After clearing out all of this new workspace in the garage, I was looking for a worthy first project so I thought I’d start by changing the spark plugs on my F150. If you’re thinking plug changes are easy, you have to know this is a 2004 Ford F150 with a Triton V8 engine. So what, you might ask? Well, back in the early 2000s, they designed the Triton V8 with a somewhat unique spark plug design. It has 3 valves per cylinder and the plug is centered between them all, but from the top it’s recessed into a deep hole with a long narrow nose firmly seated in the head leading to the tip. It’s designed to go 100,000 miles before a plug change is necessary, which is great in theory, but when you try to change them …
What happens is the narrow nose of the plug seizes in the head, to make matters worse any carbon built up on the tip resists any efforts to unscrew it. Adding to the problem is a plug design where the nose was manufactured as a separate piece. Although there are some who have managed to remove these plugs intact, with YouTube videos to prove it, the overwhelming majority of mechanics will break several of the plugs no matter how well they prepare or how careful they are and I was very careful and prepared. As you might guess, a broken plug in the cylinder head in a deeply recessed hole with extremely restricted access from above will really make your day. When you start this job, be ready for and expect broken plugs, and if you’re used to working on motorcycle engines, you’ll find these plugs almost comically inaccessible.
Ignoring the horror stories I made up my mind to do it. For several days beforehand I ran a fuel treatment designed to remove and soften carbon deposits. Then I went through the list: Mechanical skills? Well equipped toolbox? Shop vacuum and air compressor? Special tool to remove broken plugs? Check. Lots of patience and time? Check.
Without that special tool, a broken plug means you’re done, maybe you have to pull the head, who knows, but years ago, after several companies tried to make a tool for the job, one even including some kind of glue, the Lisle Corporation came up with what appears to be the winning design for a Triton engine broken plug removal kit, it’s simple, but ingenious. There are several parts to address the multiple ways the plugs can break and I encountered every variation, using everything in the kit and it works exactly as intended. It’s a lifesaver and trying to do this job without this kit on your workbench is simply foolish.
There is a Ford tech bulletin with a detailed technique for changing the plugs, there are also multiple techniques online from those who have had repeated success, some even say to use an impact wrench and let ‘er rip, which to all of my years of experience seems just plain wrong, but then, I broke plugs during the removal so maybe they’re on to something. In fact, the very first plug I tried, in the easiest to access location, broke. I knew right away I was in for a long day. I actually only changed 6 of the 8 plugs. It was already 5PM by that time and the 2 rear cylinders which are the most difficult to access were still left to do. I had broken 3 of the first 6, so I figured I would break at least one if not both of the last two and removing broken plugs in that restricted space was a job for another day. I also learned by this point there are a couple more very specific wrenches I want to have that will make the job on those last two a bit easier.
The OEM problem was finally corrected by Ford with engines manufactured after October of 2007 so a lot of 2008 Fords are affected. They changed over to a new plug design and if you’re buying plugs, make sure you buy the newest version. Although this problem existed in 2004 to 2008 Ford engines, which is a little while back, they sold huge numbers of Triton V8s in F150s and other models, too, and a great many, just like mine, are still in daily use. If you’re thinking of buying a used one, check to see if the plugs have been changed and if not, offer less because if you’re not up to doing this job yourself, the dealer will make you pay dearly, I’ve heard upwards of $1000, … for a plug change! Your average mechanic won’t want to touch it. It’s a great example of saving a lot by doing it yourself.
Having the extra space in the garage was a confidence builder for a job like this, it’s not something I would want to do outside, though you certainly can. This also isn’t something you want to tackle if you haven’t done a bit of automotive work before and are reasonably comfortable around tools, it would be easy to put your truck out of commission, requiring a tow to the dealer and a lot of money to get it fixed.
Overall, the newly opened space in the garage has proven its worth already and there are a lot of jobs still to come. It was satisfying to do as much as I did and when I get those last two plugs out, I’ll feel even better.