Jan 132014

Insuring that the intake and exhaust valves are closed in each cylinder before working on that cylinder requires turning the engine over by hand. I assume anyone doing major work on an in vehicle engine knows enough to disconnect the battery and the fuel before crawling around under the hood. If you don’t maybe someone else should be working on your ride.

As I mentioned in an earlier post it is critical the intake and exhaust valves are closed before any work is done on the spark plug wells.

When the valves are open on the Triton 6.8L V10 the edges of the valves intersect the line of the spark plug wells.

Valve visible through spark plug hole

Valve visible through spark plug hole

Valve visible through spark plug hole

Valve visible through spark plug hole

The Timesert reamer, tap, and setter fill the spark plug well and could chip, break, or bend a valve if the tool was inserted into a spark plug and struck an open valve.

Any damage to a valve means removing the heads and replacing the valve. A simple over the fender thread job gone horribly wrong.

Reaming and tapping generates abundant chips. Even using grease in the flutes to catch as many chips as possible I still ended up with chips down in the cylinder.

Tap coated with grease

Tap coated with grease

Reamer packed with chips

Reamer packed with chips

Aluminum cuttings inside of the cylinder.



You want to get the chips out of the cylinder before running the engine. If you blow the chips out with pressurized air, which works pretty well, you don’t want to get chips up into the intake where they will just be sucked back into the cylinder the first time you start the engine.

The bottom line is you want to get the valves closed before doing any work on that cylinder.

To confirm that the valves are closed Timesert recommends taking the valve covers off and checking that the rockers are not pressing the valves open. That sounds like work and mess I don’t want if it can be avoided.

While I wasn’t a fan of the Calvan kit for placing the inserts, see my previous post, Calvan does have a pretty slick way of determining if the valves are closed. With the valves closed the cylinder should hold compression, it should be “mostly” air tight. If the cylinder holds pressure the valves are closed. If either valve is open, intake or exhaust, the cylinder will not hold pressure. The Calvan kit comes with a trick little piece of hardware, which luckily can be purchased separately, that allows you to check that the cylinder is air tight through the spark plug hole.

Calvan valve checking tool

Calvan valve checking tool



With the spark plug removed you jam the rubber plug into the spark plug well creating a pretty much air tight seal between the rubber stopper and the well. Next close the small petcock on the other end of the tool and hook up a compressor to the compressor nipple. Slowly open the petcock and begin pressurizing the cylinder. If the valves are open, even a little bit, you can hear air escaping from the cylinder and the rubber stopper will remain seated. If the valves are fully closed the cylinder will pressure up and blow the rubber stopper out of the spark plug well.

The steps to check that the valves are closed are:

1. Hook up an air compressor to the tool
2. Jam the stopper into the spark plug well
3. Open the petcock and listen for air escaping from the cylinder
4. Slowly turn the engine over by hand using an 18 mm socket on the front of the crankshaft
5. Keep turning the engine until the valves close causing the cylinder to pressurize and blow the rubber stopper out of the spark plug well.

After all of that to make sure the valves are closed you need to make sure the piston is down. The piston rises up far enough in the cylinder for the insert tools to impact the top of the piston. After insuring the valves are closed I use a bamboo skewer through the spark plug hole to measure the depth to the piston and make sure there is plenty of clearance between the head and the piston.

To see some video of the Calvan tool in action check out these videos

Jan 062014

Just returned from a 1300 mile trip through the Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming Rocky Mountains. Uphill grades for 4 hours straight, downhill for 40 miles at 6 and 7 percent. I could do 70, 75, 80 mph, uphill on 6% grades for 20+ miles without slowing down. 40 miles of downhill at 6 and 7% in 3rd gear compression braking for nearly an hour. No problems detected. Engine is still running like a champ with no observed issues with any of the 10 inserts. Truck was lightly loaded, just some camping gear in the back and 4 adults and stuff in the cab. So far so good. We’ll see how it goes next summer pulling a trailer around the same path.

Dec 122013

It turns out somewhere along the way Ford changed the head design on the Triton and changed the way the spark plugs seat in the head. This affects how the insert tools cut, or don’t cut, the seats for the insert.

You can read the Timesert paper on the issue here here

I posted a video of my heads here

According to Timesert the problem heads have the casting mark with a 1L2E in the casting number.



The problem heads have a step which prevents the seat cutting tool from registering properly in some insert kits.


The casting mark on the heads of my truck look like this

FordF250EngineCasting 009inv

I blew up the image and inverted the color so I could see the numbers better. No 1L2E on my heads. Looking down the spark plug hole with a bore scope on a fresh, uncut spark plug well shows a smooth sloped transition from the well wall to the spark plug hole.


It turns out the Timesert kit I purchased, the 5553, accommodates both head styles, but it’s nice to know what you’re working with before you start cutting.

Dec 102013

It’s been a while since I updated the status on putting inserts into my Ford Triton V10 aluminum engine head. Since my last post in this series I’ve installed inserts in all 10 cylinders, created a series of videos on the process, and driven a couple hundred miles on the newly inserted heads. All in all the process was relatively pain free, no major FUBARS, and the truck seems to be running great. We’ll see when I put a heavy load on the engine or get a few thousand miles, but so far all seems well.

I’ve uploaded the videos of the process to Youtube and linked them here.

F250 Triton Timesert spark plug blowout repair Youtube playlist

Dec 102013

Here are the images of the inside of the cylinders at different stages of tapping and cleaning.

With the valves open and the original spark plug seats and threads:

In these first two images you can see the edge of the valves. Hitting one of these with the cutter would be catastrophic and require a head removal and valve replacement.



Here are a couple pictures of the original spark plug threads. You see the wells are only threaded part way.



Here are some pictures of the tapped spark plug holes cleaned and waiting for the inserts:





Here are some images of the tap cuttings down in the cylinders. These all need to be cleaned out 100% before installing the inserts. The tapped holes are quite a bit bigger than the inserted spark plug holes so it’s best to get the chips out while you have more room to insert a blower or a vacuuming hose.






Here are some pictures after cleaning, blowing and vacuuming the cylinders:





In the following images you can see the insert after it is installed, seated, set, and loctited in place. You can see the new bevel for the spark plug seat in the center of the insert. The first two images show I used a bit too much loctite on this cylinder. I cleaned up the excess loctite and let the heads sit for a few days after installing the inserts and before putting in the new sparkplugs. The last two images are how each hole looked after I installed a new insert.





Sep 282013

Why the cost difference and what do you get for your money. Looking at the two kits the most obvious differences are that the 5553 comes with 5 inserts, some oil and loctite, and a few extra tools.

4412E 5553
14mmSPkit01 Tritonkit5553

Is a small bottle of oil, some loctite, and a couple of “convenience” tools worth a couple hundred bucks to you, maybe, maybe not. The 5553 kit comes with 5 inserts but if you only need one, or if you want the full thread inserts, maybe those 5 inserts don’t add any value. The inserts are normally around $11 each, so if you need all 5 the 4412E is going to cost you another $55 on top of the $200.

Besides the inserts the 5553 sports a different seat cutter, adds a reamer to size the hole before tapping, adds a seating tool, and comes with a blown molded case to keep all the pieces organized.

The steps to cut, tap, and insert the hole are different between the 4412E and 5553 kits. With the 4412E kit you ream and tap the hole in a single operation, you then thread the tap deep into the newly cut spark plug hole, drop the seat cutter down over the tap and cut the seat, remove the seat cutter and tap, thread the insert on the insert setting tool, screw the insert into the newly tapped hole and seat and set the insert in one operation. With the 5553 kit you cut the seat, ream the hole, tap the hole, seat the insert, then set the insert, all as separate operations.

With the 4412E kit you perform more operations overlapped or without removing a tool between a job. This sounds like it could be faster but it also sounds less flexible. I wanted more tools, each with a specific job so I could do each step, make sure each step was correct, and then move on to the next step.

I did not like the method of seating and setting the insert in one operation with the 4412E kit. With the 4412E kit you thread the insert onto the setting tool, use the setting tool to seat the insert, and then continue tightening eventually setting the insert.

Seating the insert means making sure the insert is tightly screwed and seated into the tapped hole.

Setting the insert means mechanically expanding the bottom of the insert and camming the locking pin to lock the insert into the hole. With the 4412E kit the assumption is the seating torque is significantly less than the setting torque. Otherwise the insert would start to set before it was fully seated.

With the 5553 kit the seating tool is separate from the setting tool. The insert is first seated with a short threaded tool and then set with a long threaded tool. The seating tool has short enough threads to insure it does not reach the bottom of the insert where the swagging and camming occur. The insert is first fully seated with the seating tool and then followed with the setting tool. That way there is no chance of partially setting the insert while trying to seat it.

The 5553 seat cutter looks a bit nicer in that the seat cutter works stand alone whereas the seat cutter in the 4412E kit slides down over the tap after you’ve tapped the hole.

All in all the 5553 kit seems more complete and makes more sense to me. The 5553 kit is quite a bit more expensive than the 4412E kit and breaks what are single steps using the 4412E kit into multiple steps.

If you’re a professional mechanic, where time is money and you’re always working on someone else’s vehicle, maybe the 4412E kit is a better choice, get ’em in and get ’em out.

I’m not in a hurry and I’d rather take my time with each step.

Sep 122013

Ok, so I know I have a blown spark plug. I found the ignition coil and plug rolling around on top of the head, instead of in the plug well where they belong. It’s pretty obvious what the problem is. The next question is, what do I do to fix it.

Doing a bit of web searching for blow spark plug or spark plug repair will turn up more hits than you can count, for many different engines. This problem is clearly not just a Ford Triton problem.

Ok, so it’s a common enough problem, but what do you do to fix it. Looking at what others have done it looks like solutions range from replacing the entire engine to just screwing the plug back in, and everything in between. People have reported replacing engines at a cost for the Triton 5.4 and 6.8 for anywhere between $6,000 and $12,000. Ok that’s clearly out. That’s going to be more than I paid for the entire truck, there’s no way I’m paying that kind of money for a repair. And there’s no reason I can see that this requires a new engine.

Next, new heads. It sounds like if you go to Ford they are going to suggest new heads. Replacing the heads means lifting the cab off the frame, stripping all the top end plumbing, new fluids, etc. Reports are $2,000 to $4,000 for head replacement. And it’s not clear that you get a solution any better than what you started with. Four threads in an aluminum head. It might hold until the next time you replace the plugs, or it might not. I’m not really interested in spending that kind of money to replace a weak head with another copy of the same weak head.

New engine and new heads are out for me. Too much money and both sound like overkill. The next solution is a threaded insert. First off, what is a threaded insert? Time to check wikipedia. A threaded insert is a threaded cylinder often placed in a softer base material to provide new or stronger threads for a fastener to thread into.

Here’s a picture of a typical threaded insert:


Inserts come in a variety of sizes and shapes but they all have the feature of some way to screw / glue / press fit / or somehow otherwise afix themselves into a hole in the base material or the material being repaired, and provide an inner threaded hole for the new fastener to screw into. In my case the outside of the insert needs to attach itself to the spark plug hole in the head and provide new threads for the spark plug to screw into.

Looking back at the cross section of the cylinder head cut through the plug hole, assume you’ve just blow a spark plug. Assume all of the threads have been ripped out of the plug hole and you’re left with essentially a smooth hole top to bottom with nothing for the spark plug to screw into.


The basic idea is to get the threaded insert fixed into the spark plug hole resulting new threads for the spark plug to screw into.

insertIntoHole insertIntoHole

Ok, so that’s what a threaded insert is, but are they any good. Is a threaded insert a good fix? And what’s it going to cost to put one in? This is where things get complicated. There are many many options for threaded inserts, different materials, different sizes, different ways to fix them in the hole. The question is which solution is best, and what’s it going to cost. Searching the web for Triton, or V10, or 6.8L, spark plug repair, then filtering out the broken plug problem in the 05’s and later, and the solutions narrow down to just a handful. It turns out this is a common enough problem you can stop by your local auto parts store and buy a cheap spark plug thread insert kit for $40 to $60 bucks. You can also get mid range insert kits for in the $130 to $200 range, and then you can get the “high end” kits for around $400. Ok, so what gives, why the huge range in prices, 10 to 1 from the cheap auto parts kit to a high end kit. At this point you’re going to have to rely on a lot of anecdotal evidence, people’s opinions, and marketing literature.

Opinions vary widely on the reliability of using thread inserts but the majority seem to lean toward “a good insert is a good fix” and “a bad insert is no fix at all”.

Ok, so it sounds like a “good” insert is a reasonable, reliable, fix. Now what is that going to cost. Again, searching the web reveals people quoting hundreds to thousands to get an insert put into a head. It looks like there are two schools of thought, the “remove the head and do it right” school, and the “do it over the fender with the heads in place” school. What this means is option 1, removing the heads, is going to cost an arm and a leg. Getting the heads off of the Triton V10 is a labor intensive job, that means expensive. I understand that having the heads off allows you to see exactly what you are doing, where the tap is, how deep the insert goes. With the heads off you can insure clearance between the tools and the valves, but it’s expensive. I’d like to avoid expensive. The “do it over the fender” route is the cheapest, as long as nothing goes wrong. But even if something does go wrong it’s probably not that much more expensive than going the “remove the heads” route in the first place. So now I’m headed down the “do it over the fender” threaded insert path. So what does that cost. It looks like you can get a “trained” mechanic to do an over the fender thread insert for anywhere from around $500 to nearly $1000 for the first insert and something less for the second and third insert if other plug holes need inserts at the same time. Five hundred to a thousand bucks is still not cheap for a single plug hole repair.

How about if I do it myself. Now I’m down to the cost of the insert kit and my time. Starting at the low end, with the cheap kits, the heli-coils and other spring like thread insert variants. The heli-coil style inserts are pretty much universally panned. The opinions seem to be that heli-coils in a spark plug hole are a waste of time, it will come out again. So that’s no good for me. I may be cheap but I don’t want to do this job again.

As you start to narrow down the kits a few big names start to stand out, Timesert seems to be by far the most popular and most recommended. After Timesert you hear less often about the Cal-Van Tools kit, Lisle Spark Plug Rethreading tool for Ford – 65900 kit, and a small handful of others. All three of these “high end” kits work by the same principle, drill out the existing spark plug hole to make room for the new insert, tap the new hole for the insert to thread into, and then “lock” the insert into place one way or another.

The Lisle immediately turned me off by requiring the top of the insert be deformed with hammer blows from above after the insert is screwed into place. You drill out the spark plug hole, thread it, put in the insert, then drop a cone shaped tool on top of the insert and beat on it with a hammer to expand the top of the insert and lock it into the head. Something about that just sits wrong with me. It looks like people have used the Lisle solution and are happy. I think I’ll pass.

The Cal-Van kit gets some nice reviews. Apparently the Cal-Van kit is what Snapon sells for thread repair, Snapon – Set, Spark Plug Insert Installer, Ford. So if it’s good enough for Snapon it ought to be good enough for me right? Yeah, not so much. I’m not a tool fanboy. I like high quality tools but just because it has someone’s name on it doesn’t mean it’s a good tool. I like to research my tools and make my own decisions. Looking at the Cal-Van it has one trick I really like, but one another trick that makes it a show stopper for me. I’ll talk about the bad first so I can explain why I ruled out the Cal-Van. The Cal-Van insert is touted as one of the largest inserts you can buy. By largest I mean the outside diameter. The inside diameter of all of the inserts has to be the same size, the size of the spark plug. The outside diameter can vary depending on the size of the hole drilled in the head. The advantage to a mechanic of using the Cal-Van insert is that it is so big that the hole drilled in the head will hide all previous evils. That is, if an attempt has been made previously to repair the spark plug hole with a smaller insert the Cal-Van insert is so big you just drill out everything, wider and bigger than any insert that has come before. The Cal-Van is the final solution. Great big hole, drill away all that have come before. This sounds good if you’re a mechanic on the clock. You don’t want to mess around finding the right size insert depending on if this plug hole has been repaired before or not. Just drill it out to the maximum size and put in the insert. This might sound good but it’s a non starter for me. I’m more a take just enough off to do the job right, and no more, kind if a guy. Given that the Cal-Van is final solution, and I’m not quite ready for a final solution, I decided to pass on the Cal-Van. Cal-Van does have a neat trick for determining if the valves are closed before attempting the repair. I ended up buying that piece of their kit but I’ll talk about that later.

That brings me to the Timesert kit. Timesert makes a couple kits to repair Triton plug blowouts, the 4412E and the 5553. At this time the 4412E costs around $200 plus the cost of the inserts and the 5553 costs around $400, is a bigger kit, and comes with 5 inserts. Timesert also sells a 4412 kit, without the E on the end. If you are working on a Ford Triton you want the 4412E kit, not the standard 4412. The E stands for Extended, as in longer tools. The Triton spark plug wells are nearly 6 inches deep. You need the extended tools to reach.

In my next post I’ll talk more about the Timesert kits and which kit I purchased.