How to: Replace Spark Plugs and Wires – 97 Ford Explorer, 6 Cylinder, SOHC | Ford Explorer - Ford Ranger Forums - Serious Explorations

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How to: Replace Spark Plugs and Wires – 97 Ford Explorer, 6 Cylinder, SOHC

sne43

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'97 XLT, 4.0 6 Cyl., SOHC
First of all, I am not a mechanic. I have never done a tune up prior to this, but learned a lot doing the tune up, so thought I would write this up to help some others. There may be other tips and tricks that others can add. I am writing this, because I could not find a specific and comprehensive description of the process on the forum. It took me a lot of trial and error and reading some tips on this forum to get it done. Therefore, I spent more time to get it done than hopefully you will after reading this thread. You will need to allocate a solid 3 hours to the task if you are an amateur like me. It is a very doable job.

Changing spark plugs and wires should be an easy process, but in the ’97 Ford Ex, XLT it is not. Whoever designed the vehicle, did not design it with maintenance in mind. Perhaps this is a marketing ploy to get more people into the dealership for service?

Here is what you will need to get the job done:

•Spark plugs x 6 – I used “Platinum” Plugs which were about $4 each. Some on this forum suggest using “Double Platinum” or “Platinum Plus”, which are about $7 each. Your choice, but the factory uses the ones I did. I purchased Autolite plugs because it was easy to get. I have read they are crap. Buy them “pre-gapped” at .054” which meets the spec for the engine.
•Spark Plug Wires x 6 – Mine were about $65 for a set that are made to match the length of the OE Set of wires. Can get them at any auto parts store (cheaper or more expensive available). Only necessary if you cannot get the “Boots” off of the spark plug or want to change them as a part of the tune up. I changed mine because they were the original wires with 165K mile on them.
•5/8” Deep Socket and Socket Wrench. You will have to have extensions and hinged connectors to help with the contortions you will have to go through to get the plugs off.
•Breaker Bar
•Utility Knife
•“Exacto” Knife
•Locking pliers
•Spark Plug Gaping tool to confirm that the gap is correct on the spark plug
•Dielectric Grease (Silicone grease)
•Anti-seize “grease” to put on the threads

Getting Ready:

•Put Anti-seize on all the spark plug threads and fill all the wire boots with Dielectric Grease. Make sure you get the grease deep in the boot so it is on the metal part that connects to the spark plug. Don’t grease the other end. Line them up by length.

Remove the passenger side front tire and get some room to work: Loosen the lug nuts on the tire and then jack the passenger side, front corner of the car up, per the instructions in your owner’s manual. You want the tire to drop down giving you access to the wheel well on that side. Place a jack stand under the frame for safety. Remove the tire from the car.

•Remove the mud guard from the inside of the wheel well. It is that rubber piece with plastic push tabs holding it on. If you break a tab, don’t worry, they are cheap and readily available at an auto parts store or at the Ford dealer. Just pull them out.

•You’re ready.

Removing the tire on the passenger side seems strange to me, but it is the only practical way to get to the plugs. Getting at this side from above is nearly impossible. There is too much stuff in the way and going through the wheel well makes it easier with more direct access and visualization.

Procedure:

NOTE: PULL ONE WIRE AND PLUG AT A TIME! Don’t make the mistake of removing all of the wires and plugs and then trying to figure out how to put them back in the right spot.

•I started with the hardest first. It is the one in the back of the engine on the passenger side. I figured that if I got this one done the others would seem easy. Just my preference. Then removed the remainder on the passenger side back to front. Last, I did the driver’s side. It is easily accessed from above and does not require the tire removal and goes quickly.

•First: Pull the boot off of the plug. If yours are like mine, they will not budge. Only two of the six came off with the prescribed twist and pull method. The plugs had 100K miles on them and the wires were original (165K miles). I tried pulling with the special tools they sell for this purpose, but none gave me enough leverage in the small confined spaces of this engine compartment. Since I had the new wires, I settled on cutting the boot. To do this, you need a utility knife with a new blade and it helps to have an Exacto-knife. Reaching up with the knife, engage the knife at the base of the boot and press firmly. Pull the knife towards you, cutting along the length of the boot up toward the wire. This took only one hand. You can feel the metal connector inside the boot as you cut if doing it properly. The Exacto-knife gave me a little deeper access to the base of the boot because it is smaller, but less leverage. Once cut, put locking pliers on the rubber boot and pull. The boot should come off much easier. I had two of the four almost fall off using this technique.

•Remove the spark plug. It is easier if you remove the rubber insert from your 5/8” deep spark plug socket. It just got in the way. This is especially the case if the metal connector is still attached to the plug after using the cutting technique. For a stuck plug, A "breaker bar" is helpful if you have one to get the plug turning.

•Remove the wire and note its path along the engine compartment. Each wire has its own press clips along the engine to keep them in place. Once it is pulled through, remove the end attached to the “Distributor” (I used to call it that in the day, they probably have another name for it now). This is all very obvious, once you see it and do it.

•Pick the correct length wire in the set to match the one you just removed. Reverse the order. Connect it to the distributor. Rout the wire back through its clips to the spark plug location. Press the boot firmly until you feel it “click” onto the spark plug.

•Start the engine to make sure you have it right.

•Repeat for all 5 remaining plugs.

After completing it, my engine runs MUCH better. My plugs and wires were shot and way over due for replacement. Can’t believe I put it off this long. The engine idles better and is smoother overall with better acceleration. Best of all, I saved money and know that job got done right. My next tune up will go much easier. Hopefully this write up will make yours go easier the first time around.
 
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Interstate

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Thanks for the beginner tutorial! I hope to be using this in the near future. Should have taken some pics, threads are always better with pics.
 
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Kiloaman

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Yeah, real helpful. I tried to change my spark plugs, and i had no clue what the hell i was doing, so i had to take it into a mechanic to get it done. Now with this, i can do it myself!
 
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gijoecam

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For the record, do not use anti-seize on the threads. It changes the clamping force generated by the torque of the threads, and can and does lead to stripping the threads out of the head. Anti-seize is unnecessary thanks to the modern coatings used on the threads of the plug. They do not tend to seize in the heads anywhere near as often as they did when aluminum heads were still new to the game.
 
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greasemanicure

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I love this forum! Seek and ye shall find! I was about to tackle the wires on my daughter's EX and now I know that it will be easier with your great guidance. You are right on the $$$. Ain't no way to go from the top on the right side.
Thanks!
Joe
 
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Steenbag

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This was incredibly helpful! I switched out my plugs and wires on my 2000 Mountaineer V8 yesterday. It went great thanks to this post. One thing I found with the V8 engine (Mountaineer at least) is that the drivers side plugs/wires come out a lot easier through the wheel well as opposed to from the top. I'm still breaking in the new plugs, but the engine starts faster, sounds stronger and my fuel economy has bumped up a bit.
 
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Stick_man

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I did 'em on mine and it's hard. Just a few points:

1. You can jack up the car on the passenger side and remove the plug(s) w/o removing the tire -- at least on the SOHC you can.

2. Take your time getting the old plugs off; no hamfisting. You will strip the threads otherwise.
 
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rod9001

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I drive a 97' explorer and I have to change spark plug. Of course there's no help in the Hayne's for this maintenance which should be easy but as you say "Whoever designed the vehicle, did not design it with maintenance in mind". So true. I thought about the question a cup of night and I proceed in the same way than you. I remove the rigt wheel to get an access to the spark plugs ! My next job is to find why I have a loss of power when I fully accelerate..but that's another story .
 
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DominicanX

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Nice! Thanks for the write-up; will help immensely
 
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Twenty8000

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Thanks, sne43 for taking the time to write this...helped a lot.

My situation was almost exactly like this. Many miles since a plug change, and the boots hard to get off on passenger side. I also had to cut the wire from the rear passenger-side plug. The boot was not coming off. I cut it with a Leatherman knife...worked very well. Once the rubber was removed, pliers could twist the remaining metal piece off.

I found two good positions to get at this plug. (No jacks, wheel turned all the way left, mud guard not removed). I sat on the ground, leaning back onto the tire tread...a comfortable position to slip your hand up through the wheel well. The other position was to partially lay up over the engine, extending your right arm down between the engine and the firewall on the passenger side...

Thanks again!
 
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Big Z

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Since this ol' thread's up...for stuck boots, especially in the confined passenger side, you can grab the end of the boots with pliers (padded if you prefer) and pry on the pliers with a screwdriver. Haven't not gotten one like that. And rather than twist/pull the rest, a circlular swoop/pull gets 'er done better.
 
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bobflood

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Great instructions - and generally applicable to the 5.0 also. My only comment is to reinforce the message to go ahead and remove the tires - it only take a few minutes and gives you so much more room to work in - especially if you're an offensive lineman size like me.
 
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75Grandville

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Thanks for the help

Just finished this today. Started on the drivers side, no problems, got the passenger side plug closest to the radiator from the top, then got stuck. Came in, checked the forum, and here was my answer. You guys are awesome!

I did not jack up the truck nor remove the tire, but pulling the entire mudguard thingy helped immensely. (Side note - WTF is the round ball thing on the inside of the mud guard?) The only thing I'll add is that for the rear two plugs on the passenger side, a ~2" extension plus the ratchet _just_ fit the center plug, and a ~1" (3/8->1/2 + 1/2->3/8 adapters) was exactly the right size for the rear plug. My universal joints and wobble bars just wouldn't cut it. Needed to be a straight shot.

Jacking the truck up & pulling the tire probably would have helped, especially trying to get the 3' section of iron pipe that I use as a cheater bar onto the ratchet for the spark plug closest to the firewall. Not quite offensive lineman size, but large enough, and offensive enough;)

2001 XLT 4wd, 4.0 SOHC, 145k
 
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bobflood

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(Side note - WTF is the round ball thing on the inside of the mud guard?) 2001 XLT 4wd, 4.0 SOHC, 145k

Round ball thing is a vacuum reservoir for climate control system.
 
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PhantomLover007

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Good how-to. I was looking for help in this matter. My daughter's Mountaineer hasn't has a plug change since my wife bought the truck.

My 1st time trying to change the plugs resulted in the front driver's side only getting done, and the rest of the plug wires not coming off.

I bought 2 different wire pullers and several extensions and u-joints for the sockets.

The pullers in the pic i had the most issues w/. The rubber protectors kept coming off.

I'm glad my Grand Am GT is so much easier to change the plugs on... lol
 
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Big Z

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Grab the plug boots with channel locks (gently, perhaps padded) and pry them up. Gits 'em every time.
 
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jlyans

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Thanks for the tutorial. I struggled for hours to replace the plugs on the passenger side of my 1999 4.0L SOHC. There is literally no way to get to it from above if your hands are anywhere near adult size. I finally resorted to searching here and found your instructions. Once I pulled off the right, front wheel and splash guard, it became much easier. Here you can see that the wrench is on the center, (no. 2), plug. No. 3 is visible and accessible just to the rear. The boots were really stuck. I had to cut them off

FF32F9FF-orig.jpg
 
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drdoom

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I loosened the dipstick tube on mine, and that helped a lot.
 
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blairth

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This is all great help. I followed all the procedures, including taking the wires off one at a time. Worked great until the last one in the kit was not the same length as the old wires. I actually had the forethought to number the wires as I took them off. Strangely none of the old wires matched the one remaining new wire (which is shorter than all the old wires). It seems that of the old set, the short wires are all the same length. So I will guess it is most likely that the new set is right, and that somebody substituted a wrong wire in the past. I settled on putting the shortest wire on the back passenger side (which is the shortest distance). Would just like some confirmation that this makes sense? It seems to be running well at any rate.
 
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Stick_man

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This is all great help. I followed all the procedures, including taking the wires off one at a time. Worked great until the last one in the kit was not the same length as the old wires. I actually had the forethought to number the wires as I took them off. Strangely none of the old wires matched the one remaining new wire (which is shorter than all the old wires). It seems that of the old set, the short wires are all the same length. So I will guess it is most likely that the new set is right, and that somebody substituted a wrong wire in the past. I settled on putting the shortest wire on the back passenger side (which is the shortest distance). Would just like some confirmation that this makes sense? It seems to be running well at any rate.

You should get motorcraft wires. aftermarket parts are notorious for stuff never fitting etc.

Having said that So long as the wires reach - you should be good to go.

It's been awhile but I remember all the wires wre of different lengths.
 
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