Do you hear that?
That woop woop woooop sound?
Is that just a suspension squeak or something?
Feel that jerking?
Isn't that just the bumpy road?
No, it's like a tugging – like something's pulling us backward.
Seems like just the bumps in the road to me.
No, it is different…
Uh oh – we've got a problem. It's a little wrench symbol. Can you grab the manual and look that up?
Yep… Hmmm…. The Ford F150 manual says "Limp Home Mode – drivetrain problem has caused your vehicle to go into a reduced power mode to get home. Some gears may not be available."
Yeah, it's got, like, almost no power at all.
Forty nervous miles later, we pulled into our campground. The truck was shuddering badly, shifting hard, and misfiring. We disconnected the trailer, started the truck up to move it forward… everything was FINE.
We drove it around Charleston (without the Airstream) for several days. Everything was FINE.
Today, we hooked up and started the long drive to Asheville, NC. We got less than five miles when it started again, much more aggressively than before. Whump Whump Whump, Bang! Whump. The truck was bucking and bumping and coughing… Finally, after 150 miles or so, we decided to pull into a Ford dealership in Colombia, SC.
During the previous few days, I had researched our truck's symptoms online. We were not the first to have these problems. On the Ford forums there was a torch mob yelling about how Ford should fix this problem. It seems that the new engine design (which has turbochargers and an intercooler) has problems in certain cases with water accumulating in the intercooler, getting sucked into the induction system, and making the engine cough and sputter. It particularly happens if you're driving in humid weather for long periods at freeway speeds and pulling a load.
Hmmmm… We are the poster child for that problem.
Our service guy was named John, and he was super cool. He was a pilot (we chatted about airplanes and flying during most of the diagnosis process), and he rode motorcycles, and of course he was a technical nerd because he worked on cars with computers. He needed us to drive around towing the trailer while he had his fancy-dancy computer system connected to our truck's brain.
Cough Cough – sputter sputter – "Yep, it's missing on number three, now there's five… OK, sparks are all working fine, no codes from the transmission…. oops, now it's missing on number one… Hmmm… ALL the cylinders are showing misfires. The ignition shows OK, the fuel injection shows OK… I've never heard that noise before."
John took us back and we watched while he pulled up the service bulletins and diagnostic info on his computer.
The good news was that our problem matched EXACTLY the service bulletin just issued by Ford (which was also the problem I had read about online). Furthermore, Ford had just released a new, re-designed intercooler to fix the situation.
The bad news was that there were only two of the re-designed intercoolers available in the US, and they were in New York. Yep, the same New York that is now reeling from hurricane Sandy. Those parts won't be arriving in Columbia, North Carolina any time soon.
John's advice… "Drive. It'll suck and it'll make noise and be rough, and the Check Engine light will come on. When it does, stop and cycle the ignition to clear it. But, it's not gonna break down and leave you on the side of the road, and you'll be able to get where you're going. I'd say just keep calling Ford dealers down the road until you find somebody that can get you the updated part."
We took John's advice.
Cough, Cough, Woop Woop BANG! Cough Cough sputter… (repeat for three hours)