Q: My 1997 Ford F-150 is in really excellent mechanical condition, but the mpg is a little lacking. I saw an ad in Truck Trend about two or three years ago for a kit that could be applied to my pickup to enhance performance and mpg. I've tried to find this kit, but I've been unable to. Can you help?
A: I'm not sure what specific kit you're referring to, but it must have involved the big three: intake, exhaust, and a powertrain control module reflash. However, fuel economy basics really start with driving and maintenance habits. The website www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/drive.shtml is a good place to get information. Here's a tech note on the maintenance half. Clean oil, filters, a mechanically sound engine, and correct tire psi all play a part in fuel economy. But the oxygen sensors are often overlooked. The O2 sensors determine oxygen content in the exhaust, which helps the PCM determine how much fuel to feed the engine through the injectors. On high-mileage engines, these sensors wear down and become lazy -- often not enough to turn on the MIL (malfunction indicator lamp) and set a diagnostic trouble code, but certainly enough to affect fuel economy.
Although it isn't a common practice, there are accurate tests to determine the health of your O2 sensors. These tests may be a bit complex for a local shop, but can be performed at a dealership's service department with the appropriate diagnostic software. Again, it's not a common thing -- O2 sensors aren't typically replaced until the MIL catches your attention.
Back to the kit. I'm not going to promote brands, but there are many on the market. A big part of the solution is to increase air and exhaust flow in and out of the combustion chamber. This usually will boost performance and mpg. The intake side involves various aftermarket airbox and filter designs, while the exhaust may vary from a muffler swap to a complete stainless-steel exhaust system. The reflash phenomenon is simply a software update product that tweaks such items as ignition timing, fuel injector pulse width, and automatic transmission shift patterns. There are plenty out there, but stick with the bigger names.
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