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Project F-250, part one

Most farms have an older pickup truck around that gets all the dirty jobs, like hauling portable fuel tanks, leaky hydraulic hoses and tool boxes back and forth from the field. Usually, they take over from the new, shiny pickup whenever there is a risk of getting it dirty or scratched.

When that old truck ends up looking worse for wear with rust and dents, you’ll have little choice but to keep it around until it ends up parked in the trees, because no one will give you a decent price for it.

There is something you can do to change all that, though, and for not a lot of money. With my 1996 F-250 diesel fitting nicely into that ugly duckling category, it makes the perfect project for a new series of workshop articles this season — and, of course, I’ll get a better truck out of the deal.

Here’s the challenge I’ve been given. I put my F-250 into the shop for a couple of weeks, and using tools commonly found in any farm shop and a couple of other low-cost extras, we see how much the old Ford’s appearance can be improved on a very limited budget.

You get to follow along as things progress. The idea is to inspire you to do the same in your shop, with your old truck. I’ll use techniques and products that will work on anything from an old truck to a trailer, or even an old tractor. We’ll break the overall make-over process down into smaller projects, most of which you could easily do in a day or two without taking things as far as I will.

But can anyone really expect professional results using cheap tools, without specialized facilities and with limited technical skill? In a word, no. But I’m pretty certain I can make the Ford look a lot better than it did when I started. And if people have started describing your old truck as a “beater,” what have you got to lose?

First things first

To start off, let’s stick with something simple. The sound system in the F-250 swallowed a CD several months ago and won’t cough it back out. And nothing is more important in a vehicle than being able to listen to tunes when you’re driving! So, I headed to a big-box electronics store and snapped up a cheap AM/FM CD player to replace it. Here’s how to install one.

Someone had installed an after-market radio in the truck before I bought it, so swapping it out is easy. First, use the two metal extractor tools that come included with almost every new radio to gently pry the plastic cover plate off the dash. Once it’s off, insert one tool on each side of the existing radio. They will release the metal tabs that hold the radio in position, then just pull it out and disconnect the standard wiring plug and antenna cable.

Unless you’re reinstalling the same brand of radio, you’ll need to remove the metal sleeve the radio slides into, which holds it firmly inside the dashboard. The sleeve stays in place using metal tabs that just fold down behind the opening, wedging it in. Using a screwdriver, just bend them up and pull out the sleeve. Install the sleeve that came with your new radio the same way.

Then, reconnect the wiring at the back of the new sound system and slide it in until you hear it lock into place with a click. Reinstall the cover plate and you’re done. It’s that simple.

Generally, whenever you’re working on anything electrical, it’s a good idea to disconnect the negative battery cable to avoid shorting something out, and installing a radio is no exception.

Total cost for the new radio was $130. We’ll add that to the running tally and keep track of each individual step. Next time we move to the back of the truck and improve things inside the bed. †

About the author

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Scott Garvey

Scott Garvey is a freelance writer and video producer. He is also the former machinery editor at Grainews.

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