Vaguely a week ago I made a post asking for some advice on what I should do to prep for my 5-day long trip from industrious Detroit, all the way up to Michigan’s gorgeous Pictured Rocks State Park. The link can be found here
Admittedly, I was a bit nervous to take my 196K mile 2002 Ford Explorer that was purchased for $800 on an 800+ mile (it actually ended up being closer to 1000 miles) after having only owned the car for ~6 months, and knowing what common problems cause these trucks to… stop moving. The 5R55W transmission is known for some common weak points, the 4.0L SOHC V6 also commonly likes to jump timing and send a valve kamikaze style straight and the pistons, causing catastrophic failure.
Based on some of the comments of the aforementioned thread, I decided to go through all consumables and service related items prior to my trip. I changed the oil and filter in the transmission with genuine Ford stuff, thankfully the fluid looked relatively in good shape, still red but not pink anymore, so it was due for a changing. I also did coolant, spark plugs, plug wires, rear brake rotors and pads, and the rear diff oil, oddly I neglected to do the front diff oil, but since the 4 wheel drive still works stupendously (it doesn’t), I decided it could go on the backburner.
My SO and I decided that camping was the way to go, we wanted to get some good exercise in the form of bike riding and kayaking, so I purchased 2 kayaks from a local sporting goods store, a pair of roof rack mounts off of Amazon, and BAM! I have successfully added a giant windbreak to my already fuel-inefficient 5700 pound SUV.
Driving on the expressway was fine although it was completely obvious there were two kayaks on the roof, every time I approached even the slightest grade the cruise control decided I needed to be in 3rd gear and sent the engine revs soaring to 3000 RPM, it also liked to stay there after the crest of the hill when the truck was clearly going downhill and needed no throttle applied. I frequently had to turn the cruise control off, wait for it to shift back to top gear, and re-engage it, this happened literally hundreds of times during the trip, I was wishing it had the V8 during these times, until I made it to the gas pump for the first time and discovered my fuel economy; 16. 16 Miles to the gallon; yikes. That would mean I was going to chew through 60 gallons of fuel at an average cost of $3/gal over the whole trip, let’s just round up to $200 for my fuel budget. It was also at this time that I discovered that my fuel fillter neck is leaking, and wouldn’t let me put fuel at full speed, so I had to hold it at a slow stream every time I needed to put gas in. Whopee.
After about 300 miles there was an extremely loud crash noise accompanied by a loud and repetitive banging noise coming from the passenger side of the roof, after pulling over I found that 2 of the screws holding the front of the roof rack had walked themselves out, causing the roof rack and thusly the kayaks to happily bounce rhythmically on the roof of the Explorer. Thankfully; I brought my Husky Mechanics tool set along for the ride, which had a T-30 Torx bit which was needed to thread the screws back down and secure everything back in place, crisis averted.
It was at this time pulling back onto the expressway, the explorer decided to surge-shift from 2nd to 3rd and 3rd to 4th gear, this made my heart palpitate a bit, as surge shifting a notorious problem of the 5R55W transmission. Oddly, my stress was unwarranted because it never did it again over the next 500 miles, and it seemed the gearbox only wanted to shift better as the trip went on, im guessing the transmission fluid and filter service I did ended up doing some good because a lot of the other hard shift issues I encountered prior to the trip were all but completely gone, and when the gearbox did downshift to 3rd during the uphill jaunts, it was hardly noticeable (aside from more engine noise). Maybe some old fluid still going through the system? I might consider another drain and refill just to see if that clears things up better going forward.
We ended up staying at a quiet campground in a tiny town called Grand Marias; for anybody unfamilar with Michigan history, this area was founded as a logging trail in the late 1800s, but later turned into a tourist spot because of the nice weather and adjacent great lake and state park. Instead of tenting I had brought about 6 inches of memory foam to lay out in the back of the truck, it measured out to about the same as a full size bed, and my girlfriend and I were plenty comfortable sleeping in the back.
After 2 nights of outdoor activities, exploring the area, and just general rest and relaxation, we packed up on a very foggy wednesday morning, I start the explorer and am greeted with an engine running on 5 cylinders. Still a bit hazy from having just woken up, I ended up putting it in gear anyway and took off from the camp ground to find a diner to grab some breakfast and coffee, after which I would deal with the problem. Spoiler alert; there is no breakfast joint in Grand Marais, everything opens at noon.
After the misfire did not clear up (unless the engine was over 2000 RPM), I pulled over, popped the hood with the engine still running, and decided to start wiggling spark plug wires. After getting electricuted by the ignition coil, many many many uses of swears, I reseated the loose plug wire, and the engine was back to roaring on all 6 cylinders.
Along the route I had selected to go back, we would be going by Tahquamenon Falls, this is a must see for anybody visiting Michigan’s Upper paninsula, I hadn’t seen it in over 20 years, so it was a bit nostagic to go back and remember going with my family as a kid.
I also took the obligatory photo of my jalopy parked just outside of the Mackinac bridge.
10/10 would do again, road trips in beaters has a certain level of excitment that a new car just doesn’t give; you become drunk with excitement when you actually make it to your destination, and euphoric when you make it home.