2003 E-350 Transmission Temperature Gauge Installation

Towing without a temperature gauge is like playing Russian roulette with your transmission.  I know, that sounds harsh, but heat is the enemy, and unknowingly overheating your transmission can have catastrophic results.

The tow capability on this van is impressive, so I’m always amazed the low-cost options Ford decided to omit in its “HD Tow Package”, like extending mirrors, or a trans temp gauge.  On second thought, maybe it’s so that you can install one that actually works.  It was only after having my Suburbans 4L80E rebuilt that I discovered the factory standard temp gauge wasn’t reading correctly.  Live and learn…

Installation’s not difficult.  The hardest thing about the project is deciding on the style of gauge and mount location.

Here’s a handy visual aid that’ll give you an idea of what you can expect from high trans temps.


Parts list:

There’s a few different options for mounting, and the “A” pillar location was tempting, but I opted for the steering column because I thought having them in plain sight was too ostentatious- and too inviting for FSA folks who like to smash and grab stuff.  To start, you’ll want to locate the pedestal and temporarily mount it, to make sure it’s good visually, and doesn’t get in the way of anything.  Some cheap double-sided tape works well.  Right around ten o’clock on the column stalk works perfectly for the 2 1/16″ pedestal gauge in the Econoline van.  You could probably wire it up without tearing down the dashboard, but having everything exposed makes it a lot easier; besides, tear down isn’t very involved.

IMG_1177Pull the factory radio using some “U” style removal hoops. Yeah, you can shape some out of hanger wire, but good luck trying to find heavy duty wire hangers anymore.  The release tabs are pretty stiff, and the wire hanger I found was too wimpy.  Everything is “value engineered” to a fraction of a yuan, these days.

IMG_0002Remove the two bolts at the top of the instrument panel display.

IMG_0001Remove the headlamp knob by lifting up on the little tiny metal tab beneath the notch in the plastic knob.  It’ll slide straight off.  Then unscrew the plastic bezel.

Remove the metal knee cover.  It’s held on by (4) friction tabs at it’s corners.

IMG_0004At this point, it’s only friction tabs holding the dashboard fascia on.  You can pull it away enough to access the plugs behind the cigarette lighter and accessory outlet to disconnect.

IMG_0006Remove the (2) bolts holding the headlamp switch and connector.  Pull that out and splice into the instrument gauge illumination feed.  It’s the connector at the “I” location (light blue with red stripe).  This connects your new temp gauge backlighting to your IP dimmer knob.IMG_1158Pull the cover off at the hood release lever.  There’s a little cover panel directly behind the hood lever that pops off, then you can pull the whole cover; it’s held on by (2) friction tabs.  You can then access a convenient ground location right on the body panel.  Connect (2) ground wires to it using ring connectors.

Plug-in your fuse block tap adapter.  I used the instrument cluster slot with a 10A fuse.

  Next, you’ll get under the van and mount the sensor into the transmission test port.  Don’t worry about leakage when you remove it, there should only be a few drops.  Put some teflon tape on the threads and screw in the sensor.  I ran the sensor wire along the underside of the body pan, over to the driver foot well, where I routed the wire up thru the emergency brake cable hole, and up behind the trim panel we removed at the hood release.  Much easier than negotiating the firewall.

IMG_1159Bundle the wires and feed them up above the steering column assembly right at the hazard flasher switch.

Check your feeds with a voltmeter.  I found the instrument dimmer feed would read between 6-12v.

Permanently mount the pedestal.

Connect to the temperature gauge.  My model required soldering the backlight ground and 12v.  The sensor, ground and 12v feed for the gauge itself used ring connectors.

img_1166Fit the cup over the gauge, and tighten down in the pedestal ring.  Reinstall all the trim pieces.

You’re done!


7 Essential Airstream Hacks

If you’ve the good fortune of owning an Airstream, it’s easy to think you couldn’t ask for anything more.  But, whether your next trip is boondocking or full hook camping, here’s a list of hacks that will lower your stress level, and significantly increase the chance your next camping trip goes off without a hitch.

16″ LT Tires

Tread separation damage on I-10
Tread separation damage from 15″ ST tires on I-10

Few things are as inconvenient, or downright damaging, as the dreaded “tread separation” inherent to ST (Special Trailer) tires.  There’s no priority to this list of Airstream Hacks, but if I were cornered on choosing only one upgrade- jettisoning the ST tires would be it.  There’s plenty of supporting info here, and other RV enthusiast websites.

LTX Upgrade

ST Tire Links

Battery Monitor

Bogart Engineering Trimetric battery monitor

To be completely frank, that factory installed LED voltmeter is useless.  Not really sure what it’s there for.  A good Trimetric or Xantrex battery monitor is a must have for good battery management and mainenance.

TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System)

The 'Cockpit'. P3 controller, TPMS, and rear camera monitor
The ‘Cockpit’. P3 controller, TPMS, and rear camera monitor

Less important if you’re not rolling on those crappy ST tires, but it’s peace of mind and convenience.  I used the older version of the “Hawks Head” system, which uses a valve stem mounted sensor.  There’s plenty on the market to choose from.

Rear-view Camera

Very handy for threading the needle into that perfect camping spot, as well as passing on the freeway.

Memory Foam Mattress

Turns your 6″ Airstream mattress on 3/4″ plywood into an incredibly comfortable sleep chamber.  I can’t over-emphasize the benefit of a good night sleep after a full day wrangling with the children…

LED Lights

Draws much, much less power than the OEM incandescents which is obviously good for boondocking.. but, also much more durable in terms of vibration and moisture resistance.

Pivot Point Projection Hitch

Hensley Arrow hitch. 1400/14000 model.
Hensley Arrow hitch. 1400/14000 model.

Here’s the biggy.  I’ve towed with nothing but the ball, your basic REESE weight distribution and anti-sway friction bar, an Equal-I-Zer, and currently using (for more than seven years) a Hensley Arrow.  None of those hitches come close to the performance you’ll get with a ‘pivot point projection’.  The difference between regular hitches ‘dampening sway’ and a PPP hitch eliminating sway is night and day.  Since the ProPride introduced a PPP hitch, the cost of a Hensley has come down a bit, but still a pretty pricey investment.  IMHO, worth every penny.

See You Down The Road!

Painting My Hensley Hitch

Decided I was tired of looking at the beat-up, faded ‘Hensley Orange’.

Here’s what it looked like brand-spanking-new, after pickup from the warehouse in Romeo, Michigan and self installing.

Hensley Arrow hitch. 1400/14000 model.
Hensley Arrow hitch. 1400/14000 model.

And here it is after less than 48 months…

Hensley still performing like new, but not looking like it.
Hensley still performing like new, but not looking like it.

I could have done a full disassembly, and sand blast for prepping, but since I wasn’t planning on powder coating or baking the paint, I figured a good scrape and sand while still assembled was adequate.

Freshly painted Hensley Arrow
Freshly painted Hensley Arrow

I picked up some “Metallic Pewter” spray here.  Not a perfect match, probably from fade.  Looks like I’ll be having to do some cosmetic work on the A-frame and tongue jack, as well.

Note: Since I’m the original owner, and the lifetime warranty is in effect, the serial number badge needs to be visible.

See You Down the Road!