Truck Suddenly Died on Road (Ford Ranger 2001)

Ford Ranger 2001
Manual Transmission
4 Cylinder Engine
4x2 Drivetrain
~160K Miles

While driving home tonight, my truck suddenly lost power, as if I turned the key to turn off the motor. There was a beep, the one that goes off whenever I open the door while the key is in or the light is on, then the “Check Gauge” light came on (the one that warns me when my gas tank is near empty), following that the yellow Battery light came on and finally the orange “Check Engine” light came on.

I pulled out into an empty dirt lot, but that was pretty difficult as the power steering was gone (since the truck was off). After parking the truck, I turned the key to the actual “Off” position, pulled the key out and gave the truck a few moments. I put the key back in and tried to get my truck running again. Of course, it didn’t work, but I figured it wasn’t the battery because it lacked the sputtering motor turn. There’s that and the battery is under two years old. The truck seemed like it really wanted to turn and start, but it lacked a certain something to get it up and over that last hill to vehicular movement. I don’t think I was lacking gas, since it should have given me the red “Check Gauge” light and even if I was, I know I have another 5 miles before I have to fuel up (I would know since I’ve tested it to see how far it would go on that light). I was pretty low on gas when this happened, so the thought came to me that maybe my gauge was starting to get a bit wonky. Then a more realistic thought came to mind.

I’ve had this bad habit for a while, where I fill my gas tank to only about a quarter or a half at the most. Part of it stems from a paranoia of having somebody siphon gas out of my truck at night; yes, I could have fixed this by installing a lock on the gas cap (albeit, my counter-argument is that it’s better to have them take the little bit of gas than have hundreds of dollars of body damage from an aggressive thief). Anyway, I’ve heard that this habit of filling the tank below half can speed up fuel pump failures. Despite this, I’ve had no other symptoms of a fuel pump failure coming, as I haven’t experienced any issues with surging/bucking.

So here are my questions:

  1. Am I right in assuming it’s a fuel pump failure?
  2. Are these instructions to fuel pump replacement accurate? (Yes, I know the DIY Matrix provides every reason on why I should avoid doing this myself, but my wallet I’m itching for a project =P)
  3. If it’s not a fuel pump failure, what could it be?

You said it sounded like “it really wanted to turn over”. Did the engine sound like it was turning over easier than normal? If so, you probably lost your timing belt, which is not such a big deal on this truck. Many cars use an interference engine design, which means if the camshaft and crankshaft lose synchronization, severe engine damage can be done. Fortunately, your engine is not like this. If your timing belt has failed, you will also want to check for other problems that could have caused the belt to fail. Coolant leaks from the water pump or thermostat housing can contaminate the belt on this engine, so be sure to look there.

I think you just plain old ran out of gas. You’re using the fuel gauge as if its some kind of a precision instrument - which its not. The same goes for the low fuel warning and the number of miles you have left after it comes on.

Put gas in the tank and drive away.

We fill our cars at the halfway mark. I don’t want that bottom crud coming up and clogging my filter and injectors.

@mark9207 You know, I have no idea if it seemed like it was easier. I’ll take a look under the hood and see what’s going on there. I’ll look at all the belts, since I have no idea which is which, but is there any trademark sign of what a timing belt looks like?

@cigroller That’s why I’m going to test it by putting some fuel in this morning. Just got a gas tank from a friend, so hopefully it’s something as benign as the gauge being a little misleading.

@Trombenik Oh, I never knew that there was a potential benefit for keeping it filled at halfway. I use fuel cleaner products to try and keep my filter and injectors clean, but I guess all that is just snake oil? Tom & Ray kind of sound like they’re half and half on these things (then again, what are they ever fully committed too? =^D )

Thanks for the feedback everyone ^o^

You won’t actually be aable to see the timing belt. It’s behind a plastic cover on the front of the motor. You may (and I stress may) be able to look through the plastic cover, or see the back of the pulley from behind a shield. If you can, have someone else turn it over. If everything seems to be spinning, then it’s most likely OK.

Fuel. Yes, a neighbor of mine had a fuel problem. Had the truck towed home, rented a car, was going to take it to the dealer “in the morning”. He asked me (he’s blind, she’s the driver) if I’d have a look at it, and I said sure. Fuel pump seemed OK…checked fuses, I was under the hood. He was at the wheel. I finally got to the inside. Little “1” flashing on the dash, with the gauge sitting on the bottom. Hmmm…

@cigroller It’s not an issue of fuel level, as I’ve just put in a few gallons on top of what was already in there (probably about 2 gallons).

@chaissos I think you helped me to find the timing belt! Here are a few pictures I took.

I had my assistant turn the motor and noticed that this area had exposed teeth that weren’t rotating at all. The other belts were really slow about cycling, so they weren’t outright broken.

I didn’t get a chance to look below the bumper, but from under the hood I saw a single bolt and a plastic clip holding the shield in place. These were pretty easy to access, so that leads me to believe that any other bolts/fasteners/clips must be pretty easy to reach too?

Also, is this repair possible to perform in an empty dirt lot? That’s where I have the truck parked, so I’d like to repair it rather than tow it to my place for $$$.

You found it, and yes, if that’s how loose it is (pic “exposed teeth”), then it’s broken. Mark9207 said it’s not an interference engine (I believe him, but I can’t confirm), so you should be able to put a new belt on.

The main problem with replacing it where it sits is the tools you’re going to require.

You’ll need to collect (then recycle) the anti-freeze. Removing the radiator will make all this SO much easier, and then you also don’t have to worry about hurting it with any tools…you’ll be working really close to it, if you can even get in there.

It will surely be far easier to get the main pulley off with power tools, although hand tools may work. An 18v impact should do it, too, so air power isn’t necessarily required.

You’ll want to replace the tensioner as well, and ideally the water pump. It’s a pretty standard procedure.

Get a manual so you can line everything up right.

Good luck!

This repair is possible in a dirt lot with basic hand tools, but it would be a lot more comfortable at home. If this is your first time doing a timing belt, this is a good one to start with because it is easy (as far as timing belts go) and kind of difficult to screw up. The radiator doesn’t necessarily have to come out (I have never removed a radiator to do one of these belts), but it would give you a lot more room to work. I also suggest having a good repair manual and, ideally, another mechanically inclined friend with you to assist. This timing belt, IIRC, has a book time of something like three hours, so if this is your first experience with a timing belt, expect to spend more than that on it and maybe double or more if you do tackle it in the dirt lot. Just remember to double and triple check your timing marks after replacing the belt by turning the engine over by hand a couple times and to make sure there was not some kind of contamination that caused the belt to fail. Most of the ones I have replaced on this engine failed due to coolant contamination from a water pump or thermostat housing gasket leaking onto the belt. If this is the case, fix the coolant leak before installing the new belt.

Oh, so there’s no way I can get away with just replacing that single belt? I realize that the principle of “if you’re tearing it apart, fix everything else along the way” is extremely beneficial for productivity & prevention of future failures, but I just want to get the truck out of the lot and back into my driveway (without the use of a tow truck, as mentioned before). I really don’t mind going in a 2nd time to replace the tensioner and water pump, so long as I can get it off that dirt lot (I’m just hoping that the police department doesn’t tag my vehicle as abandoned).

As far as the manual is concerned, do I go Chilton or Haynes? I know about Helm Inc., but the prices are stratospherically high (CD is $205 for my Model-Year); I’d also have to order it online, so shipping time would hurt.

@mark9207 Didn’t see your post until after I finished mine. Judging by the amount of time it takes, I may have to tow it to my place after all.

As far as manuals go, the Helm Inc. Service Manual reprints seem to be the Gold Standard, except I don’t want to sink $205 and then slowly start turning into my own mechanic. I’m somewhere stuck between being a clueless owner and a shadetree mechanic, only because of necessity; think of the DIY homeowners who learn out of necessity, not because they really want to caulk their house all day. Where’s the manual for the middle ground, for the guys who are doing it out of necessity?

Oh, and one more thing: thanks for all the help thus far Mark & Chase!

Well, I had the Ranger towed to my place at only $50 for 2 miles (yeah, I broke down pretty close to home, which is quite fortunate).

I’ll be dropping by in intervals, posting what kind of results I get with this little project ^^

Haynes or Chilton manuals are more geared towards the average shadetree mechanic, with detailed descriptions of how to do everything and photographs to accompany the explanations. The Helm manual is more geared towards the professional and, while there is a lot more information contained in them, their procedures can be quite vague and difficult to follow by the average Joe. Haynes or Chilton manuals will have all the information you need for this project, and a whole lot more.