By on June 27, 2011

Steven writes:

Hi, Sajeev. I have a dilemma that I need your advice on.

I’m in a rural area of Central Ohio and have a 2000 Ford Expedition Eddie Bauer, 5.4 V8, just shy of 144,000 miles, leather, 3rd row seat, air suspension, etc., etc.. We got it to tow our livestock trailer, but now with an ’05 Chevy Silverado 2500 Crew I no longer need it (daily driver into Columbus is a ’10 Subie Forester). It’s all paid for, so no pay off issues. It’s in pretty good shape, clean, loaded to the gills as most Eddie Bauer editions are. It has some electrical glitches that no one seems to be able to fix, so when it’s parked, all the time now, I have a battery cut off switch to save the battery. The engine did blow out a spark plug awhile back but the local dealer was able to helicoil the head and it’s held up.

I want to sell it. My issue is that the tires need replaced, they’re still legal, but barely. It appears this will be about $600 or slightly more that we don’t really want to put into it unless it will help sell it for more (and faster). There is also a bad shake in the steering wheel at speeds up to about 60. This will have to be fixed (?), what the problem is and cost I don’t know (any idea?), but the air suspension is in good shape, front and rear have been fixed up by the Ford dealer’s shop. Given the price of fuel and, at best, the 14 mpg this thing gets I think the demand for a big SUV will be low, along with what I’ll be able to get for it.

Should I replace the tires and get the shake fixed or just try to have it fixed and sell it with not so good tires? Or, just keep it around for awhile and hope gasoline prices come back down and there is more demand later (yeah, I’m dreaming)?

Sajeev answers:

Bill: there is always demand for an old work/family truck. Especially one that’s loaded to Eddie Bauer levels. The question is at what price for what condition?

Selling right now for reasonable money will be tough on an Expedition, especially without putting the effort to sell in Autotrader and (preferably?) Craigslist. You could certainly dump it for pennies on the dollar, but I would take my time to recondition it: finding cheap tires on Craigslist and shopping around for the repair by local mechanics. Bide your time and wait for gas prices to go down.

Regular gas (more so than premium, if what we usually see holds true) will go down again in months, maybe sooner if the word on politics and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is true. No matter what your political orientation, you might use this to your advantage.

As far as technical help on the shake: that comes from numerous sources in the front end. I can’t armchair that one: wheels, tires, ball joints, play in the rubber bushings…who knows? I would ask around for free estimates from multiple mechanics, or perhaps a paid ($70-90) inspection for an estimate from a trusted shop. Price the replacement parts by yourself (online, for starters) and see just what exactly is involved in terms of labor hours: ask multiple shops (including the dealer) for the labor rates to replace said part.

That last bit is crucial. Homework is necessary. Nobody likes to be conned when it comes to a minor front end job that gets billed as the automotive equivalent of The End of the World!

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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28 Comments on “Piston Slap: The Automotive Equivalent of The End Of The World?...”

  • avatar

    Some or all of that shimmy could be the result of the bad tires.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    If it’s a 4×4, figure out the suspension issue, get some cheap but good tires for it (try PepBoys truck/SUV tires), and wait till the first major snow storm hits next Nov/Dec, and then list it for sale. You’ll have little problem selling.

    If it’s a 4×2… fix it and pray someone needs a tow rig in a hurry.

  • avatar

    The owner needs to make a decision. You are either unloading a heap or you are selling a good used car. I have bought a lot of used cars. I cannot tell you how many I have driven that don’t a) run right or b) drive right, where the owner tells me that it is just something minor and inexpensive. My rule of thumb is if it were really minor or inexpensive, the owner would have taken care of it. As a buyer, I assume that it will be a significant fix if there is something wrong.

    Now it is true, that a lot of FSBO owners just get a case if fatigue after getting a new car, and just want the car to go away. In that case, either trade it or unload it for a small enough price that it is a worthwhile gamble for the buyer.

    I learned the hard way when I assumed that the shifting irregularities in a really nice, low-mile Olds 98 could be fixed by fluid change and adjustments. Wrong. It was actually a full tranny rebuild. So if you want to see nice-car money out of the car, you have to fix it and make it a nice car. If not, sell it on price with enough of a discount to compensate for the car’s faults.

  • avatar

    I would overlook the need for new tires. As a buyer, I can replace those easily, and pick the quality of tire that suits my pocketbook. The front end shake has to be addressed, however. There’s too much mystery there for a buyer to be confident that they won’t be shelling out big bucks after the purchase. Since the tires are old, is it possible the shake is coming from a bad tire? And Dan’s point above about 4X4 vs. 4X2 is spot on.

  • avatar

    You know what scares me about this? The blown-out spark plug and the subsequent fix. My feeling this engine is on seriously borrowed time, and many perspective buyers who find out about this will head for the hills as I would. Having said that, I realize that in my position as an older guy who doesn’t buy “project” or risky cars anymore, I may only be speaking for myself.

    On the other hand, this car may be of value to someone who only needs this sort of a vehicle for occasional use and it might be a good fit for them – that’s the buyer you want to find. Who knows, the motor may be bulletproof! In the meantime, while it’s up for sale, hunt around for the electronic gremlins and try to find the drain on the battery – since this car is no longer your daily driver, you can have a little fun and take things apart and fool around and play detective! Happy hunting!

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Has anybody actually had experience with this common fix for this modular engine issue? I’m in it for the long haul with my 4.6V8 equipted F150 but at 80,000 miles I haven’t had this issue. It does make me nervous when considering a recent Panther or a pre-2012 Mustang GT.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s a common problem for these engines, if a tech isn’t careful when replacing the plugs. Ford cheap’d out on the number of threads for plugs on these heads. Helicoil it and forget it.

      • 0 avatar

        Dan, Panthers don’t seem to be affected. Its only the 4.6 and 5.4L truck motors???

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan


      • 0 avatar
        Ian Anderson

        Sajeev in one of my dad’s Hot Rod mags (well two actually) they’re building a P71 and had this problem. I’ve seen it on CVN a few times too so I don’t think it’s just the truck motors doing it. Either way it’s just like you said, put in a Helicoil and forget it. (Now if only Northstar head bolts were that easy!)

        As for the longevity of the 4.6/5.4, my dad’s company van (an E350 with a bucket loaded to the axles) has 250,000 miles plus countless idle hours on its original 5.4 and trans. Long live the mod motor!

    • 0 avatar

      The helicoil is a pretty standard and robust fix for a problem that never should have happened in the first place. My father’s F150 has close to 100k since his 5.4 puked its first (but not last) spark plug. No further problems with the cylinders with the helicoils.

      Like others above, I wouldn’t spend a dime on tracking down the shimmy until the tires have been replaced. While Craigslist is a great place to start looking for tires, don’t forget eBay. National tire store chains like Discount Tire often sell overstock at a discount on eBay and will ship to their location nearest you for free. This can save you a pretty penny in the end.

  • avatar

    The reality of these things is that the truck isn’t worth much, fixed or not. I say say put it up for $2K and take the first $1500 offer that comes up. Yes it is worth that little, it’s 12 years old with major issues. 95% depreciation, an no repeat buyers, is part of the large-domestic-SUV-gas-sucker deal.

  • avatar

    If the electrical glitch is a dead battery after being parked for an extended period of time, that might just be typical for that generation of Fords. I had a 2002 Focus that I left sitting for a little over a month, and when I tried to start it the battery was toast. Driven regularly it never had a problem.

    If the Expy is a third wheel in the stable, were it me I’d probably fix it and keep it if the insurance costs were reasonable. Drive it to work or run an errand with it at least once a week might be enough to keep the battery up. It’ll be around when one of the others is in the shop.

  • avatar

    If you can afford to store it a little while longer, the first time it snows this fall, you can easily add $500 to your sale price, if not more. Crappy Geo’s move at a premium in the summer when gas goes up, big 4WD trucks make people feel safer when it gets icy.

  • avatar

    If you’ve got the space to keep it until winter, and the patience to look around, it’s worth it. A few minutes research that tells me that the 5.4 engine in the EB Expedition was only offered with 4WD. So..

    First, as Sajeev says, take the car around and have the suspension looked at. Explain there’s no rush to get the car fixed, and the shop can work on the car when things are slow. Sometimes this can get you a lowered labor rate, as a shop would rather be making some money, than none at all.

    Second, start checking Craigslist for orphaned tire sets for your car. I’ll bet that you’ll be able to pick up your choice of all-weather or winters for little money – the Columbus Craigslist page currently has a 2000 Expedition being parted out.

    Get the tires installed, make sure the car works, and park it. Yank the majority of the insurance off, and turn the engine over every couple of weeks to keep it in good shape.

    Then wait for the first heavy snow.

    Reinsure it, put a ‘for sale’ sign on the windows, and drive it around for a few days. If you’ve got the time, help pull a couple of people out of ditches with it. List it on craigslist and make sure the ad has all the information and good pics.

    It’ll sell.

  • avatar

    I’ve sold a car once that needed new tires. I listed it at price $X and then told the potential buyers “It needs new tires i either replace them or deduct $Y from the price”. The person who brought it took the discount.

    As a buyer I’d want the best value “brand” tires I could find and not some “ditch finder” that someone brought on the cheap

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. I think I would rather get to choose my tires, and I only pay for their premium over cheap retreads, or house-brand specials.

      It may sell a little more quickly at the right time of year (falling gas prices or coming snow), and you might get an extra 500 for it in the winter (maybe 1,000, but I doubt it). If it will cost you that much to keep it insured and running, then you do just as well by selling it now, with less risk of surprises.

      Fix (or thoroughly mask) the steering shake. That could very well be wheels or tires, but it could also indicate possibly expensive repair appetite from the four wheel drive, which could scare off buyers. Rotate all four tires, just basic front-to-back on each side, and see what happens to the steering shake. If one of your wheels is unusually dinged or bent, does your spare wheel look just like the regular wheels, which would let you swap them?

      Once you address the shake, a little time at CarMax will tell you a bottom-line price. Note that they won’t give a flip about the cleanliness of the car or little wear and tear stuff. They will wholesale it out if you sell it to them, but it provided a quick release when we sold our 2000 Expy about three years back. They only gave me wholesale, or at least that’s what it felt like, but they gave me something.
      Make sure you plan ahead and top off the battery before showing it to any prospective buyers. Is the battery getting too old to hold a charge for weeks?

  • avatar

    If the shake disappears at 60mph it might just be out of balance wheels. You might be able to resolve both problems by just getting some new shoes.

    • 0 avatar

      Rotate the tires/ wheels front to back and drive it. If the problem either changes or goes away you have found the problem.

      I once thought I had a bad wheel bearing, ordered the bearing to replace it but to be sure switched the wheels front to rear. Turned out one wheel was just slightly out of balance, bearing was fine.

  • avatar

    Do invest a day to clean it up, top off the fluids, and get the tires balanced.

    Then be very honest with the final result while selling it at a discount price. Sell it now before something else goes wrong.
    Why invest additional funds for a higher sell price if all that will do is bump up the price almost equal to the time & money you put into it?

    Take high resolution pictures for your sales ad and detail each flaw. You will then have a happy seller & buyer.

  • avatar

    “Patience” is the key word here. A recent “piston slap” dealt with the “dealer vs private sale” issue. One of the comments stressed patience as being key to the private sale.

    After thinking about it I found myself agreeing with the comment.

    My 03 Jimmy is for sale, after finally convincing my wife to part with it. With gas at $5 a gallon, even up here in the frozen north a 4×4 Jimmy is a tough sell.

    My advice: Put it in any free ad you can find. Stick a For Sale sign in the window, and wait.

    Good luck!

  • avatar

    Were I looking at a high mileage vehicle, I wouldn’t want it to have brand new tires. That is because I use tires to check for signs of suspension and steering wear. Frame damage can be revealed too. It sounds like this truck is probably the sort of vehicle where new tires would be good because they’d mask any suspension wear from towing and likely eliminate the shakes. As others have noted, I’d rotate them front to back first. Once you know the tires are the source of your imbalance, replace them with something that doesn’t cost $600 or more. A set of Dunlops or Kumhos shouldn’t set you back more than $425, if you shop well and refuse all the add ons.

  • avatar

    I recently sold the same vehicle except for it being a 2001 with new tires and in showroom condition for $9000. I put it on craigslist and it was sold within two hours. If the price is reasonable you shouldn’t have a problem.

  • avatar

    Hi, gang. Thanks for all the advise. Still have the beast but I’m going to get new tires and have the front end looked at. Since I wrote to Sajeev the transmission coolant lines have sprung another leak (temp repair done the last time, leak in a different place now) and a brake line leak has the reservoir losing all the Dot 3 from just sitting. Will get that repaired this week. I think I’ll keep it parked, mostly, and wait until cold weather to sell. Folks in my part of the world (rural Central Ohio) don’t turn their nose up at a full size SUV with 4×4 when there is snow swirling about!

    On the electrical issue, there is something draining the battery as it sits. I’ve even had it drain down to the point it needed to be jumped in the time it took to eat a pizza and have a beverage. This happened when I was driving it regularly. The battery is the third since I’ve owned it. Two different shops (one a Ford dealer) just replaced the battery and called it good, saying they can’t find anything else wrong. The time it takes to drain it seems to vary. Have a battery disconnect switch on it now so I raise the hood and flip the switch and she goes. If I was to keep it I would find a good auto electric shop and let them have a go at it.

    Thanks again to Sajeev and the B & B!

    • 0 avatar

      Smart move. You’ll get a buyer when it gets cold, everyone will want it!

      • 0 avatar

        Hi, Sajeev and the B&B.

        Update on the Expedition… replaced the tires, brake lines and trans cooler lines. Rear brake were bad so had them replaced. There was a bad idler arm so had them replace that too. Taking the beast over to the shop the lower rear trailing arms broke, I mean, severed completely from corrosion, hanging down almost scraping the highway (Ohio winters, gotta love em, but apparently this is a common earlier Expedition problem). The guys at the shop wondered how I even made it there, they couldn’t move it from where I parked until the arms got replaced. I found after market replacements from a place in Indiana that makes racing suspension parts, for half of what Ford wanted, and better quality. There were other corrosion related issues underneath but not real serious and nothing that would compromise safety or drivability.

        $1,600 later it rides like a new vehicle, big difference. Contemplated keeping it but the “boss” nixed that real quick. The front end shake was a separated tread in one of the front tires, so no work necessary up front, other than the idler arm.

        Pulling out of the shop in a light rain made me realize another item I neglected to have them fix, no windshield wipers. I could hear the motor running but the blades weren’t moving. That day (still drizzling rain) I tore into it and discovered the arm from the motor to the wiper mechanism had popped off and was worn to where it wouldn’t stay on. A little heat and reforming on the plastic fitting and some aluminum wire wrapped around it means we’re all good now.

        Now if only I can sell it before something else breaks! Asking prices I’ve seen in the area for similar machinery look pretty good.

        Thanks again for all the advise!!

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