Ford F150: How to Fix Cam Phasers

Ford included all the latest technologies into the 4.6, 5.4 and 6.8 liter modular motors, and when they produced the three valve cylinder head in 2004, they added variable cam timing. If you have a 2004 to 2008 gas powered truck that makes a noise like an old diesel at idle, the hydraulic cam phasers may have gone bad.

By Joseph Coelho - June 1, 2016
Contributors: Steve Bassen

This article applies to the Ford F-150 (2004-2008).

Ford began using computer controlled camshaft gears, known as cam phasers, in their modular 3-valve truck engines in 2004 to allow for variable cam timing. The phasers typically advance valve timing at low RPM under load in order to give you more low end torque, and retard the timing for better top end when the situation calls for it. The variable valve timing system operates when the engine computer (PCM) sends oil pressure to one or the other chamber of the phaser via cam timing solenoids. Unfortunately, these cam phasers wear and cause various rattles and clicking noises from the engine in 2004 to 2008 F-150 models at low oil pressures, like at idle. While the problem may not be as widespread as some believe, phaser wear can show up around the 50,000 mile mark, and if left unchecked, can lead to valve timing issues and potential engine damage. This article will outline the cam phaser replacement procedure on the 3-valve 5.4L Triton engine as equipped in 2004 to 2008 Ford F-150 models.

If you have one of these trucks with a modular 3-valve motor that has not yet developed this issue, it is important to keep up with the maintenance. Regular oil and filter changes are very important to keep the seals and solenoids in the phaser system from developing leaks. Unusually low oil pressure, due to internal wear, too thin a viscosity oil, or too low of an idle speed will typically cause the phaser clicking, without actually indicating they need replacing. The solenoids have been known to get gummed up with sludge as well, which can cause the clicking. Pulling them out and cleaning them or replacing them is the only real way to solve that issue.

Ford F150: How to Fix Cam Phasers

Materials Needed

  • Metric wrench and socket set
  • 1/4", 3/8", and 1/2" drive ratchets, extensions, and universal joints
  • 1/2" drive breaker bar
  • Impact gun (optional)
  • Timing chain wedge tool
  • Vise grips
  • Rubber mallet
  • Small pry bar
  • Silicone gasket maker
  • Paint pen or permanent marker
  • New cam phasers and mounting bolts
  • New valve cover gaskets
  • Shop rags

It's a good idea, whenever working on an electrical system or under the hood of your truck, to disconnect the battery. This avoids shorts, which can critically damage the PCM, and guaranties the motor can not be turned over while you have the cam chain off the sprockets, which could critically damage the valvetrain.

Figure 1. Battery cables disconnected from battery terminals.

Step 1 – Remove intake, power steering and PVC parts

To gain access to the camshaft phasers, various engine accessories must first be removed. This is actually the most time consuming part of the whole project because of the amount of intake plumbing, wiring, and vacuum lines stopping you from getting to the valve covers and cam chains.

  • Disconnect and remove the intake tube.
  • Remove the (3) 10mm bolts from the power steering reservoir and set the reservoir aside. Similarly, remove the power steering reservoir bracket from the cylinder head by removing the (2) 13mm bolts and (1) 18mm bolts.
  • Disconnect the positive crankcase ventilation (PCV) tube from the valve cover.
  • Intake tube removal
    Figure 2. Intake tube removal.
  • Power steering reservoir bracket
    Figure 3. Power steering reservoir bracket.
  • Disconnecting PCV hose
    Figure 4. Disconnecting PCV hose.

Step 2 – Disconnect and remove electrical components

Now, you need to disconnect the electrical wiring that connects the computer to the ignition coils, fuel injection and cam timing components.

  • Disconnect all main wiring harness plugs.
  • For the fuel injection, this includes the fuel injectors, throttle position sensor, throttle body, and various other sensors.
  • For the ignition and cam, this includes the cam position sensor, cam timing solenoids, and coil packs.
  • It is often a good idea to label each plug with tape and a marker to aid in reassembly.
Figure 5. Wiring harness disconnected from various sensors and electrical components.
  • Remove the 8mm bolt securing the dipstick tube in place, as well as each ignition coil. The coils are secured in place by 7mm hold-down bolts.
  • Remove the cam position sensor (CMP) hold-down bolt at the front of each cylinder head and remove the sensors.
  • For best access to the passenger side valve cover, disconnect and remove the powertrain control module (PCM) and mounting bracket from the firewall.
  • Dipstick tube removal
    Figure 6. Dipstick tube removal.
  • Individual coil pack removal
    Figure 7. Individual coil pack removal.
  • Removing camshaft position sensor
    Figure 8. Removing camshaft position sensor.
  • Exploded view of PCM at passenger-side firewall
    Figure 9. Exploded view of PCM at passenger side firewall.

Step 3 – Passenger side A/C line issues

The passenger side valve cover has a hard air-conditioning line sitting above it that prevents removal. There are three options available to deal with it and allow valve cover removal:

  1. Discharge the A/C system and disconnect the hard A/C line.
  2. Support the engine with a floor jack and remove the passenger side motor mount before slowly letting the jack down to allow the engine to slightly sag, thus providing additional clearance for valve cover removal.
  3. Remove the passenger side front wheel liner, battery as well as battery tray, and loosen the A/C drier.
AC line blocking valve cover
Figure 10. A/C line blocking valve cover.

Step 4 – Replace cam phasers

At this point the valve covers should be fully exposed and are ready for removal; however, it is highly recommended that they be blown off with compressed air to avoid any settled dust or dirt from entering the engine.

Valve cover ready for removal
Figure 11. Valve cover ready for removal.
  • Remove the 8mm bolts securing the valve cover to the cylinder head.
  • The valve cover is often stuck in place, so a small pry bar, or screwdriver can be used to pry it loose, or a rubber mallet can be used to break the gasket seal and free the valve cover.
  • Gently lift the valve cover off to avoid damaging the cam timing solenoid.

  • Valve cover removed exposing valvetrain
    Figure 12. Valve cover removed exposing valvetrain.
  • With the cam phasers and timing chains exposed, insert the timing chain wedge tool between both halves of the timing chain (as shown in Figure 13), which will lock the chain in place. This will prevent the engine from losing the proper timing while the cam phaser is being replaced.

  • Wedge tool inserted between timing chain
    Figure 13. Wedge tool inserted between timing chain.
  • Using a marker or paint pen, mark a link on the timing chain relative to the position of the phaser. Similarly, another mark can be made on the camshaft itself to index the cam timing and ensure proper reassembly.
  • While not necessary if using an impact gun, many prefer to securely clamp a set of locking jaw pliers (vise grips) onto the camshaft, just behind the phaser to allow counter force to be applied to the camshaft when breaking the cam phaser bolt loose. If using this method, a rag can be placed between the plier jaws and camshaft to prevent marring. DO NOT CLAMP ONTO ANY LOBE OF THE CAMSHAFT!
  • Using a 1/2" drive breaker bar or air impact gun (if available), loosen and remove the cam phaser bolt while holding the vice grips to prevent the camshaft from spinning.
  • Marking phaser, timing chain link, and camshaft
    Figure 14. Marking phaser, timing chain link, and camshaft.
  • Vise grips locked onto camshaft
    Figure 15. Vise grips locked onto camshaft.
  • Removing cam phaser bolt
    Figure 16. Removing cam phaser bolt.
  • With the bolt removed, slightly lower the phaser to allow slack in the timing chain and carefully remove the timing chain from the cam phaser sprocket teeth before removing the phaser from the engine.
  • Transfer any reference marks previously applied to the old cam phaser onto the new unit to ensure proper alignment during installation.
  • Figure 17. Phaser removed from engine.
  • Figure 18. Reference mark applied to new phaser.
  • Position the new cam phaser onto the camshaft. The phaser is aligned with a dowel pin, so it will only go on one way. At the same time, position the timing chain onto the phaser sprocket, making sure to align your reference mark on the phaser with the matching mark on the proper timing chain link.
  • Install a NEW cam phaser bolt and tighten it to an initial torque value of 30 ft/lbs. Ford then calls that the bolt be tightened an additional 90 degrees.
  • Remove the wedge tool and repeat procedure on passenger side of engine.
  • Installing new phaser
    Figure 19. Installing new phaser.
  • Final torque value
    Figure 20. Final torque value.

Pro Tip

The cam phasers largely help the F-150 achieve fuel economy standards, and increase the low end a little. Several manufacturers offer phaser lockout kits that permanently disable the variable valve timing to eliminate the common phaser problems. Installing them is the same as listed above for the most part. The only additional requirement is a custom PCM tune, which typically comes with the kit.

Step 5 – Reassembly

After installing both of the new cam phasers, the engine and accessories can be reassembled.

  • Clean the gasket mating surface of the cylinder head and a apply a small amount of silicone gasket maker to the area where the timing chain cover meets the cylinder head. Install the valve covers and gaskets, then torque to approximately 7-8 ft/lbs (90 in/lbs) in the sequence shown below.
    Valve cover installation
    Figure 21. Valve cover installation.
  • Install the cam sensors into their respective cylinder heads and torque the fastening bolts to 89 in/lbs.
  • Install the ignition coils. Torque to 44 in/lbs.
  • Install the dipstick hold-down bolt. Torque to 89 in/lbs.
  • Install the PCM and connect all wiring harness connections.
  • Install PCV hose to valve cover.
  • Reinstall the power steering reservoir and reservoir bracket.
  • Reattach the A/C line and recharge the A/C system (if applicable).
  • Lift the engine and reinstall the passenger side motor mount (if applicable).
  • Install the passenger side fender liner, battery box, battery, and A/C drier (if applicable).
  • Reinstall the air intake tube.
  • Reconnect the battery cables to the battery terminals.

Featured Video: Camshaft Phaser Knock Explained

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