By on December 4, 2012

While Noise, Vibration, Harshness (NVH) control built into a modern machine is normally your friend, it often kills you with kindness.  That’s when NVH hides things that should never be hidden.  Shameful. Cowardly. Pathetic. And while I wasn’t expecting this level of deceit when merely replacing the shift knob on the otherwise stock transmission in my 2011 Ford Ranger…well it was thrust upon me.  And it can happen to you, too.

There was a time when you could simply unscrew the factory shift knob on any basic machine (cough, 2011 Ford Ranger) and replace it with whatever the heck you liked.  Something with a little more style than stock. Or something with more heft, giving a nicer quality feel in your hands. I had a solid 8-ball shifter remaining from the T-56 swap in my Fox Cougar, and I certainly thought it would look choice on the truck. So I began pulling the factory part off. Oh man, what a mistake THAT was…

So apparently the shift knob isn’t a normal “twist and spin-off the threads” type of deal. The forums mentioned a way to pull really, really hard to pop it off the threads, and I’ve seen that done elsewhere on other vehicles…so I gave it a shot. While those scratches weren’t from my teeth, they sure felt like it. No dice.

I wound up ripping off the rubber knob skin with my Leatherman tool, then attacking the hard plastic covering with a ball-peen hammer.  I was left with this metal hunk, and the remnants of the plastic covering wedged between the shift lever and the shift knob.  How many vibration quelling layers are there to this thing? 

Back to the top photo. I wised up and did what others suggested: remove the shifter assembly.  Which is another multi-layer, sleeved, affair with NVH reducing content. But with one bolt, I made it all go away.  But was I gonna try to remove the factory knob on my workbench?  I already mangled the damn thing up pretty badly, and the scratches could be present when I install the 8-ball knob. So I punted on 4th down. I called in my kicker, eBay motors, and got what I really wanted instead. Sure it cost me a few too many dollars, but…well…

BAM SON!  What you see here is the chrome lever from the Ranger FX4 Level II, the aforementioned 8-ball knob, and the faux-leather boot from a 1991 Mustang LX 5.0 Notchback. (Yes, I had to add the Notchback part, as that makes it cooler).  All this stuff together makes for a far superior design, deserving to be standard issue on ALL Rangers of the U-shift-it variety. Aside from the slick chrome plating (mixed feelings with all this black plastic) and the unbelievably better ergonomics of the FX4 lever, this part has very little NVH interference. To wit:

  • Huge, thick, air tight(ish) noise quelling rubber boot? Gone.
  • Multi-layer Knob sporting chintzy plastic and rubber covers?  Nope.
  • Sleeved shift lever with some rubbery stuff sandwiched between them?  History.

Now remember I said that the stock stuff can kill you with kindness? That doesn’t mean you want to be physically abused: word has it that the Hurst replacement is a bit over the top for most folks, even if the price is nice.  So the Ranger FX4 part has the right look and feel, and it’s a fantastic piece of OEM engineering. I can now shift without my elbow ever leaving the armrest.  The notchy engagement is now faster, and you can feel the notches instead of just wondering WTF is wrong with the gearbox. Vibrations through the shift knob are minimal, but present. Hammer the throttle in first gear and the lever emits a gearbox whine that–with my modified air filter housing and 2010 Mustang GT muffler–gives the DOHC Duratec Ranger a Pre War British sports car’s demeanor.

You can’t help but smile a little as you twist up the little Duratec Ranger through redline in the first three gears.  OR A LOT. This is just so frickin’ cool. And it’s so damn hard to find this anywhere in the world of new vehicles sold in North America.

My point? Just about any vehicle can be de-wronged, fixed to your liking. Don’t be killed by kindness, you need not be a victim any longer!

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39 Comments on “Super Piston Slap: NVH = Killing You With Kindness?...”

  • avatar

    There’s a Wrangler with a manual, if Corvette is not to your liking (re. comment about hard to find vehicles in North America).

    • 0 avatar

      I’m sure its stick is just as NVH boring as a stock, $14,000 Ranger.

      • 0 avatar

        I test-drove a Wrangler with manual trans last year.

        I pushed the stick up through the channel to first gear, pulled it back, pushed it in again, pulled it back.. finally after feeling around and failing to find a gear I let it go and the lever just stayed there. Oh, it’d gone into gear after all, not that I could tell by the input it gave my fingers.

        Worse yet, the shifter was spring-loaded! I’d never encountered one such as this before so was totally flummoxed when I idled up to a stop-light on the test-drive in 2nd gear, casually popped it out of gear and then pushed the stick forward… and then almost stalled-out trying to launch from 3rd gear.

  • avatar


    Ever had that long U-shift it lever whack you in the kneecap? Up here in Rhode Island, the roads are just TERRIBLE. I’m wheeling my father’s ’03 Ranger (sadly with the Vulcan V6) and every so often I’ll be forced to traverse some very un-road like terrain, and WHAM, I get a surprise love tap from the Ranger, right in the kneecap.

    My father still love his ’03 over the ’11 SuperCab he has sitting in this barn, licensed, registered, insured and showing 700 miles. He’s holding on to it until his ’03 dies…


  • avatar

    De-wronged? I tore the stock muffler off my 2004 F150 Heritage while pathetically attempting to install a non-stock system, I soon realized my own lack of skill and took the truck to a local muffler shop to finish the installation. The drive was only a few blocks and the 4.6 was just as quiet WITHOUT the muffler as it had been with the muffler.

    One DynaFlow system later she growls at idle and barks at high RPM but still doesn’t beat me up while cruising…

    Moral of the story? Even with a performance muffler system you don’t have to get something obnoxious to be cool and sometimes we do things that don’t have a true performance benefit just because it feels right.

    Sajeev didn’t do that stuff in pursuit of 1/4 mile times etc, he was just trying to make that Ranger totally his! I salute that.

  • avatar

    My ’11 Ford Fiesta just screws off. My old Matrix came loose on its own, had to give it a few more turns.

  • avatar

    Your favorite forums would guided you through the steps, Pilgrim. Sometimes they have pictures too.

  • avatar

    The very first thing I did when I picked up my BMW, before I even drove it off the turntable and down the ramp at BMW WELT, was to yank the ugly tall plastic stock knob off and slap on the lovely short wieghted leather knob from an e46 ZHP. Took it over with me. Perfect! BMW makes it easy, the knobs are just held on with a snap ring clip so all you do is PULL HARD and it comes right off. And they are all interchangeble from the ’80s to now, maybe even earlier.

  • avatar

    Now you need the roll bar and the STX graphics.

  • avatar

    Pretty sure the “H” in NVH stands for Harshness…not Harness.

  • avatar

    That shifter looks like a carryover from the 2.3/2.5 Pinto based engines. That’s an engine where you need all that damping material. My friend has one, and at idle the shifter literally vibrates noticeably back and forth. Without all that rubber and plastic it’d probably make your hand numb if you rested on it while cruising.

  • avatar

    Sajeev, can you happen to confirm if the FX4 style lever is the same as the TK5 levers from the 86-88ish Rangers and Bronco IIs? The style looks identical and the TK5 replacement was the M5OD, both made by Mazda… I’m curious if Ford raided a 20 year old parts bin. Did you happen to steal the Torsen rear end from the FX4?

    BTW, I suspect we were separated at birth. My vehicles are an 07 Ranger (5 speed manual of course), and a 97 Mark VIII. We part ways at the Panther, where I selected a GM G-body instead (86 Olds Cutlass Supreme, with the Olds 307).

    • 0 avatar

      I am 99% sure they are NOT interchangeable. The Bolt/Cam Lock mechanicm on the older ones mounts north/south in the cab, while it’s east/west in the newer one.

      I didn’t actually get to an FX4 at the yard, I bought this part from a Ford dealer on eBay.

      Lastly, it’s okay, I don’t own a Panther either. :)

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    Careful there big guy. A close friend put a new engine and transmission in an S-10 Chevy blazer. He claimed that many of the NVH parts “aren’t needed.” Put it back together again without many of them.

    From then on, whenever it rained, his feet would get soaking wet.

  • avatar

    Nice write up. I recently drew a Ranger when our motorpool ran out of sedans, I was surprised how much I liked it. Even with a slushbox.

  • avatar

    A friend had a FX4 Level II, with that shifter. It is truly sweet shifting. I still might want a 2wd stick work truck someday, they are the best.

    Bonus: can’t go wrong with the old 8 ball knob, or a pistol grip (I had one on my 03 Protege back in Tech School, felt pretty cool).

  • avatar

    I continue to be jealous of your sweet, sweet Ranger mods.

    I have considered the Hurst unit, but they’re hard to come by without spending several hundred dollars, and most of the folks over at Ranger Power Sports who have them report leaks from the gasket after installing. Not that transmission fluid will ruin the rubber floor mat in the Banger Ranger, but still not something I want to have to worry about after installation of a week’s pay-worth of shifter.

    The FX4LII shifters are getting kind of rare! Good find.

  • avatar

    This is why there is a Nardi wheel, shift knob, and ebrake handle in my basement waiting for me to get back from the Stahn and put them in my 1st gen Miata. Not so much the NVH aspect, just don’t like to feel like I am in an 80’s GLC when I look at the wheel or grab the shifter.

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