Changing Ford 5.4L Triton Phasers and Timing Chain

Last Modified : Mar 30, 2021

As a forewarning, this is not a job for a novice. This is an interference engine: If you do not align the camshafts correctly, serious mechanical engine damage will result. Therefore, I have supplied you with this is a step by step guide explaining how to properly change the timing chain, guides, tensioners, and phasers on a 5.4L Triton 3 valve.

These 5.4L Triton 3 valve engines are known for their distinctive rattling noises. Some noise is normal but excessive noise warrants an inspection. On these engines the timing components are the likely source of the noise. The camshaft phasers, tensioners, and the guides can fail. Although there is no maintenance schedules set up on these for timing component replacement, I do recommend pro-active replacement.

This article is mainly written with the 5.4L truck engine in mind, but the 4.6L used in trucks, vans, and cars is very similar. Lots of information on this site. Definately be aware of Common Problems with the 5.4L Triton and how the VCT System Works.

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Here is a bit of a disclaimer. This is not a complete all-inclusive guide to all 5.4L Triton 3valves. Each year and application varies slightly between the process of getting down into the timing components, however the process of actually changing the components is the same. The 5.4L Triton engine was used in several models, including the F-series pickup trucks, E-series vans, Expedition, and Excursion. This particular guide was written with a 2006 F150 in mind. Double check fitment of any parts listed here.

Please read through everything before starting your project. There are extremely valuable tips and information located down below.

5.4 Timing Cover Removal

Basically, you will be tearing the front side of the engine down to get the front cover off to expose the timing components.

  1. Disconnect the battery. Always disconnect the negative terminal first and always connect it last.
  2. Drain the cooling system by the radiator petcock. I do not recommend reusing the drained coolant.
  3. Remove intake plenum tube. Held in by one bolt. The other end sits inside of the fender.
  4. Undo the upper radiator hose from the radiator and from the thermostat housing.
  5. Unscrew the fan clutch assembly. Special tools required. Air Hammer Fan Clutch Kit
  6. Remove the fan shroud and fan simultaneously by removing 2 bolts at the top of the shroud and unclip the lower radiator hose from the bottom, hold fan and pull up on shroud.
  7. NON ESSENTIAL STEP* Remove the radiator. Just gives you more room and prevents damage to the radiator from tools. Experienced technicians would not remove it. You could also slide in a piece of cardboard for extra protection.
  8. Remove the belt by using a 3/8 ratchet inside of the tensioner and turning clockwise. Remember the belt routing. It may be helpful to sketch a diagram. The belt tensioner is a common failure point and should be closely examined.
  9. Remove the tensioner assembly by the 3 bolts.
  10. Remove the idler pulleys. Remove water pump pulley.
  11. Remove the alternator.
  12. Remove the harmonic balancer. Special tools required Older models will need a puller using bolts, newer will require a 3 jaw harmonic balancer remover. Remove the main center bolt, set the washer aside, reinstall bolt, install puller. The balancer will slide past the bolt without the washer. The bolt will be used to rotate the engine during disassemble/reassembly. I don't use it, but Ford does specify a crankshaft holder tool (303-674).
  13. Disconnect all coils and injectors. Remove all coils.
  14. **Non Essential Step** The intake does not need to be removed to perform timing chain replacement but some readers have noted that it makes removing the valve covers easier. This is somewhat of a time killer, but it will be easier to install the valve covers and new gaskets with it out of the way. But here are the steps: Remove the fuel rail and injectors. Special tools Required. Master Disconnect Kit. Disconnect all other lines and connectors visible from the intake manifold. Unbolt and remove the intake manifold. Becareful! There are two connectors you must unplug from the back after you have tilted it slightly. Then remove the brake booster vacuum hose. Sometimes a long pry bar to push on the end of the hose is necessary. Note the routing of the wires THROUGH the connecting rods of the IRMC (intake manifold runner control).
  15. Remove the PCM and bracket. Lift the tabs to loosen all three connectors. 4 bolts securing PCM, 3 bolts securing bracket.
  16. Remove the 3 bolts attaching the power steering pump to the block, set aside. If vehicle is 2wd, it is easily accessible from underneath. If it is 4wd, a stubby 10mm ratcheting wrench or a 1/4 inch drive 10mm swivel socket from the top will suffice. Ford actually describes using a puller to remove the power steering pump pulley for easier access, but it is not normally required. This is probably the most irritating part of the process. Sometimes the bolts have corroded to the point that they are almost impossible to remove and removing the power steering pulley may be required.
  17. **2004-2006 Only** Disconnect and remove seals and VCT Solenoids. Seals must be replaced if doing this. Most agree removing these will ease removal of the valve covers but it is not required. The 2007-up can not be removed without removal of the valve cover first.
  18. Disconnect both camshaft position sensors. Ford recommends removing the sensors but its not necessary.
  19. Remove valve covers. This can be a tedious process. Do not damage other components or wiring. The brake booster line and transmission dipstick may need to be slightly relocated so that you can remove valve cover bolts. The dipstick tube has a 21mm bolt holding it, accessible through the fender well.
  20. Remove all bolts on the front cover. Using a 13mm, 15mm, 18mm, and 22mm. There are 4 oil pan bolts on the front bottom that also need to be removed with a 13mm wrench. Note the location of ALL the bolts. Dont forget the slightly hidden bolt under the water pump
  21. Disconnect the crankshaft position sensor. It is located just below the A/C compressor. Move the harness out of the way. Do not forget to reconnect it! The engine will not start if you forget.
  22. Gently pry on the front cover to separate it. It should not take excessive force. Remove and safely set aside. Do not damage mounting surfaces on the block or timing cover or severe oil leaks will result.

5.4L Remove Timing Chains

  1. If engine is currently in-time, rotate the crankshaft so that the keyway is in the 11 to 12 o'clock position. Ford does specify removing certain cam followers, but it isn't required. If replacing phasers, you should loosen the sprocket bolts while the chain is still on. Recheck to make sure the crankshaft is still in the correct position. If chains are to be reused, mark direction of travel.
  2. It also helps to make sure that once the crankshaft is in the correct position the timing marks on the cams that are in the top of the gear are R for the passenger side of the engine, and L for the driver side of the engine.
  3. Remove two bolts holding the right front timing chain tensioner in place. Remove the tensioner. Tensioner should be replaced.
  4. Remove the tensioner arm (guide) by sliding it off the pivoting pin. Remove the two bolts on the other guide and remove.
  5. Remove the RH chain. Lay flat on table if reusing. Timing marks may be on the chain, if not, lay the chain flat into a straight line. Mark the one link that is sticking out alone on one side, and mark the two links that are sticking out together on the other side.
  6. Repeat steps for LH side.

By now, the chains should be off and you should have a pile of oily parts and bolts laid out onto your table. With all this off the top of the engine, it may be a wonderful time to replace the spark plugs. Easy access will be much appreciated with all that room. The 3-valve 5.4L spark plugs are known to break off in the head, and you will need a special tool to remove them. Check out my article Spark Plug Replacement of Ford 5.4L 3valve

Inspect all removed timing components. Look for damaged seals on the back-side of the tensioner assembly. They almost always break when removed from the block. Check for excessive wear on the chain or the guides. You should have a look at the lobes on your camshaft and take a peak at the rockers looking for any excessive wear.

5.4 Replace Timing Chains

At this point, it is almost always well worth it to replace all timing components. Seems like it would be a waste of time to reassemble just to find out you should have replaced something later. Ford does not sell these components in a kit. I recommend using Ford OEM replacement parts or perform a phaser lockout.

Remove the old phasers if doing a lockout kit or installing new ones. Discard the banjo bolt. Be sure the locating pin is removed with the old phaser. Sometimes the locating pin slot on the camshaft has become damaged and will require a new camshaft.

A commonly overlooked problem area that needs to be inspected is the camshaft bearings and caps. You should remove both camshafts to fully inspect the bearings, caps, and rockers. Specifically, the front camshaft bearing cap should be inspected for debris, scoring, and heat damage. Be aware that the phaser gets oil flow from the center of the camshaft. That oil comes through the block, through the bearing, and into the camshaft. Debris often gets stuck here and can be the root cause of repeat phaser failure. Rockers should be checked for bearing failure by checking endplay.

Special de-torque and torque sequence must be followed for the camshaft bearing caps! All caps must be properly marked and put back into the same orientation and locations as originally installed or engine damage will follow. Some scoring is normal and unavoidable, but look for deep grooves that snag fingernails.

As mentioned earlier, this would also be the opportune time to replace the oil pump. Bending an 8mm wrench at around 50 degrees allows you to access the oil pickup tube bolts with the oil pan still attached. Oil pump only has 3 more bolts to remove. The oil pump should slide off easily once you clear the pickup tube. The pump must be properly aligned to reinstall. It has two flats that must align with the two flats on the crankshaft. It just takes a little wiggling and good eye to line up. Be sure the pump fits easily all the way against the block.CHECK! Will slide easily up to the block... If it does not, DO NOT force it as those tabs are not aligned. You will damage the pump. Remove and try again. Do not use bolts to pull the pump to the block.

It should be noted that the correct way to replace the oil pump is to remove the oil pan. This allows you to clean the pan and oil pump pickup tube of debris if the timing guides were broken.

Clean all the gasket mounting surfaces. Do not use roloc discs. Use a plastic or wooden scrapper to clean away old gasket material. Clean the valve covers and the front cover. Insert new gaskets into valve covers and front cover. Replacement of the front main oil seal is highly recommended and easy to do.

Install your cams, rockers, lifters. Torque to spec. Install the phasers. Do not drop. Be sure it is fully seated with the locating pin in the correct location. Using the phaser locking tool torque to spec of 30 ft.lbs and then an additional 90 degrees. If you do not have the locking tool, you must hand tighten the bolt and then torque it once the chains are in place.

Install the crankshaft sprocket. Find marks on the first chain. Put the chain over the crankshaft sprocket making sure to align the single chain mark to the dot on the sprocket. The first chain is the LH side and it sits on the furthest back on the sprocket. While holding the chain to the sprocket, pull the chain around the camshaft sprocket. Align the mark on the camshaft sprocket directly in between the two marked teeth on the chain.

It may be necessary to use a 15mm and turn the camshaft to aid in alignment. Install the new tensioner hand tight and the new tensioner arm (guide) but do not pull the locking pin yet. Inspect your chain location to be certain that marks and links are aligned around the crankshaft sprocket and the camshaft sprocket. If they are not aligned, start the process over by removing the tensioner. The chain can easily slip on the crankshaft sprocket. If they are still aligned, tighten the tensioner and install the guide. Make sure there are no loose bolts. Pull tensioner grenade pin! Fire in the hole! For the visual learners out there, I did manage to grab a few pictures of the timing marks lined up. They are located Here1 and Here2.

The RH side installation is similar. It sits furthest forward on the crankshaft sprocket and is a little harder to be sure it stays in time. This side will definitely need you to slightly turn the camshaft sprocket to align the chain, and its somewhat difficult to hold the chain and turn the camshaft sprocket by yourself. Any slight movement in either direction and the camshaft will wan to "jump" because of valve spring pressure. Use of a breaker bar is preferred. This is a great time to call in backup. Follow remaining steps above.

Once you have checked and double checked that your timing marks are all still lined up (maybe a triple check?) then you can use the crankshaft bolt to rotate the engine clockwise. Rotate the engine a few complete revolutions to be sure no valve to piston contact will occur. The timing marks WILL NOT line up after you turned it.

Based on the number of emails I have received please read this statement again: The timing marks WILL NOT line up after you rotate the engine. It is almost impossible to check the timing after the engine is rotated by using the timing marks on the timing chain. Continue to rotate the engine over a full few turns. If all goes well the engine will not come to a halt. I

Install the crankshaft sensor ring (tabs facing outward). Dots of RTV needs to be put on the block before installing the front cover. The locations to put RTV are where the cylinder head meets the block in all 4 positions and the corners of the oil pan gasket. I usually put a very small bead along the exposed oil pan gasket.

It should be worth mentioning here that

Install the front cover. While tightening the bolts, start at the bottom 13mm and criss-cross all the 13mm bolts. Then tighten remaining bolts. For detailed, and absolutely correct torque pattern, refer to WSM-303-01C. Now before you install the valve covers, you need to add a dot of RTV to where the cylinder head meets the front cover on both sides. Then install the valve covers. When installing the harmonic balancer, a new bolt should be used if following FORDS instructions. Put the harmonic balancer on (lining up the key way) and gently tap on it until it becomes recessed enough that the bolt will screw into the crankshaft. Damage to the crankshaft can happen if you are not careful. Tighten the bolt.

Rest of installation process is reverse of disassembly. Remember to change the oil, oil filter, and use new coolant to refill the cooling system. For detailed information on the correct procedure an type of coolant to use on your vehicle, refer to Coolant Refill Procedure.

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