Project Van: Adding Cruise Control

Update by Tom Suddard to the Ford E-250 project car
Jul 11, 2019

We’re working on turning this $2000 van into a do-it-all machine that can tow a car to the track, then serve as a mobile workshop and hotel room for the weekend. 

Our super van was getting pretty super, especially after we upgraded the suspension so it cruised down the highway with ease. One problem: Thanks to the heat of the engine right next to our feet, our right foot would get awfully tired on highway drives. We needed cruise control to give our foot a break, but we didn't want to use a jury-rigged aftermarket system. When it comes to tow vehicles, we're big believers in retaining as much factory durability and serviceability as possible.

Fortunately, Ford made vans like ours with cruise control, and after a little homework we realized it wouldn't be too hard to add. All we'd need is the proper steering wheel, some buttons, and a new clockspring. To the garage!

Before we could do anything, we needed to get rid of our tired factory steering wheel. We carefully removed the airbag, then pulled the wheel off with a steering wheel puller. 

Here's the wheel we took off vs. the one we were installing:

This used steering wheel with cruise control buttons came from eBay, since we couldn't find any in decent shape in our local junkyard (thank you, Florida sun!) The price? $83. Our old wheel was trashed, anyway, so we didn't mind the expense. 

The next part of our recipe was a new clockspring, which we also ordered from eBay for $86. This sits between the wheel and the steering column, allowing wiring to pass through while the wheel turns. The van's original clockspring didn't have the proper connections for cruise control.

With the new clockspring installed, we bolted the wheel back on…. and found a problem. 

The included buttons had the wrong plug, so we broke out the multimeter to make sure the wiring would match if we swapped the old plug over. Surprise surprise: We determined that it was a moot point, since the buttons themselves weren't working.

Ford cruise control buttons are notoriously fragile, so we tossed ours in the trash and hit the junkyard. Three complete sets of buttons later, and we struck out: Thanks to the sun and water, every set had at least one button that wasn't working. We gave up and ordered a new set on Amazon, spending $100 in the process. Finally, we had the necessary hardware for cruise control.

What about the rest of the system? It's already in our van, since it's drive-by-wire from the factory. All we needed to do was go to the dealer and get the computer reprogrammed. $95 late and everything was working perfectly, and our van now had cruise control. We'd spent nearly $400, making this no cheaper than installing an aftermarket system, but the factory integration and reliability can't be beat.

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View comments on the GRM forums
Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
7/11/19 8:01 a.m.

I'm here thinking about all the times Gary drove that van from Florida to PA and beyond without cruise control... 

noddaz GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
7/11/19 8:25 a.m.

Nice upgrade.

What's next?

Jordan Rimpela
Jordan Rimpela GRM+ Memberand Digital Editor
7/11/19 8:28 a.m.

In reply to noddaz :

Find out Saturday! :)

Here's a hint: watch your lower legs when walking around this van.

wae SuperDork
7/11/19 8:38 a.m.

In reply to Jordan Rimpela :

YES!!  You're installing one of those flamethrower systems from South Africa aren't you?  I can't wait for the GRM Live show when you demonstrate that!

oldopelguy UberDork
7/11/19 8:40 a.m.

The aftermarket one I installed in my Transit is actually pretty awesome.  It had a couple of plugs that installed between the throttle and brake  pedals and their wiring and on the obd2 port, plus a couple of additional wires to hook up and a hole to drill in the column plastic. Twenty min later it's done. The aftermarket one has a couple of presets built in and also includes a speed governor i can enable to set an upper speed limit for the truck.   It's certainly not the glitchy magnets-on-driveshaft cruise you remember from the 80s.

John Welsh
John Welsh Mod Squad
7/11/19 8:41 a.m.

Interesting. I have interest in doing the same to my 2006 Ford Super Duty. 

John Welsh
John Welsh Mod Squad
7/11/19 8:42 a.m.

In reply to oldopelguy :

What brand? Link? 

oldopelguy UberDork
7/11/19 8:52 a.m.

In reply to John Welsh :

I installed this one.

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
7/11/19 9:16 a.m.

In reply to John Welsh :

You should be able to do this same thing, John. And I think you can use Forscan now to program the computer instead of going to the dealer. 

We have that Rostra kit on our new Transit, and it doesn't hold a candle to the factory cruise in this van. Harder to use with cheaper feeling switches. It's the best option available for a new Transit, but factory cruise is the way to go if you can.

fidelity101 UltraDork
7/11/19 9:20 a.m.

In this day and age it should be illegal to sell a car without cruise control as a standard option. what the hell guys?!

Floating Doc
Floating Doc GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
7/11/19 9:45 a.m.

I use my cruise control very frequently, not just on the highway. It's good to see this topic covered.

Samebutdifferent New Reader
7/11/19 10:09 a.m.

In reply to Jordan Rimpela :

You're ditching the dog dish hub caps for spike lug nut covers!!  18 wheelers will have nothing on you.

Jordan Rimpela
Jordan Rimpela GRM+ Memberand Digital Editor
7/11/19 10:32 a.m.
Samebutdifferent said:

In reply to Jordan Rimpela :

You're ditching the dog dish hub caps for spike lug nut covers!!  18 wheelers will have nothing on you.

Hope you like Salt Life stickers!

GameboyRMH GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/11/19 3:16 p.m.

Adding insulation to the doghouse could've fixed the problem for less cheeky

slowbird Reader
7/11/19 5:47 p.m.

I need to fix the cruise control in the Town Car. I drove it from PA to CO and back without it, and that was less than ideal.

Someday I'll get around to following the troubleshooting steps I found...

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