Ford F150 F250: How to Replace 4WD Actuators

Over time, the locking rings that engage 4x4 mode in your F-150 or Super Duty will wear out. The first sign you may get is clicking and whining at the wheels followed by a truck that won't do 4-low. Save some cash and replace your actuators yourself after reading our guide below.

By Pizzaman711 - October 3, 2014
Contributors: TN-F150

This article applies to the Ford F-150 (2004-2014) and the F-250, F-350 Super Duty (2005-2014).

The actuators are what engage your front wheels to the transfer case. Overtime the gears inside can wear down causing the front wheels to not lock in. A bad IWE solenoid can also cause the gears to wear improperly, if this is the case you need to replace the IWE solenoid as well, otherwise the actuators you install will wear out again. Symptoms of bad actuators include a whine from the front hubs as well as the front wheels not locking in.

Tools Needed

  • 10mm socket
  • 13mm socket
  • 21mm socket
  • Big hammer (like 2 pounds or so)
  • 3/8" wrench
  • 5/8" wrench
  • Tire iron
  • Floor jack
  • Jack stand

I recommend having a full socket set available in case of some variances in socket size between years.

Step 1 - Remove the wheel

If necessary, pry off and set the center cap aside. Loosen all the lug nuts, but don't remove them yet. Use a floor jack to lift the vehicle high enough to slide a jack stand underneath. Remove the lug nuts and lower the truck onto the jack stand.

(Related: How to Change a Tire - Ford-Trucks.com)

Figure 1. This is a tire that has been installed on the Ford F-150.

Pro Tip

NEVER lay or work under a vehicle not supported by a jack stand. A floor jack is meant to lift and support only for short periods of time.

Step 2 - Remove upper ball joint

There are two different approaches you can take for this. The first approach is to:

  1. Remove the cotter pin (if applicable) from the castle nut on the upper ball joint.
  2. Using the 21mm socket, loosen the castle nut but don't remove (leave it on about the last 3-4 threads).
  3. Separate the ball joint from the knuckle by hitting down on the knuckle where the ball joint connects until it pops free.
  4. Remove the castle nut completely and pull the ball joint out of the top of the spindle.

It can be hard to properly torque the ball joint during re-install without a ball joint press, but you also won't have to get an alignment done with the first approach. The second approach is to:

  1. Remove the two bolts holding the upper control arm to it's frame mounts.
  2. Slide the upper control arm up and out of the mounts.

This approach is the easiest, in my opinion, but it will require you to get an alignment after re-install.

  • Figure 2. F-150 Upper Ball Joint. The castle nut is circled above. It's called a castle nut because it resembles the battlements of a castle wall.
  • Upper control arm nuts
    Figure 3. Remove the nuts circled here to free the upper control arm bolts.

Step 3 - Remove tie-rod end

Separating the outer tie rod end from the knuckle is a bit easier than the ball joint.

  1. Remove cotter pin from castle nut if applicable.
  2. Using 21mm socket, loosen nut until it's on the last 3-4 threads.
  3. Using your hammer, hit the side of the knuckle to pop the tie rod end free.
  4. Remove the castle nut.
  5. Remove the tie rod end by pulling it out of the steering knuckle.
F-150 Tie-Rod End
Figure 4. Loosen the bolt that holds in the tie-rod end until it's on the last threads. The tie-rod end is the only rod that connects to the steering knuckle.

Step 4 - Wheel hub

The hardest parts are out of the way now, the rest just takes some patience but is definitely on the easier side.

  1. Pry off dust cap from wheel hub.
  2. Remove center nut from the hub using 13mm socket.
  3. Gently remove the vacuum and vent line from the rear side of the knuckle on the actuator.
  4. Using the 10mm socket, remove the three bolts holding the actuator onto the wheel hub on the rear side of the knuckle.
  • Figure 5. Exposed Center Nut.
  • Figure 6. The arrow points to vacuum line.
  • Figure 7. Actuator bolts.

Step 5 - Remove half shaft

This step requires the most patience as you must take care not to damage the hub seal during removal.

  1. Pull the steering knuckle outward away from the vehicle while keeping the half shaft inward (you want it to pull out of the knuckle).
  2. Once you have enough clearance, gently glide the half shaft the rest of the way out of the knuckle.
Figure 7. Half shaft removed from knuckle.

Step 6 - Remove actuator

Probably the easiest step in the whole process, once the half shaft is out of the knuckle the actuator will simply pull off.

Figure 8. New actuator.

Step 7 - Install

Re-install is the for the most part the reverse process of the removal.

  1. Install new actuator.
  2. Slide in half shaft carefully.
  3. Re-install actuator bolts, torque to 9 ft-lbs.
  4. Re-install vacuum and vent line to new actuator.
  5. Install center nut, torque to 20 ft-lbs.
  6. Re-install dust cap.
  7. Re-install tie rod end, torque to 150 ft-lbs. Remember to use a new cotter pin if the old one is damaged.
  8. Re-install upper ball joint via torquing to 150 ft-lbs if you followed Process 1 or by re-installing the upper control arm if you followed Process 2. If you did Process 2, don't forget about the alignment.
  9. Re-install wheel, hand tighten lug nuts in a crisscross pattern.
  10. Lower vehicle off of jack stand, tighten lug nuts using tire iron.
Figure 9. New 4WD actuator happily installed.

Pro Tip

Clean off the old grease and metal burrs from the hub bearings and re-grease before install. This helps prevent any premature wear or failure from occurring.

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