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Replacing Troublesome Ford Triton 5.4L V8 Spark Plugs

Posted in How To: Engine on June 3, 2015
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The Ford 5.4L Triton three-valve engine is a great powerplant and comes from the factory with Motorcraft platinum tipped spark plugs rated to last 100K miles. However, if you’ve blindly attempted to change the plugs as you normally would on your average V-8, or you called your dealer checking installation prices, you’ve most likely been surprised. Given the former DIY action, you probably found the plugs can break in the cylinder heads. Given the latter action, it’s not uncommon to get a $400 to $600 quote from a dealer to replace the spark plugs.

The spark plugs in these engines were a new-style plug with an extended electrode tip. They were used in the Ford 5.4L Triton three-valve engines from 2004 to 2007, and in some of the 6.8L V-10 engines of similar years as well. The relatively long spark plugs have an extended electrode and metal spark plug tip on the lower portion. Over time, carbon accumulates here and can cause the spark plug tip to stick in the cylinder head. Upon removal, it’s possible for the two-piece plug to break, leaving the lower half of the inner porcelain and the tip in the head.

This is the Lisle 65600 Broken Spark Plug Remover for Ford Triton three-valve engines used to remove broken spark plug tips from the combustion chamber in the head. Cost for the kit is about $60. The middle tool threads into the cylinder head and the top hex is screwed down allowing the lower pin to push the lower portion of the broken spark plug porcelain into the bottom end of the plug. Then, the upper tool is combined with the aluminum tube to pull the spark plug tip from the head. The upper tool is threaded into the stuck tip and the nut tightened to pull the tip free of the spark plug hole.

Many of these plugs can seemingly be removed without breaking them, but one never knows until you try to remove them. The longer the plugs are left in the engine, the more troublesome they may be to remove, and possibly more likely to break off. There are numerous theories on how best to remove the plugs to have the least risk of breaking them.

Pre-cleaning the cylinder head carbon with injector cleaner run through the gas tank is easy and may provide some help. It’s debatable whether doing the work on a cold or warm engine is better, though Ford recommends a cool engine. We turned each plug one-quarter turn and then soaked the plug wells overnight with some penetrating oil. The next day we slowly turned each plug out with a hand ratchet. We’ve also seen mechanics use air impact guns to spin the plugs out rapidly, but we decided against that tactic.

Even taking pre-clean and soak precautions, and working the plugs slowly, we managed to break five of the eight plugs and had to use a Lilse spark plug removal tool to complete the removal of the broken plug tips. The tool worked great, but total time to do the job on our engine was about four hours.

These are our factory plugs. As mentioned, five of ours broke. You can see the extended electrode and the sheetmetal spark plug tip that is below the threads. When carbon builds up on the hooded area, it can cause the spark plug tip to break free from the rest of the plug, below the thread line. Ours broke in two locations, and in both cases left the tip behind in the head. You can see the Lisle tool threaded into the last spark plug tip we removed.
Accessing all the plugs is tricky. First, you’ll need to pull the coil pack over each plug by removing a small bolt and the electrical connector. To extract the plugs, we used a deep wall 9/16-inch socket along with a wide variety of ratchet extensions and a universal joint to access all the plugs for removal. A strong magnet came in handy for lifting the tools back out and pulling the loose spark plugs out of their deep cylinder pockets.
Replacement plugs are either an improved design that’s not supposed to separate or a one-piece design, so should not be a problem going forward. To prevent sticking of the steel plug in the aluminum cylinder head, a light coat of anti-seize should be applied to the lower cylinder portion and to the threads. Recommended final torque spec is 25 ft-lb.

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