, cleaning, and lubricating both sides took less than an hour. Just like that, we had power locks and had returned to the 21st century. 


Wiring Issues

Our truck featured a telltale sign of cheap internet purchases: an unfused wire running directly from the positive battery terminal, across the engine bay, and into no-man’s-land. Further inspection confirmed our hunch: The previous owner had struggled to find power for his electronic trailer brake controller, then resorted to this half-assed fix. Righting this wrong turned out to be easy: We dropped off the truck at our favorite local repair shop, the Auto Clinic of Ormond Beach, to have that wiring removed and confirm that the previous owner hadn’t tweaked anything else.

Fortunately that seemed to be the only thing he’d touched. Also fortunately, the original Ford brake controller wiring harness, fuse and relay were still in the glove box with instructions, which meant that installing the new brake controller was a plug-and-play affair with no additional wiring. We chose the Tekonsha P3 after having great luck with it in other trucks.

The only other bit of molested wiring on our truck was near the trailer hitch, where it seemed like six different trailer plugs had been installed over the years, each one with worse workmanship than the last. This, too, was an easy fix. The F-250’s factory trailer wiring plug, which is located on the frame near the spare tire, was still intact and unmolested, so we simply unplugged the mess that that previous owner had left us. 

Next, we grabbed another OEM trailer wiring plug and some extra factory wire from our local junkyard. Then we wired up a little adapter with OEM colors that connects the factory wiring to a modern seven-pin connector, branching out along the way to power the dome light and third brake light on our topper, as well as our backup camera. By doing this without cutting any of the factory wires on our truck, we’d guaranteed that any future problems will be easy to diagnose with factory wiring diagrams.


Stop the Madness

Next, we turned our attention to the brakes. Our truck stopped well enough, and though the rotors were warped there was plenty of pad life remaining (we'll definitely need to do a brake job down the road). However, the brakes still needed immediate attention. We noticed that the passenger-front brake line to the caliper was twisted and rubbing on the shock, clearly the result of a brake job done in a hurry. We removed that line and reinstalled it correctly, carefully checking it for wear in the process (it looked fine). Then we bled the brakes with our Motive Products power bleeder, which guaranteed that we had fresh, clean fluid at all four corners. A quick test drive afterward confirmed that everything felt good and our ABS was working as designed. 


Cassette Player?!

Our truck’s radio was still the original unit. We were happy about that—it meant nobody had butchered up the dash wiring—but there was no way we were about to do road trips without a Bluetooth connection, and never again will we back up to a trailer without a backup camera after installing one on the Super Van.

So we splurged and ordered a $130 tailgate latch with a built-in backup camera from Amazon. Then filled up our Crutchfield cart with a Sony Carplay radio and the appropriate wiring and dash adapters, as well as a satellite radio receiver. In all we spent $250 at Crutchfield. Could we have saved a few dollars by ordering from Amazon? Maybe, but Crutchfield's combination of honest advice and free installation accessories means we’ll never order car stereo equipment from anywhere else.

Installing the head unit was easy, with the longest step being soldering the radio’s plug to the Crutchfield adapter plug for the factory Ford wiring harness. The backup camera, though? It was unmitigated crap, and its mounting studs broke almost as soon as we tried to install it. We spent an extra hour reengineering its mounting in order to get a fit and strength we were happy with. Once it was installed, we carefully ran the camera wiring along the factory wiring harness. We then passed the signal through the firewall using our F-250’s factory accessory pass-through wiring so we wouldn’t have to make any holes or cut any grommets. This method has one drawback—it introduces a tiny bit of noise into the camera signal—but it’s worth it for factory weatherproofing in our opinion.

After a few hours of work, we had Carplay, satellite radio and a backup camera that makes hooking up a trailer a single-person task. While we had the dash apart, we replaced the broken 12-volt power outlet with parts from the local junkyard, too. 


Back to Square One

After a week’s worth of nights and less than $1000—minus $375 for selling those terrible mud tires—we’d transformed our truck from Marketplace crap to a legitimately useful tool. Well, nearly, since we still needed to clean up the interior. We’ll cover that in our next update. Then we can start down the path of building the Super Truck.

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Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
2/12/20 2:52 p.m.

And OMG, I'll never have a roadtrip vehicle without CarPlay again!

buzzboy HalfDork
2/12/20 5:06 p.m.

Ooh, manual V10 4x4. Very nice tow pig.

I never realized F150 and Super Duty tailgates would be the same that generation. I figured everything would be bigger on the Super Duty.

Mr_Asa Reader
2/12/20 5:08 p.m.

Never heard of CarPlay (as I'm not an Apple guy) but I can imagine its useful as hell.  Wonder if there's some sort of Android equivalent

John Welsh
John Welsh Mod Squad
2/12/20 5:10 p.m.
Mr_Asa said:

Never heard of CarPlay (as I'm not an Apple guy) but I can imagine its useful as hell.  Wonder if there's some sort of Android equivalent

Android Auto

Mr_Asa Reader
2/12/20 5:12 p.m.

In reply to John Welsh :

Awesome, I've been looking for an excuse to upgrade my headunit and speakers again.  Thanks.

jfryjfry Dork
2/12/20 6:26 p.m.

What is it with people bodging up trailer wiring???   It's easier to do it right!

thatsnowinnebago GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
2/12/20 6:47 p.m.

I wish this would have been posted like 2 weeks ago. My Ford's faded silver shell also was missing keys. I replaced both handles for $25. That Lost a Key link would have saved me like $15! Because this is clearly GRM's fault, expect an invoice soon.

mr2s2000elise Dork
2/12/20 8:27 p.m.

OR plates in FL?

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
2/12/20 9:58 p.m.

Florida doesn't have front plates, so it took me a few weeks to pull the Oregon plate off the front bumper. 

Jordan Rimpela
Jordan Rimpela HalfDork
2/13/20 6:13 a.m.

Nice Mercedes at the gas station. And holy hell the wheels that were on the truck when Tom bought it were the absolute worst. I'll never forget pulling alongside him just to hear the ungodly cacophony those tires made. 

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