Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!
Dave asks: I have a problem. My boy is broke and I am not a hell of a lot better. Anyway I bought him an 2002 Ford Explorer in January. V8, a real hog on gas. Anyway, this summer it blew out a spark plug (aluminum heads). For towing and repairs that cost $700. Now today, for some reason, the side blew out of the transfer case. That will be another $1,000 to install a new one. Am I sick of this POS. Has that dumb business where it pops by itself into 4WD if a rear wheel slips a bit.
So, a friend says he knows of a good 2002 Chevy Traiblazer for $1,500. But, I read that they have an all aluminum engine. My Gawd for the good old days when stuff was made out of iron, and they used aluminum to make beer cans, and plastic to wrap vegetables.But the boy must have a 4WD, to get to work. Any thoughts you have how this one may work and blow apart like the Explorer?
Hope you can find time to answer. I have all old stuff myself, which I keep going like a 1969 Chevy truck 396. Lovely piece of iron.
My reply: Ford had some issues with spark plug threads in its aluminum V8 heads; however, this is a potential problem with aluminum heads generally. If a spark plug is left in place a very long time (“100,000 mile tune-ups”) it sometimes takes the threads with it when a mechanic tries to remove it. Aluminum threads are also more susceptible to damage from over-tightening.
So, you’re right – iron heads are more forgiving. But they’re heavier and don’t dissipate heat as well. These are the main reasons almost all modern vehicles have aluminum heads (and blocks, too).
One of the best ways to avoid the problem you’re dealing with is to remove the spark plugs before the “100,000 mile” tune-up recommendation. I’d do it at 50,000 miles. Then re-install to the correct torque, not by feel but using a torque wrench. If the manufacturer specifies any type of thread coating, use it – but if it is not specified, don’t.
On the 4WD: Almost all new/late-model 4WD systems are electronically controlled and some will engage the 4WD when the system thinks it’s warranted, as you’ve described. There is typically a “4WD Auto” setting, but no necessarily.
I’m with you; I much prefer manual 4WD, even to the degree of manual locking hubs. Because I value simplicity and durability over convenience and like to be in 100 percent control of what my vehicle does.
On the Chevy : Yes it has an aluminum V8, the 5.3, probably. It’s not a bad engine, though – and the rest of the driveline (especially the transmission) is better than most. But a $1,500 Trailblazer is likely to be either an incredible find – or a nightmare that found you. It is hard to find a running/operable anything for $1,500 these days – and a 4WD SUV at that price point.
Unless it’s a “friend price,” I’d be very wary – and expect it to be a money-sink close to the edge of the abyss. Worth checking into, certainly. But the price seems very wrong – unless the Chevy is very tired.
I have an alternative recommendation: Seek out an AWD Subaru from the early 2000s or thereabouts. Your money will go a lot farther shopping for an Impreza or Outback than for a 4WD SUV or truck. And the Subaru is a hell of a capable little car. I live in a mountainous, rural, snowy area (we just got 17 inches a week ago) and every third car that lives here is a Soobie.
The gas mileage will be slightly better, too. And you’ll definitely pay less for tires – and less often.
Just avoid models with the turbocharged engine; the rest are very durable and while not th speediest things in town, make for great low-cost beaters.
Keep us posted!
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