96 Ford E250 Van constant gear hunting please help

I bought a van from someone that i was gonna turn into a livable camper type Van. And i think i got stuck with a piece of junk. It say for a year acted the front was wrecked. But the sellar vowed and declared that she had been driving it for a while after that however I found that it was surging real bad I thought it might be a vacuum problem but the exhaust pipe was broken into places and the O2 sensor downstream was not hooked up so I paid a welder to fix the pipe and put a new O2 sensor on it. Then that fix the surging problem but then I realize the transmission keeps hunting for gears it shifts up and down I’m pretty sure the torque converter is not locking in but I’m not 100% sure. the transmission fluid is still good and clean so I know it’s not burn up but I don’t want to burn it up by keeping on driving it but I also can’t afford to carry it to a shop that’s going to keep it for weeks trying to figure out what’s going on and pay a bunch of money when I’m a mechanic myself I’m just not really good at diagnostic stuff so I would say maybe I’m more of a tech I’ve been working in mechanic shops for years but I’ve not got a whole lot of experience with diagnostics. I’m thinking it’s something with drivability issues something to do with electronics or the motor although the motor runs great cuz you guys give me some ideas that’s the things to check before I have to spend a bunch of money carrying it to a shop maybe I can fix it myself because this is what I need to live in. I think it still has an exhaust manifold leak I can hear it and I know it probably needs new plugs maybe wires because when I wiggle one of the wires two of them actually the whole spark plug turned loose and I can see it freely spinning back and forth I’m just not sure what all types of different things can cause that hunting behavior sorry for the long paragraph I just wanted to give as much information as possible thanks.

Aren’t you going to tighten those spark plugs?


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Clean fluid does not mean for one second that the transmission is good and not burned up. Many people have a vehicle that suffers trans problems and then change the fluid in a last ditch effort to save it.
When that does not work then they offer it for sale while playing uninformed. The trans is likely the quarter century old original and at some point all of those aged seal inside it just can’t do the job anymore of keeping various pressures where they ought to be.

As mentioned, fix the plugs first and see what happens and there’s always the idea of scanning it to see what codes come up.

Yeah I’m gonna put new plugs lol

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96…first mandated year for OBD II diagnostics…first, do you have a check engine light? If yes pull codes and see if one is a trans sensor code…also, I think ford still used a kick down cable in that year to tell trans when/where to shift according to throttle position, it’s a cable usually attached to throttle body butter fly valve, has a black or grey squareish block that is ADJUSTABLE…if memory serves me correctly to adjust, there is a square button on it you either push down or pull up and adjustment will slide all way in, then release button, grab throttle and go wide open…WITH van NOT running, cable will self adjust

I think ford called it a TV cable instead of kick down…google adj procedure, it’s easy and can cause severe “hunting” if not adjusted correctly, had several through the years that would take off and shift straight to high gear because of that adjustment being incorrect

Being a 96 I’d say with all the current problems with engine running smooth is why the ecm/ecu causing trans to hunt

And the other, if it’s been off the road for several years, it could be going through trans re-learn