Every vehicle on the road requires maintenance, and that is no different for the most popular truck in the world: the Ford F-150. If you want your truck to run well, deliver the best performance, and last long, you have to take care of it.
While many aspects of repairs on modern vehicles are best left to the professionals, many maintenance tasks are things you can do at home. As long as you have the right tools, the right knowledge, and a little bit of time, you can get the most out of your Ford F-150. So, let’s get into it!
To keep things a little on the newer side, when referencing a vehicle, I am going to reference a 2020 Ford F-150 with the 5.0L V8. I will clarify when it’s not.
Fluid Inspection and Top-Offs
Your F-150 has lots of fluids that you will need to inspect from time to time. Being low (or in some cases too full) could lead to some very expensive problems down the line. On top of that, fluid doesn’t just vanish. If you’re losing some type of fluid, you want to realize that sooner than later to find out what you need to do to stop it.
Each fluid reservoir in your engine bay has a MAX and MIN fill line. You want to make sure that your fluid is between that. Oil, is of course measured and inspected by your dipstick.
Oil, power steering fluid (not applicable to newer F-150s), brake fluid, and coolant are all products that you can buy of the shelf at your local auto parts store, big box store, or even Amazon. If you are low on any type of fluid, check your manual to see what type of that particular fluid that you need, buy it, and fill it up.
After doing so, check that reservoir again from time to time to see if it leaks again, and how fast it is if it does. Make note, and get your truck to a mechanic.
There are other greases and fluids that you will find in your manual, but these are the most important ones, and the ones that are user serviceable.
While we're talking about fluids, let’s talk about the most important thing you can do to prolong the life of any vehicle: oil changes. Oil is the life and blood of any engine. If it gets too old or too low, your engine will suffer and cost you thousands in repairs.
Conventional oil should be changed every 3,000 miles, or at least once every year if you drive less than 3,000 miles. Synthetic oil can get closer to 10,000 miles. Why is this important? Oil brakes down over time. The more it is used, oil will get dirty, break down, and lose the ability to lubricate your engine properly. Letting it sit over time will cause it to naturally break down, and will lead to similar results.
Here is a good video on how to change your oil. While this person has some helpful shop tools, you only need basic tools to get this done:
Ford did make some creative engineering choices, so try not to make a mess! If you don’t want to do it yourself, a dealership is a great, yet expensive option. There are plenty of local shops that offer coupons to get your business. Bottom line: CHANGE YOUR OIL when you’re supposed to and with what you're supposed to.
Tire Pressure and Alignment
While this may not seem like something overly important, the pressure and alignment of your tires can make a world of difference in your truck’s performance.
Ford suggests filling your tires up to 35 to 40 psi on both the front and rear tires. Keep in mind that these are for factory brand and size tires during normal driving. If you put different sized tires on, there is a chance that you may need a different pressure. Off-roading may require you to air down your tires for better traction, but we’ll save that talk for another post!
Thankfully, modern vehicles will monitor tire pressure for you, and warn you when things get too low. Head off to a gas station that has an air pump, and fill them up when they get low! If one particular tire keeps getting low, you may want to check it for leaks, or perhaps a damaged wheel.
Alignment refers to the angles that your wheels and tires are in relation to your truck and each other. While there is a ton that we can go into about this, there are a couple things you can look our for to see if your alignment is off.
The first would be driveability. Do you notice your truck pulling in a random direction? Does it shake when you drive? Things like this could be an alignment or tire balance issue. You can also check for uneven wear on the tire tread. Do you notice the outsides or insides being worn out faster compared to the rest of the tire? That’s generally a poor alignment. While that’s not something you should really attempt to fix yourself, it is a good thing to be able to know how to spot.
Filter Inspection and Replacement
There are two main filters located on the F-150 that you need to worry about: the main air intake filter, and the cabin air filter. The main air intake filter is responsible for filtering the air that goes into your engine, and the cabin air filter (think of the filter for the air conditioning unit in your home) is responsible for filtering the air that enters your truck’s HVAC system. Both should be replaced regularly to maintain top and safe performance.
This is something that mechanics love to charge a good amount for because it’s pure profit for them. The filters are cheap and very easy to get to and do yourself. Both filters (if you get budget ones) will be about $10 each.
Fun fact... If you want to go all out with your air filter, you can replace it with a cold air intake which is not only easy to do, but gives you more power! You can read all about that in our F-150 performance mod guide.
A good rule of thumb for replacing your intake air filter should be every 10,000 miles or so. You may want to do this more if you drive in dusty areas. Failure to do so will lead to your engine having to work harder. We have all had to wear masks recently, right? Try breathing through that mask if you cover the front with leaves. Not fun!
Your cabin air filter can go a bit longer to about 20,000 miles. This once again though will depend on how frequently you use your HVAC system and the conditions you drive in. Yours truly forgot about this in his 2005 Mustang and replaced it for the first time couple years ago. Needless to say, it was black.
Here is a video about how to replace the air filter:
The cabin filter is a bit trickier to get to, but still easy. Here is a video on that:
This is going a bit beyond your every day maintenance, but Ford makes this very easy to do on the modern F-150 engines. Spark plugs deliver the spark your engine needs to ignite the fuel being sprayed into your engine. Over time, your plugs begin to get fouled (dirty), and don’t deliver a strong spark. You may notice this in terms of misfires or a rough idle.
Spark plugs should be changed every 30,000 miles or so, depending on what type you have. With a few basic tools (ratchet, sockets, spark plug socket, and screwdriver/pick tool), you can tackle this. If you don’t have these tools, get them! You will use them far more than you think.
With Ford’s “coil on plug” design in both the EcoBoost V6 and the V8, everything you need is on the top of the engine. After unplugging and removing the coils, unscrew the old spark plugs and screw the new ones in. No taking off wheels and lifting the vehicle needed here, like on some makes and models.
Here is a quick video on replacing the spark plugs on a V8 F-150:
Here is a video on replacing the spark plugs on an EcoBoost F-150:
Cleaning your Throttle Body and MAF Sensor
Your mass airflow sensor (MAF) is a bit of circuitry that reads the air that’s coming into your engine. It will read a number of parameters and tell your engine how to run accordingly… What RPM, the amount of fuel, amount of air, and so on. When this gets dirty over time, it can start causing false readings. You’ll start to lose power and probably some MPGs as well.
Thankfully this is super easy to clean. For a few bucks at your local auto parts store, you can pick up a can of MAF sensor cleaner. Then just disconnect your battery (to be on the safe side), unplug your MAF, unscrew two screws holding it in, then pull it out and spray it down! Once it’s dry, reverse the process, and your truck will come alive once again.
Your throttle body is responsible for letting air into the engine. If it gets dirty, it may slow down how fast it opens and closes, or it may have trouble opening and closing completely. Your truck may start to sputter, and maybe even stall. This is also easy to clean!
Go back to that auto parts store and pick up a can of throttle body cleaner (not carb cleaner). Take off the intake tube, spray the cleaner onto a cotton cloth (like an old t-shirt), and wipe the inside down! Make sure you open the valve and get behind it. Be careful and gentle, and don’t let the valve slam closed.
If you do these two things, especially if it’s been a while or never since the last time, you’ll be amazed at the results. Close to $10 will get you the two cans (that will last you years), and it will take you 30 minutes to do both things. A shop will charge you close to $100 for this service.
Fuel System Cleaner
Regardless if your truck is new or old, a good fuel system cleaner added regularly can aid in keeping things running better for longer. What this is is a little bottle that you can get for around $5-$7 that you pour into your gas tank. It will clean your fuel injectors (which can get expensive) and things like the valves in your engine. Some suggest doing this every time you get an oil change as a good and even interval.
Make sure you read the label on the bottle you plan to get. Some are for higher mileage engines and stuff like that. Find the one you think would work best for you, and dump it in when it tells you to, which is normally right before you get gas.
While you won’t notice any amazing gains in performance, you won’t be losing any in the future either! Again, this is something shops love to charge for since it’s pure profit. Save the money, and do it yourself!
Washing Your Truck!
Okay, okay... Washing your truck? Really? Yes... Really. Roads are dirty. The great outdoors are dirty! While some dirt may be harmless, other dirt can be a disaster. Salt and other corrosive contaminants that you may encounter in your journeys can be a death sentence to your paint and the metal of your truck.
These contaminants (salt being the most common from either ice prevention or being near oceans) eat away at paint and metal over time. If you ever encounter these conditions, it is best to wash your truck as soon as you can. This includes the bottom side of your truck! While this is not the easiest thing to do, if you plan on keeping your truck for a while, you want to keep it clean so you don’t start getting rust. Rust is death.
There is a lot that you can do to keep your truck running longer, performing better, and to keep more money in your pocket. If you have greater mechanical skills, there is plenty more than you can do on your own, but if you’re just a novice with a couple of tools, you will be able to do everything I talked about.
Just keep up with it. Ford’s are very strong, but they need to be taken care of like any vehicle. Take care of it, and it will take care of you!