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I posted yesterday regarding my, um, surprise when I discovered that I’d have to remove the entire dash to get at the heater core in my good ‘ole ’97 F150 pickup.  Well, the job’s part way done, and we finally exposed the heater core.  The above picture shows what it looks like right now.

I always liked my F150, but this job has taught me a few things about Ford pickups.  First, you obviously don’t want to own one long enough to have to replace the heater core.  People aren’t kidding when they say it’s a big job.  It requires removing the dash, the HVAC vent system (that’s as big as the dash), and — if you beleve the manual — the steering column.  As you can see, we managed to leave the steering column in, but that’s not really all that much help.  We’re currently 12+ hours into the job, and the hard part is yet to come.  And this is a couple of guys who’ve done their share of car work sitting in a shop chock-ass full of tools.

Secondly, Ford wiring harnesses — at least the ones in this year model — look like crap.  Whereas we’re used to seeing tubing-loomed harnesses with labels in other vehicles, the Ford’s harness appears to be just bundles of wire haphazardly taped together with electrical tape.  Hell, it looks like somehting your kid would make in crafts class. 

If you’re just leasing one for two years, or if your completely sure you’re gonna dump it before it runs out of warranty, I guess you won’t really care about this kind of thing.  You’ll be more worried about what sound system’s available and whether or not there’s a passenger side makeup mirror.  But if you keep your trucks for the long term, you might want to think twice about buying one of these.

How ‘come they never tell you about things like this before you buy?  I think from now on, I’m going to have a look at the repair manual before I shell out for a new truck.


55 Responses to Ford F150 Heater Core Swap, Part 2

  1. Russ says:

    Rumor is that when Ford builds a car, they start by hanging the heater core on the assembly line. They then proceed to build the remainder of the car around it. I did the same job on a 1981 T-Bird about 15 years ago. It was just as hard to do then as it is now. It took me over 16 hrs to complete the job. A friend had the same repair done by a garage about a year later and it cost him over $600.00.
    I have also heard that on some Fords you can use a cutoff wheel to cut the firewall around the heater core and then remove it from the engine compartment. When installing the new one you just weld the panel back in. Never tried this so I can’t it will work. However if your F-150 is anything like my 97 Expedition, there is no easy way to cut out the firewall.
    I know that sooner or later I will be doing the same job on my Expedition and cursing the fact that I was too cheap to pay someone to do it for me.

  2. Rick says:

    It’s not just Fords… I imagine at some point I’ll be doing it on my old bimmer. But it’s not to much a matter of being too cheap to pay someone to do it. It’s a matter of not knowing anyone who I trust to be as thorough as I in disassembly and assembly. I’ve experienced and heard of too many horror stories of mechanics taking shortcuts, and hacking where they should have used some finesse.. and done it right. But chose to do it the quick and dirty way, emphasis on dirty. At least I know I’ll take my time putting stuff back together so I don’t end up with a million squeaks that weren’t there before the job. Maybe even take some extra time, get some felt tape and address some of the squeaks that are already there.

  3. Nate says:

    Well I have an ’86 F150 and know that up until the body change in ’97 they were less insane & put the heater core behind the glovebox. So I guess the solution is to own older trucks? As for the Ford tape wrap wiring that has been on all the cars I have ever seen made by Ford or any other carmaker.

  4. Harry says:

    I bet that 7 hour labor charge for having a shop replace the heater core doesn’t look too expensive now?

  5. Harry says:

    Just to let you know that Dodge ram heater cores are only a little less painful to do (you can angle the dash instead or removing it) and newer GM pick ups are not much easier. My work has a large mostly ford fleet and the only way we have extended heater core life is to change the coolant annually.
    No manufacturer tells a person what it’s like to have to fix their product. Hell, people only think about the monthly payment and maybe the cost of insurance. Few people consider or plan maintenance costs in their car purchases.
    The wiring harnesses look klike crap because they’re buried under the dash and not exposed. Ford can save pennies per unit and ounces in vehicle weight by doing this. Every little bit helps.

  6. nrChris says:

    Wow, that looks worse than I imagined. At what point does it become worthwhile to pay to have something like that done? Obviously you’re already half pregnant, but in retrospect would you have paid to have it done professionally??

  7. kythri says:

    Is that an LCD in the center of the dash there, or what is that?

  8. Chuck Cage says:

    kythri: I wish. The dash is long gone in that photo. That’s the mix door for the HVAC — the one Harry indicated in my last post is so fragile. (Thanks, Harry; you saved me some $$!)

  9. Nick Carter says:

    I think it was a 2-3 hour job just to replace a burned out bulb in the dash of our 2000 Taurus Wagon. We had to replace a speedo cable and speedometer on our 95 Taurus wagon and it cost upwards of $800 due to the labor of ripping apart the dash and column.

    (Why two Taurii? Because they are so sexy…)

    Our 84 econoline van was a pleasure to work on, but with 300K miles it required too much work to get running anywhere near safely. I wish I could buy a modern van that was as easy to work on though. I could practically curl up and sleep in the engine compartment.

  10. Crispy says:

    Just cut through the firewall to it and put in a fiberglass patch afterwards.

  11. Temecky Jon says:

    Just got back from the Found On Road Dead dealer with $900 less than when I started the day. This was spent to repair my heater core that seized yesterday. Called a couple of independent places and they were even more expensive which I think was more a reluctance to take on the work.

    I have a 2000 Navigator with 130k miles. The service folks confirmed the story that the heater core is the first (or at least one of the first) things they hang when assembling.

    After looking at the above picture, it’s no wonder some of the shops were reluctant! Good luck to you guys that have the know-how to tackle such a job!

  12. Old Donn says:

    You guys act surprised. The only vehicle I’ve owned in the last 40 years that didn’t require a song & dance to get at the heater core is my Chevy Astro, (inside the car, passenger side foot well). Someone above opined Ford built cars around the heater core. That’s exactly what they did with my 90 Taurus. They were nice enough to outline where you had to cut the firewall to access it.

  13. k brody says:

    HELP…..2000 F150 I can’t get past the airbag. Any quick tips?

  14. k brody says:

    my apoligies i’m trying to do the heater core myself on a 2000 F150 and the airbag is proving to be a problem. Any suggestions would be welcome.

  15. Chuck Cage says:

    k brody: Mishandling an airbag can cause serious bodily harm. Get a factory manual and follow the instructions precisely, and if you don’t understand ’em all or feel comfortable with ’em — let the dealer do it.

  16. william says:

    It only takes 4 hours to replace the heater core guys. Stop wining and taking breaks and keep busy. It really is not that bad. f150 trucks are the best. Regular coolant service with anti static additive will ensure no problems. Good luck. 15yr ASE Cert. tech

  17. Ken says:

    On a 99 F250 you can simply get to it by taking the glove box out so it only took a couple hours to do the whole job. However, you do need special clips from Ford to reattach the lines on the engine side of the firewall since the old ones break when you take them off. So, at least on the F250 it is a breeze. My 96 Ram 2500 is looking to be touch though…having to take the whole dash off that is.

  18. Larry Martel says:

    We have a dodge cummins 3500 that the fuel gage ouit working ,could it be the sending unit,or is there a relay that i’m not aware of? thanks

  19. Mel says:

    I had a ’68 Ford Galaxie that I had to remove the right front fender in order to change heater hoses, so this is nothing new.

  20. Ron ask's says:

    Knock!Knock!Knock! Hey 4 hour William are you out there ! Some of the other forums say you don’t have to remove the dash to change the 97-03 F150 heater cores just pull the dash out on the passenger side without unplugging alot of electrical connectors ! Is that what makes it quicker or are you just that good ! Chuck Cage what do you know about this and how about electrolosys destroying the aluminum cores ? In some other forums the guys are talking about 8 core replacements and link it to electolosys and that might be why 4 hour William said to use anti static additive ! William any comment !

  21. Adam Ruiz says:

    Just bought a 200 F 150 thinking a little heater core issu is no sweat. No im scared to death. I love the truck but I am in the middle of MY wife’s new room addition so time is money. if the 4 hour is possible great. The dash air bags and wiring I can handle, but I know absolutly nothing about connecting or diconnecting AC lines any tool requirements, tips, or advice would help this Marine and maybe even my marriage.

    Adam in Jacksonville NC

  22. David says:

    i got a quote from ford for 345.00 labor i think ill take them up on it.

  23. Zac says:

    I own a 1998 F-150. I was getting a repetitive clicking sound from just under the center of my dash panel. There is a black protective plastic cover that I took off and found a white box atop of the floor vent blower. Bottom line is that this is what was clicking and no matter where i research I can not find this part and what it is. There is only 1 wire harness that leads to it in the front. Any help on this is greatly appreciated.

  24. SCOTT says:


  25. SCOTT says:

    HELP!! where do you get anti-static additive and who makes it?? ford dealerships and auto parts stores don’t know what it is!! or is it just in certain types of anti freeze??

  26. Nick says:

    How would I go about replacing a heating core in an ’85 F150? Somebody told me it only takes a couple of hours and is pretty cheap. Do I need any special tools other than the standard average tool set?

  27. road rage says:

    get your hands off me you fat woman!

  28. joe says:

    how in the hell dose it only take 4 hrs to do the job there are hundreds of screws in the dash and 15 that hold the housing for the core that you can’t get to with out the dash off share the secrects please tell all

  29. Danny Redman says:

    My 98 f150 just started with the antifreeze odor in the cab; this is the 3rd time since owning it. I had an independant mechanic fix it the first time; then decided to let ford do it last time figuring the Ford should know how to fix it; so $2400 later with a 1 year/12000 mile warranty I thought we finally got it fixed; well I just got a call from Ford, I am 2 months out of the warranty and need to pony up another $1600 for them to do the same exact procedure that they did last year. I love the truck, but dont want to keep paying every year to hope that it doesnt happen again. I guess its time to follow the directions and do it myself. anyone have luck with grounding the heater core to the negative terminal on battery?

  30. John 1947 says:

    Danny Redman: If you have 15 to 20 hours free time and can get hold of actual Ford Service Manual instructions you should be able to do the job yourself. I had access to the Ford manual – I followed it closely and took pictures during disassembly. The dash did have to come completely out (my truck is a supercab and with help from wife we lifted it over front seat and set it temporarily onto back seat) but it isn’t that bad if you disconnect the wiring harness at the correct places (all shown in manual). Steering column did have to be disconnected also. I’m going on 4 yrs no problems and no added ground wire. I purchased a dealer part – cost was apx $40.

  31. Daniel Green says:

    97 Ford F150 4×4, V-8 Extended Cab. I changed mine for the first time in under 4 hours. Pretty simple had to take the whole dash out too. Just keep at it seems like a million screws, my truck has over 250,000 miles on it and is kinda showing it lol. So I left about a cup of screws out, and havn’t heard any new noises yet 😉 When i got to the Core I took a saw-zall and cut it out unclipped the lines under the hood, and was set to go. Fun Fun

  32. L/M tech says:

    Hey guys, 4 hours is about right for the professional technician. I work at a dealership and ford pays us 3.6 hours labor if we have to do it under warranty. For the do it yourselfer it is a big job that can be overwhelming, so I feel your pain.

  33. just me says:

    well first off its pretty aparent that you are not very mechanicaly inclined! i have been a mechanic for several years and only done one or two easy heater cores no matter vehicle brand. this is why i have a job because cars are not easy to repair! so stop cryin and dont think you know more than you do. honestly do you really think ANY vehicle has a dressed up wireing harness were its not visible? go look under dash of any car truck or van made and you will see they are all made the same way. go take a look at a 18 wheeler harness all the wires are white try to trace a wire on one.

  34. Marie says:

    I just got the heater core replaced in my 2002 Ford Taurus by a local mechanic. He charged me 8.5 hours of labor and $148 for the part. Isn’t that way too much labor? Is it because I’m a female customer?!!

  35. chalmers says:

    Google is your friend, and there are several GOOD forums for Ford trucks that have plenty of information.

    Read the thread then download the .doc and print so you can take it to the truck and check off each step:



    You will need:
    A decent 1/4″ drive SIX-point (not twelve) socket set, Craftsman will do AND a 5.5mm 1/4″ drive SIX-point socket which few sets include but is available separately for a few dollars. About twenty bucks total, and useful for lots of vehicle interior work.

    If the dash doesn’t wiggle out fairly easily you forgot a screw or a wire is hanging up. Check off each screw as you remove them and don’t say I didn’t warn you! Take lots of digital pics including pointing the camera at areas you can’t see directly. The job is tedious but you save enough money to buy any tools you might need or want. Breaking a dash plastic tab isn’t a disaster, and a dab of clear RTV silicone rubber will hold loose plastic in place yet peel off for removal.

    By the way, don’t pay sixteen hundred bucks for a heater core replacement. Go somewhere else. That’s insane.

  36. chalmers says:

    I almost forgot:
    Top mounted fuel pumps in trucks are standard, but an easy way to get to your F150 pump is to unbolt the bed!
    Yes, it’s counterintuitive, but a # 5 Torx will get the bed bolts and after that all you need do is remove the screws holding the filler neck. Lift the side of the bed carefully and prop up so you can access the pump from the top. This eliminates needing to drain the fuel tank (fire safety precautions apply either way!).
    Reinstall the bed bolts with a good coating of anti-seize.

  37. edEn says:

    In the same boat as many here- was jus told I have bad heat core-Ford F150, 02-quoted approx.$ 1000.00.Jus seems like bs to me, my truck has just over 80,000 miles!

  38. chalmers says:

    Here’s a neat tool I’ll use next time.


  39. Julio Bernal says:

    Well i am about to embark on this job. this morning i smelled something sweet in my truck then windows started to fog. holly cow oits the heater core…
    I called the dealership and they want over a grand on a over the phone quote. caca. 16 hours huh?
    the core is only 55.99 but my time is very valuble i will take it on this weekend i will buy a chiltons manual for this.
    I am already stressing….

  40. chalmers says:

    Note that you can cut the original heater hoses and join them together with a hose splice kit (or other tubing and hose clamp arrangement) for a few dollars so you can wait to change the heater core.

    This ruins the hoses, but if you don’t need the heater you can drive on normally.

  41. uwin says:

    instead of removing the dash, cant I just mount the new one under the hood?
    Looks like I might have room to put it near the jack under the hood.
    92 f150
    Any thoughts?

  42. thomas says:

    i just did a 2000 ford f150 heater core. it took about 6.5 hours and came to a total of $550 to the customer. the tools i used were air power tool. 1/4 inch air ratchet and 3/8 impact. using a 1/4 manual ratchet and 3/8 would be very frustrating to do it at home. for every screw you remove with a non-power ratchet with air you’ll pull ten or more. so having the correct tool makes the job 100% easier. here is a little advice if you are goin to do it yourself. take pictures before ,during,and after while working on it. i used my phone to take pics and let me tell you why. there is alot of screws, brackets,wiring harness,air ducts,and the list goes on. so when you go back to reassemble you will have a picture of where every part goes. i took 25 snap shots and let me tell you it saved me at least 1.5 hours. so good luck and hope for the best.

  43. The Girl says:

    @ urwin.. no that won’t work, the fan has to be able to blow arcoss the core the heat the inside.

  44. The Girl says:

    Hey guys… QUICK FIX!!!!
    I got a backflush done on my heater core 3 years ago and now it’s plugged up again.. I have a 98 Taurus with 260k miles on it. I’m not about to stick $1000 into this car, so I think I’ll get another backflush.. It’s a quick fix and it only cost me $55.00..
    If you don’t plan on keeping your car too long, this might be the way to go.. I didn’t think my car would last this long with all the miles. It lasted 3 years, and I’ve put a little over 30k miles on it in the meantime, I only drive it in winter so it’s warming up 20 min. everytime I hop in.. Not too bad for $50 bucks.

  45. mongo55 says:

    I had a 2002 extended cab f150 that i loved.with just 60kmiles on it i had to replace the heater core. took me all weekend and i still had 14 screws with no home. 2 months later some moron in a hyndai(?) hits me head-on and destroys my truck.i now own a 2002 crew cab f150with 108k miles on itand the heater core is shot, whos’s the moron now???

  46. danny king says:

    Hey I have an 04 f-150 and the heater core just went out, I’m 21 years old and consider myself pretty mechanically inclined and have plenty of tools, could I fix it my self with the proper manual, I’m the kinda person that doesn’t like to pay for something I could do myself.

  47. Dbaker says:

    Reading your info on changing out a heater core made me feel a bit better. Mine died today, the first time, on a ’95 with over 198,000 miles. Brake Max quoted a bit over $800 for the job. After seeing what they have to do, I understand the reason and I am greatful the didn’t quote me the $1600 some of you reported!

  48. Dalien says:

    I have a 93 ford f150 and i noticed i have a heater core under the hood and it looks like one behind the glove box..

  49. pat king says:

    My tip is to use Dex Cool. I am an independent for 20 yrs. Do not do many heater cores but i do alot of dodge, gm and foriegn cars. mostly those overly complicated duel overhead cam engine work. I put Dex cool into everything afterwards. Helps prevents the corrosion brought on by the electalysis.

  50. joetta5566 says:

    thanks for all the tips and insights, my 1997 f-250 light duty pickup was on recall for the cruise control harness, which has been done. the problem was before being replaced the heater fan and wiper motor both stopped working. any suggestions?

  51. Mario says:

    To All with Heater core trouble : I have a 2001 F-150 Truck I used for 13 years and still running the problems beginning with the owner do not follow the simple indication of MAINTENCE on basic levels oil change on 3-4K miles Antifreez, flush or draining and cleaning at least one a years and running the heater on summer time twice at begin and the ending of season. I you do it your self doing because you want save money and get satisfaction by do it, otherwise pay the certify tech whom doing for a living and also he has bills to paid too. take video picture of what you doing, but first search for diagrams ,read a book of what do before it happing take a few day watching videos an do no by expensive tools . but if you already have you can resale and ask at least what you pay for and keeping the tickets to prove that you tools are not old or stolen. well good look in you projects, by way I fix the heater and cost me $ 145.00 all new part( hoses, adapters, clamps, heater core. door vent ) on tool I spend $ 75.00 and resale it for 60 total of $15.00 and I am not a mechanic buy I like to save money and satisfaction.

  52. Jake Payne says:

    Google: The Heater Core Guys

    Heater Core Replacement in 45 minutes while ya wait.

  53. VMM says:

    1999 F150, Supercab, 5.4L, after I had the heater core replaced the cruise control and horn don’t work. the shop that did it will not help. They both worked before. I bought the truck new. 333k miles. What/how can I fix/look for myself? Thanks,

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