Question: When I bought my Ford F-150 FX4 18 months ago, I noticed that any substantial debris, small animal, or a good-size piece of gravel from a passing truck at 130-plus-mph entering the lower bumper opening could break the tranny cooler fittings or even the cooler. Five dollars' worth of galvanized expanded metal, trimmed, baked, painted, and mounted on the existing holes eliminated the problem. Arizona doesn't print front plates, and there are no front plate mounts on trucks sold here.
Answer: If damage to the transmission cooler or fittings were a common issue, Ford most likely would come out with a recall or technical service bulletin to remedy the problem. Losing large amounts of transmission fluid would be a true concern, possibly leaving the truck dead in its tracks. But keep in mind that the openings at the grille and below on any vehicle are necessary for cooling. The incoming air flows through the radiator, transmission cooler, and the air-conditioning condenser. The component most susceptible to damage from road debris is typically the A/C condenser. It's made up of thin metallic cooling channels to provide optimum heat transfer. And the condenser, mounted in front of the radiator, would be the first to get hit. But when a transmission cooler is not an integral part of the radiator (mounted in front of the condenser instead), it's just as vulnerable to impact. Although these cooling parts seem wide open to the harsh roadway environment, in my experience significant damage from debris doesn't happen as often as one might think.
If you have a technical question regarding your pickup, SUV, or van, feel free to contact Alex, a master technician with the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. Send a letter to him in care of Truck Trend Garage, 831 S. Douglas Street, El Segundo, CA 90245, or e-mail us at email@example.com. Please include the VIN with your question. Due to the volume of questions received every month, we cannot guarantee that everyone's question will be personally answered or will appear in the magazine.