By on March 16, 2011

W.B. writes:


My ’05 Ranger 4wd w/5spd manual (35K on the odometer) does something strange indeed when I get ready to drive after it’s been parked for several hours. With the parking brake off, I shift to first and lightly engage the clutch. The truck strains against some kind of resistance, as if there were something obstructing the tires or as if I were starting on an incline. Neither of these are ever the case. With a little more gas and a little more clutch engaged, the truck “breaks free” with a loud “clunk,” and then drives normally afterward.

There has been recent (400 miles ago) maintenance performed by the dealer. To address minor brake squeal, the front brake pads were replaced and the rotors machined. This hasn’t solved the squealing problem, but a little research on owner forums suggests that the new brake pads may be of the wrong composition, causing them to be extra grippy in wet conditions. It has certainly been rainy the past few days, and I have also noticed exceptional grip—almost to the point of lockup—from the brakes when first starting, but I don’t know if there is a connection.

What in the Sam Hill is going on? My previous experiences with Ford’s apparent “do nothing until it happens when we drive it” policy and Murphy’s law have me reluctant to bring it in until I know as much about the problem as possible. So, is this problem dangerous to me or destructive to the truck? What’s my next move?

Sajeev answers:

First, talk to a mechanic well-versed in Ford axles about the possibility of C-clip failure in your rig, because it’s far from uncommon. Let’s hope that’s not the case.

I can’t imagine the dealer’s brake job causing the problem, they aren’t inclined to put non-OEM parts as referred to by the forums. Maybe the springy bits in the rear brake drums are out of whack, sometimes driving in reverse for a few feet with the parking brake engaged will self-adjust them. But this vehicle seems too new for that nonsense, so here’s my thought:

U-joints. They cause trouble in older cars, but perhaps you briefly went offroading in your ‘lil 4×4 truck? That would be rather impossible to resist. More to the point, if you can modulate a clunk from clutch and throttle inputs, that really sounds like a driveline concern to me. At some point the clunk will worsen, cause vibrations, etc but have the U-joints examined for excess play.

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

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23 Comments on “Piston Slap: Ranger of Motion, Part II...”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Sajeev’s got it about some sort of drive-line bind up.  Similar thing was happening on my 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.  I’d come to complete stop and then when taking off (if the windows were open) you’d here a loud “clunk” from the rear end.  In a case of “good news/bad news” it was stolen before I could have the problem investigated.  (Bad news: Your car has been stolen.  Good news: You don’t have to fix all the crap that was wrong with it.)

  • avatar

    I know you start out with the park brake off, but was it engaged while parked? Perhaps the park brake is not disengaging when the pedal is released, such as what happens when the cables stick, which is a fairly common thing. It makes a bit of a snap when they do release.

    • 0 avatar

      Or, as on my B3000 it could the brake pads freezing to the drums. This has happened twice to me this year and sounds exactly like W.B.s problem. I have to ask W.B. if when he parked his truck with the parking break engaged. I would also ask if the roads where wet and if there was temperature drop before he restarted his vehicle. 

  • avatar

    My father’s ’03 Ranger with a five-speed does the same thing from time to time – especially when wet. Seems it’s the rear-drums locking up…once you brake them free you’re good to go. May or may not be what’s happening here, but it sounds similar enough.

  • avatar

    I could be that your brake discs are rusting to your pads overnight. It happens to my car with a combination of wet and freezing temps.

  • avatar

    It’s the rear brakes not releasing properly.  It could be sticking brake cables or shoes. Some non-asbestos compounds are prone to sticking to the drum and also causing noise for the first few stops, particularly in damp conditions. Replacing the shoes with the premium product from a reputable company should eliminate the problem if it isn’t the cable.

  • avatar

    Try parking it without engaging the parking brake (put transmission in first or reverse and don’t park on a hill!).  If problem goes away, look for sticking/rusted brake cable.  If problem remains, you need to jack it up after being parked for a while and figure out which wheel’s brake is sticking and proceed from there.

  • avatar

    I do recall that my 2000 F150 did this same thing. It would sometimes clunk shortly after taking off. It has stopped doing it and I forgot all about it until reading this… One thing I have done to that truck was to fix the parking break, it was to the point where you could push the p/b pedal to the floor and it would not hold. I have rear disks on my truck, but the p/b had an adjuster wheel on it that you could access on the back side of the wheel behind a small rubber fitting. Not sure if that is what fixed it but you might look into it.

  • avatar

    Have to agree with Sajevv on this one.  This sounds exactly like an issue I had with my 97 S-10…..turned out to be one of the U-joints had lost it’s lube.  Not a bad DIY if you want to take it on yourself.

    • 0 avatar
      Ian Anderson

      I agree as well since the ’89 S10 I drive did the same when its U-joints lost their lube, was a nice DIY! The rear brakes also stick when it’s wet out, which the last time that happened was the axle seals leaking.

  • avatar

    My 99 does that if it’s cold and / or very wet. Pretty common I understand.I try to leave it in gear with the parking brake off in the winter.  Sometimes I forget and when we had snow and a cold spell a couple of weeks ago I couldn’t unstick it until it up warmed later in the day.
    I replaced my rear axle and one u-joint last year (broken pinion) the old axle did it and the replacement used one does it too. Lubed everything but marginally better. Never happens in warm weather.
    Hate drum brakes.

  • avatar

    If it’s an extended cab check the sliding section of the u joint that lacks grease.  There is a known problem with these and Ford has a kit for it. the sleeve needs to be slippery to allow it to float

    • 0 avatar

      That’s some expensive grease too, $45 or so.

    • 0 avatar

      Probably the same grease Chevy used to lube my steering wheel shaft to stop the clunk it briefly made. Been fine ever since. Must be good stuff. I owned a 1996 Ranger SB, regular cab and never had that problem described by the question above.

    • 0 avatar

      @ Zackman – My 04 Impala did the same thing, if yours starts up again out of warranty just crawl under the dash, look for the boot around the joint and spray the joint down with white lithium grease.  I’ve heard tons of complaints about it, I serviced mine and my father-in-law’s about a year ago, no problems since.

    • 0 avatar

      @DubTee1480: Thanks for that advice! I’ll file that bit of info away for safe keeping!

  • avatar

    You must have a problem with your rear drum brakes. I had a ’99 Ranger that did exactly same thing. When you’d disengaged parking brake, rear driver side drum would not get released completely. First time it happened, I stalled my truck trying to get going. With more aggressive acc. pedal application you could break it free and then drive just fine. I drove like that for a year, before I had it fixed. Btw, tried driving in reverse trick to let rear brakes to self-adjust and that did not help. You’ll have to take it to mechanic to have it looked at (if you are not comfortable doing it yourself, obviously)

  • avatar

    I have the exact same truck – a 2005 Ranger 4WD w/ 5spd manual and 80k. I also have had the exact same problem you just described. On my truck it turned out the rear drum brake pads were sticking. At first the dealer could not find a problem, but eventually the problem got so bad that not only would the truck be “stuck” when I first started it in the morning, but  the rear tire started locking up when I applied light pressure to the brake pedal. The dealer looked at it again and said moisture was getting into the rear drums and causing the problem. They replaced the pads, machined the drums, adjusted the park brake, and applied some gray tar (silicone?) like substance around the back side of the drums to keep water out. That fixed the problem 100%. I think it was the gray sealant substance that did the trick. Btw I also noticed the problem was worse in wet/cold weather.

  • avatar
    A Caving Ape

    Jack it up on a cold morning and try to spin the wheels by hand. Will narrow the problem down quite a bit, either way.

  • avatar

    Happened to my ’02 Ranger.  Sticking brake shoes are the culprits.  Get it serviced before they freeze up.  Mine froze one morning and started to bellow smoke on the way to work.  My mechanic told me this is a known problem affecting all Rangers.  I also had to replace the rear u-joint. Mechanic said they’re another Ranger weak point. One would think that, after building the same vehicle for 20 years, Ford would have worked out the bugs. Guess not.

  • avatar

    We had the exact same issue in a ’98 Ranger.  Never bothered having it fixed because it only happened a few times a year, but with the 4-cyl you had to keep the pedal floored and slowly release the clutch until something eventually “popped” open and returned the drivetrain to normal.  Always thought it was a throttle issue.

  • avatar

    “One would think that, after building the same vehicle for 20 years, Ford would have worked out the bugs.”
    The problem is that they’ve also been “cost reducing” the truck for 20 years…

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