Project Van: Fixing Locks

Tom
Update by Tom Suddard to the Ford E-250 project car
Jul 5, 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.

Things were going great for our van. Then, one day at the track, we went to open the side door… and nothing happened. Turns out that Ford took a page out of VW's playbook, and used biodegradable plastic to make its door latch cable ends. It degrades, then the cables fall out of their holders and the doors stop working. According to the internet, this is a common problem. A quick inspection revealed that yes, the offending door did indeed have a mangled up cable. 

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Fortunately, this is one of the most common vehicles ever made. The very next day, we had a $10 set of billet aluminum replacement ends at our door. These are available at Amazon, and permanently fix the factory defect for way less than the cost of new cables. 

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We pulled the door apart and replaced/lubed every cable. 

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While we were in there, we noticed that every other door of the van had cables with plastic ends, too. So we ordered a bunch more of the aluminum replacements and threw them in the glove box. We'll either find some more time to change them later, or at the very least they're pretty easy to install on the side of the road/track/campground.

Locking Up

With our van's own door locks fixed, we moved our attention to the things we carry with our van. We'll just say it: We hate normal padlocks, and can't stand all of the tiny keys necessary to unlock the various trailers, toolboxes and more that fill our lives. Fortunately, there's a new product that claims to fix all of that: The BOLT Lock. These locks look like any other padlock, trailer lock, or cable lock (a ton of different form factors are available), but they have a trick up their sleeve. Instead of requiring their own key, a special system allows them to key themselves to your truck or van's key the first time it's inserted. After that, they're permanently keyed, and can't be changed.

So we ordered a set and put them through their paces. Setup was easy–just insert your key, turn it a bit, and hear the lock click into place. Done. And we tested how precisely it works, too, putting a different Ford truck key in the lock to see if it would open (it did not). BOLT Lock makes locks for all common car keys, but make sure you order the right style for your application. 

After keying a set of locks and equipping our enclosed trailer with them, we put them to the ultimate test: Time. For a year, we let them sit outside, threw them in the dirt, left them in shady hotel parking lots, and generally abused them.

As it turns out, BOLT Locks might be a great idea that's just a little bit lacking in execution. Most of our locks held up fine, though a few sported some surface rust after a year of use. We were willing to forgive that, and the construction. It doesn't necessarily feel cheap, but these just don't have the weight to them that suggests they'd shrug off a hit the way our Kryptonite locks have (we still own that bicycle). 

What we weren't able to forgive, though, was how one fell off. Yeah, seriously. On one trip, we left a gas stop with our trailer's main door locked, and pulled into the next gas station with only the shackle of one lock hanging in the hasp. Where'd the lock's body go? We're not sure, but it certainly wasn't with us anymore. BOLT Lock sent replacements immediately, and this could be chalked up to an early production run, but it wasn't confidence-inspiring. After a year of only carrying one key with us, we put the BOLT locks in a drawer and switched back to carrying a ring of tiny keys wherever we go. 

Update: Over the following months, we eventually replaced the rest of the van's door cable ends as they broke one-by-one. 

You can order replacement door cable ends at this Amazon.com link.

 

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Comments
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Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
7/5/19 9:21 a.m.

I think I'll need these for my van as some of the doors are a bit finicky. Fortunately, they're pretty cheap.

Thanks!

CyberEric
CyberEric HalfDork
7/5/19 5:21 p.m.

Love these updates on the van, thank you!

noddaz
noddaz GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
7/5/19 6:16 p.m.

Nice when the aftermarket comes up with a fix for a factory problem.

Floating Doc
Floating Doc GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
7/5/19 7:20 p.m.
CyberEric said:

Love these updates on the van, thank you!

I agree. It's not frankenferrari, but they're relatable, interesting, and likely a lot more useful to many of us.

Looking forward to more!

kman91
kman91 New Reader
7/8/19 8:28 a.m.

This is fantastic timing!  My son has a Ford Ranger from 1999, and the door cables are totally shot.  I had actually made something exactly like this with my metal lathe last year as a prototype and we were just about to make more, but for that price, it's not worth it!  Now we can fix it faster and cheaper!  Thanks GRM!

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