I wanted to post this because there isn't anything detailing the replacement on the internet. Posting a reply about pulling the steering wheel would be helpful to those wishing to do this job right.
Heater Core for a 1996 Ford Ranger 6 cylinder 3.0
For all those looking to attempt this job, novice mechanics of course, put aside a whole weekend just in case. I looked all over ford forums for advice on replacing this part, I found very little in details. This past weekend a buddy and I attempted this chore and nearly quit twice. But we pushed ahead and fixed it. Here?s how.
The part itself runs around $50, estimates for replacing it ran between $600 - $1000. When you do it yourself, you?ll see why. Buying a manual helped me very little. Being a novice mechanic, it did help me find a few parts I didn?t know existed, that?s about it.
Quick fix: Take the two radiator tubes that run into the heater core and tie them together. Go to a parts shop with the shorter hose to get it fitted with a connector ( basically a round plastic tube that goes inside each tube, this will bypasses the heater core. No more leaks in the cab of truck. Cheap fix, two hose clamps and the connector piece.
Winter is here and you?ve got to fix the SOB now!
Tools needed ? full socket set, extra socket extentions, small open face wrenchs 4mm ? 9mm ( needed to reach tight bolts on fire wall ), Flat & Philips screwdriver, hex set, sharp knife, needle nose pliers, electrical tape, marker, plastic cups, an optimistic buddy and case of beer.
If you?ve already bypassed the heater core then you don?t have to drain your radiator. If not, go ahead and drain it. Next, loosen up one connection on your battery. You can keep it on for most of the job, but as you get closer to the steering column, you?ll want to disconnect it to avoid setting off the airbag. You will have to pop off the dash to get to the large black plastic piece that houses the heater core. This process took me around 7 hours, remember I?m completely a novice. Start with the glove box and start unscrewing. The manual shows where many of the screws are, but the diagram is hard to understand. You?ll find that many of the vents just pop right off, small side vents, smaller top vents, passenger side airbag compartment ( I don?t have an airbag on that side so it just popped right off ). If you have an airbag there, I suggest asking a mechanic on what to do next. You can call a ford service shop, most mechanics will be helpful in telling you what to do.
Next move over to the radio area and unscrew the screws holding it in place. Many screws are hidden underneath, once they are removed you can just pop it off. There will be many wires, two on the radio, power plug to the cigarette lighter along with a ground plug, antenna wire( it runs across the right side of the dash up into the corner, you?ll want to pull it completely through when you dislodge the dash ? it hangs up the dash if you don?t ) just push in the release tabs and pop them off the radio. If you?re worried about forgetting where they go, take some masking tape and label the wires with radio, cigarette lighters?.etc.
Next move over to the driver?s side (POP THE HOOD FIRST) and unscrew the hood latch, tape the screws to the latch once removed ( I found that it helped if I taped the screws to the pieces they belonged to ). Unscrew the break release, then unscrew the panel under the steering wheel, plastic and metal. Then start on the instrument panel, airvent, fuse box ( watch out for the ground wire that runs to one of the gold bolts ? driver?s side - that hold the dash on, put a piece of tape on it so that you don?t lose it, you should see it when you pop off the side plastic runners. To reach some of the screws near the door area, you will have to remove the bottom plastic piece ( on the left side of the pedals same on the other side, runner guard will have to be loosened to pop the bottom side pieces off. Also take off the plastic runner piece that runs along the door frame right inside the cab, both sides. They pop off easily. Also pop off the black plastic piece that runs the length of the dash near the windshield. You?ll start to notice the gold colored bolts that secure the dash to the frame, two on the driver?s side, one on the passenger?s side, two above the dash under and another one(two?) on the passenger?s side dash. Along with two smaller black screws near the windshield on the dash. Don?t take them off just yet. Your truck should look like a disaster area, I almost quit at this point.
Step two: Under the hood.
The screws you need to get to are against the firewall ( 5 total ). The difficult part is that they are behind the big plastic piece right underneath your heater core pipes that stick out from the firewall. This houses some A/C stuff and the blower( located in the left corner if your looking at the engine from the front.) Here?s the problem, you must unscrew the top screw above the blower, another screw to the right of the heater core pipes, another screw straight below that one, along with another one that sits by itself right behind the engine on the firewall. If you?re counting, that?s only four, right, the other one is behind the big plastic housing. You have to unscrew the three screws on the plastic piece to get to it. You?ll also notice that behind two of the screws ( the one to the right of the heater core pipes and the one about a foot below it ) is another set of nuts. This is where the open face smaller wrenches come into play. I also found that mine were hand tight. To get to the them, you will have to remove a couple of things that are in the plastic housing?s way. Windshield washer & radiator plastic contair ( one piece ), and the big square piece that?s connected to the fender side of the truck between the plastic reservoir and the black housing. You?ll also find a tube that runs near the heater core pipes, just disconnect it and bend it out of the way. This will give you enough play in the plastic housing to pull it away from the firewall to reach the three nuts on behind it, two on the top (either side of the heater core pipes) and one on the bottom. Inside the cab you?ll find another screw similar to the ones outside located right below the heater core against the firewall, unscrew that one also. Now the big plastic piece inside the cab is free.
Step three: Off with the dash
Now it?s time to dislodge the dash from the firewall. I think the correct way to do this is to take off the plastic piece around the steering wheel, get a steering wheel puller, pull off the airbag, and pull the steering wheel. This would allow you to take the dash completely off. I didn?t have a steering wheel puller so I just did it the hard way. Underneath the dash along the steering wheel column there are four bolts that keep the steering wheel attached to the dash. Two near the instrument panel and two inside the dash ( a little difficult to get to, will need extension ). The two further in the don?t need to come completely off, they just need to be loosened, the two closer to the seat need to come off completely along with the bracket they hold in place. Steering column will pull out a little and be limp. Next unscrew all of the gold bolds and two small screws on the top of the dash near windshield. You should start to feel the dashboard give a little. You?ll need to eyeball for other pieces that you might have missed that are keeping the dashboard attached, I found one to the right of the gas pedal that was keeping the dash connected. Just look and keep wiggling the dash until it starts to dislodge. What you?re trying to do is give yourself some working room on the passenger side, just work it back slowly, this takes a little time because of wire hang ups ( fuse box, antenna?etc. ). Now you?re basically prying the dash open from the passenger side. You?ll need about a foot or so of clearance. What I did was sit on the passenger side seat and balance the dash on my legs while I reached underneath and wiggled the whole black plastic piece against the firewall. You?ll start to hear the ridges of the screws scraping against the firewall. Have your buddy tap on the heater core pipes as you do this. This took a little time but eventually I worked it off the firewall. I tried to pull this piece out to work on it to get the heater core out but the space was too tight. I nearly quit again.
Step Four: Out with the old heater core.
Once the black plastic piece is off the firewall it will be stuck behind the dash. What you need to do is start unscrewing the top screws near the top of the plastic piece around where the heater core pipes are sticking out. Just a few screws. Once the top comes off, you?ll be able to pull the old heater core out. It?s a tight squeeze but it?ll come out. Grab the new one and be careful replacing it. Don?t try to force it. A simple pen hole could mess up the whole job and you?ll have to do this all over again. Once you get it in, grab a beer because you?re halfway done!
Step Five: Reverse the process ( It took about 2 and a half hours to get it back together )
I?m not going to repeat all of this stuff again in reverse, I?ll just go over some problems that occurred when I put everything back together. When putting the inside plastic piece that contains the heater core, I found that getting the bottom drain pipe(pipe near the bottom of the heater core black plastic unit) in first helped line up all of the holes. Also with the steering column undone, it is hard to control the dashboard. What I did was put the steering column back on and used it as a handle to get the dash back in place. One step that I should have done before that was to put the instrument panel ( speedometer ) back on first. The space was too tight with the column back on. Also be careful not to smash the fuse box when playing around with the dash, I heard mine crunch a couple of times. I also ended up with a bunch of screws left over, just make sure that the screws you do screw in are really tight, that way you?ll avoid any squeaks if you happen to have a few screws left over. Also, don?t put the hood latch on until you?ve got the plastic piece underneath the steering column on. Take your time and don?t give up. It will feel overwhelming in a few spots but it?ll feel great when you crank her up and feel that hot air blowing.