Sunday, March 13, 2011

2004 Ford F-150 5.4 Liter

Upon arriving at one of my shops I am given a 2004 Ford F-150 5.4 liter 3 valve motor. The customer complaint is that it runs rough and the check engine light is on. The vehicle has 117k miles on it and I am told it has always been well maintained. In fact it just had a recent tune up. Sure enough it runs rough and has a MIL lamp on. I also notice a decent rapping noise coming from the passenger side valve cover. I am told by the shop owner that this vehicle has had that noise "forever". Now, noise complaints on the 5.4 liter triton motors are not uncommon. This noise however is excessive.
Well first thing I do is pull codes. I have a P0300(Misfire detected) and a P0012(Variable Cam timing over retarded Bank 1). I also notice that the miss is more of a low speed misfire. It gets slightly better above idle. A quick test drive later and I feel that this truck has other issues besides a miss. It also has a lack of power as well.
Whenever I can I utilize Mode 6 data. Mode 6 simply put is the code before it becomes a code. I use it a lot on Fords with misfires and to confirm Evap code fixes. It is quick and concise. So I check out the misfire TID's(Test ID). It tells me that cylinder #1 is missing like crazy. Ok I have something to go on. Remember on most Fords cylinder #1 is on the passenger side. Remember, our noise? Furthermore, looking at #1 cylinder there is a new Coil On Plug unit and a new pigtail for the coil. Hmmm. As much as I trust Mode 6- I like to confirm. So I disconnect the COP connector and really no change in rpm, pulling #2 COP connector results in a decent rpm drop. Well I found my cylinder. My mind is still fixated on that rapping noise coming from under that valve cover. Another item I check when dealing with misfires is fuel trim-both short and long term. This vehicle has good fuel trim on both banks. That tells me we don't have a vacuum leak or a fuel issue causing the misfire. Next, out comes the low amp probe on the COP unit, nothing wrong there other than a short duration of operation which clues me in to what to do next.. My next step here is to check the actual spark plug itself. If you ever had the pleasure of doing spark plugs in a 5.4 Triton motor you know there is some praying to various deities when doing this job. First off these spark plugs require a special 9/16 spark plug socket to remove properly. Then you have the issue with the lower portion of the spark plug breaking off and staying in the cylinder head. luckily, various tool manufacturers have tool kits to make this job go easier. I felt better knowing that someone recently changed the plugs. I removed the #1 spark plug and.....
Yup, this plug is missing some pieces. Now, where did those pieces go? Could this be my noise? I crank and start the engine with the #1 plug out and hear something fly out.
This is a new plug with a dap of anti seize compound on it. Compare it to the one I took out. So I send this plug home and start the motor. The noise is still there but the miss is gone. I clear codes and road test. The truck has no more miss but still has power issues and a MIL lamp on. Code P0012 comes back. Time to break out the scope and look at some signals.

The Cam sensors give the PCM information on the cam position as well as variable valve timing. I prefer to backprobe at the PCM whenever possible. Thankfully the PCM is accessible. So we break out the wiring diagram and PCM connector views and backprobe Cam sensor bank 1 and bank 2.

Channel 1 is bank 1 and channel 2 is bank 2 respectively. I see an issue with bank 1 already. The amplitiude of the signal is in question for sure. Here is another shot.

Something is messing with the cam sensor signal on Bank 1. Before we go further we need to see if the actual VCT(Variable Cam Timing) system is working. I normally like to do a dynamic check where I ground the actuators on each bank raced up and look for rpm change.

Both banks show rpm change. So I now know we have the ability and we don't have totally clogged oil passages. I advised the shop owner a tear down is in order. I suspect something with the bank 1 cam sprocket or what Ford calls the phaser. All I know it is not going to be cheap. I advise the shop about oiling issues and to really look for sludge. Any sludge and I would recommend motor replacement versus repair.
Shop owner tears it down and the timing chain has substantial slack, the passenger side chain guide is completely broken and pieces are everywhere. Remember our noise. Above is a shot of a cam sprocket/phaser. But, there is absolutely no sludging. Customer decides to fix the truck. I tell the shop to save me the passenger side phaser. Below is a shot of the passenger phaser reluctor ring compared to the drivers side.
It has two bent reluctor tabs. Now, I know why we had that cam sensor pattern. How did they bend? My guess is the the timing chain guide that has been flopping around got wedged and bent them. Below is a shot of the phaser taken apart.
Here is one of the actuator and oiling metering block.

Like I was told this truck was extremely well taken care of. I was asked to retake scope shots to confirm repair after the timing chain, phasers, guides, etc was done. Below is the updated scope shot.
As you can see with my cursor set the amplitude is almost identical. Driving the truck afterwards the noise is gone and the truck has good power.  


  1. Just found your blog. Great site. The cam phaser issue can be a very expensive issue to repair or diagnose. The owner of this vehicle was very lucky that the material from the failed plug didnt cause more damage and that you were able to diagnose the issue using non invasive methods. I have done a few of these myself and they are not easy. Great site keep the case studies coming! Take care.

  2. I really like the way you present your diagnostics and repairs in a logical manner. I am a Master certified ASE tech but, i left the business in 1999 and way behind on the new generation of computer controled cam-timing. you make me want to go out and get the latest graphing probe, you really rock that low amp graphing probe.
    I am trying to diagnos son-in-laws 2004 5.4l triton F150 with a "turns over, almost cranks, weak spark problem. Have fuel pressure, injector pulse, but weak yellow spark from coil-on-plug. We replaced cam phasers, chain ,tensioners, and VTCs and found prefailure conditions but, as i suspected when we started, didnt fix the original died going down the highway problem.
    do you have quick answer on weak spark from coils, already played musical chairs with all possible relays.
    Fuel pressure is 75 cranking but drops to 39 in 3-4seconds and holds.

  3. I would suggest you start with the weak spark. You should be able to jump a 30kv gap typically 3/4" with consistent white/blue spark. First thing is what is your coil positive voltage key on engine cranking with a DVOM. Then we would need to examine coil negative key on engine cranking.

    1. thanks, been confused with all the chatter on the internet and wanted a starting point from someone i trust.
      you should really think about publishing a book and make some serious money and not break your knuckleas on a daily basis, your writing style is very entertaining to read.

    2. having been a mechanic for over 20 years, i am sorry to pick your brain for free. i know how irritating it can be.
      but if your willing, i put a noid light in COP connector and got a very weak flash. put noid light in injector connector and got very bright flash.
      12.3 volts in COP at KOEO but drops to 10.4 at KOEC on COP.
      had battery off a few days to charge and engine ran at first crank for 30seconds, then no restart condition again. this happens every time battery disconnected for long period.
      scan tool still says 40psi at sensor.
      if vehicle started again after only a few minutes i would swear this was stopped up CATs.
      weather has been bad but, will drop exhausts tomorrow to check this. also dies out slowly like loss of fuel or exhaust back pressure.
      could this be FPDM??

    3. soory, yes put inline spark tester and got weaker than expected spark but, this is brand new tester and i am not familiar with results. will install on good vehicle tomorrow and compare.

  4. Trying to find code explanation for my 2008 f150 5.4 liter I have a cam phaser delete kit in talked but started running like crap after a year. Codes are p0365 p1000 u1950. Can anyone tell me what they mean?

  5. my 2004 Ford F150 3valve 5.4 Trition is showing a po360 code and all 4 of my coils are not firing on the driverside ...i have checked al 8 coils and they read the same now where do i look can anyone help me out ??????