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May 2008 4x4 Tech Questions - Techline

Willie Worthy | Writer
Posted May 1, 2008

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Question: I recently bought a '98 Ford F-150 and was talking to my neighbor who is a mechanic. He says a lot of these trucks catch fire under the hood for no particular reason. Usually they are just parked when it happens. Is this really true?
Marlon Smith
Las Vegas, NV

Answer: There were quite a few Ford trucks and cars built between 1992 and 2004 that did have engine compartment fires. However, it's no mystery as to what's causing them.

There is a switch on the end of the master cylinder that cancels the cruise control when you touch the brake. Unfortunately, this switch has a tendency to leak and drip brake fluid (and yes, it's flammable) onto the wiring harness connector right below it. One of the wires in the harness always has power to it, even with the ignition key off. Get the picture? Not a pretty one!

Ford has listed a recall on this and at first did kind of a Band Aid-type fix. If the previous owner had it repaired under the new guidelines, there should be a blue tag on or near the harness saying that a special jumper wire has been installed that has an internal fuse. If not, get down to your dealer and see if your truck is on the "fix it" list.

Question: I just bought an '01 Cherokee XJ with a manual five-speed. I got a great deal on the Jeep and now I see why. The transmission has this terrible noise in it when in Neutral, like someone filled it full of marbles. It grinds when shifting gears and sometimes even jumps out of gear. What is this trans? Can I rebuild it myself? Where do I get parts? Would I be better off replacing it with something different? I plan in the future to rebuild the motor to a 4.6L, so if I rebuild the trans, will it hold up?
Aaron Newman

Answer: Your transmission is the New Venture 3550 that was used in '00-'01 XJs and '01-'04 Wrangler TJs. When the 3550 first came out, everyone thought it was just a smaller version of the very stout 4500-series five-speed used behind diesels in fullsize trucks. Well, it turns out that it is not, and while stronger than previously offered, it is not as good as expected.

I have been told by the rebuilders that U.S.-built "new old-stock" parts are getting scarce and can only be ordered through Jeep dealers, so that means that most of the replacement parts may be of questionable overseas manufacture. Instead of rebuilding the trans, may I suggest replacing it? Mainly because down the road you're going to have to rebuild it again and it will always rattle in Neutral. The noise comes from the countershaft kind of floating back and forth within the case. Note that if you put some side pressure on the stick, the noise will stop.

Probably the easiest swap would be to use a five-speed "Terminator" trans from Rockland Standard Gear (877/774-4327, This is a special version that Rockland had Aisin-Warner build, which was designed to handle all the torque and horsepower that any 4.6 motor can put out, plus it's a heck of a lot quieter, and has much smoother shifting. The best thing is that it's a direct replacement, meaning no adapters needed and no floor modifications. The only downfall to the trans is that first gear is slightly higher at 3.80:1 as compared to the 4.0:1 of the 3550.

Another trans to consider is the Jeep/Mercedes NSG-370 six-speed. It has a 4.46:1 First gear and a 0.83:1 Overdrive. It should bolt right up to the present bellhousing, and even the clutch disc will work. I think that it is a couple of inches longer, so new driveshafts may be necessary. From what I can find out, the six-speed may not be as strong as the NV3550.

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