Transformer Install – Part 5: Taking a ’96 Ford Ranger From Bone Stock to Trail Brawler

By Jim Allen

(From Off-Road Adventures Magazine)

We’re going to cover a lot of ground now that the suspension and drivetrain are out of the way. You’re also going to get a peek at our Ranger’s new clothes. We’ve been trying to hide the new paint, but at this point, it’s impossible. The “full reveal” will come in the next and final installment.

Engine Performance

Our goal with the engine buildup items for the 4.0L was not so much to turn the Ranger into a hot rod, but to retain stock performance after the truck got larger tires and gained weight. Both of these items can really slow a rig down. We could have gone a lot further with engine performance upgrades, but given the high mileage of the truck, owner Jim Oaks decided not to push it too far until it’s had an overhaul. You will see the final tests results in the last installment, alongside our original test info, and find out if we reached our performance goals.



JET Performance Power Package

JET’s Power Package includes the JET Performance Module, Powr-Flo performance air filter and low temp thermostat. Together, these units are advertised as offering up to a 30 hp increase in rear wheel power. The module is simple to describe, despite the long hours and technical expertise required to produce it. Basically, it optimizes timing, fuel delivery, shift points, etc., to produce more power. The high-flow, low temp t-stat (a 180 degrees, vs 195 degrees) is not so much a power producing element as insurance. More power, namely the changes in timing, produces more heat and the thermostat helps keep the engine cool. The Powr-Flo air filter allows the engine to breathe better by reducing intake restriction. Airflow needs increase as more power is produced, so a higher flowing filter is often needed to keep up. Unfortunately, the filter required for our Ranger was on backorder, so we never had the chance to test it or photograph its installation.

Wrench Rating

1. The ECU is accessed from the engine compartment. Step one is to disconnect the battery. Then undo the center bolt and disconnect the main ECU harness connectors. Two bolts hold the ECU in the firewall. Remove them and pull the ECU.

2. Remove the cover on the back of the ECU to access the connector on the back of the circuit board.

3. Use the supplied Scotchbrite pad to clean the connector on the back of the circuit board. Clean both the top and the bottom of the printed circuit connector and blow off any dust and powder from the connector.

4. Pop the module into place onto the circuit board. It should slide into place with a minimum amount of effort. Don’t force it.

5. Use the supplied decal to secure the module. You can now reinstall the module, reconnect the battery and start the engine.

6. The thermostat installs in the normal way. Drain about half the coolant from the radiator drain plug. If you are careful, you can do this without contaminating it. You can then reuse the coolant after the t-stat is installed. Run the engine to operating temp to “burp” the system of air, then recheck coolant level after it cools.

Gibson Cat Back Exhaust

How much you get out of an exhaust upgrade on a basically stock engine depends upon how well (or poorly) the OE system flows. When you increase the power output, more exhaust is created and it can overwhelm a stock system. It will really choke if the stock system was poorly designed in the first place. The things that restrict flow in an exhaust system are inadequate pipe size, restriction at the bends and a muffler that restricts flow in the name of being quiet. Gibson answers these problems by going to larger pipes, mandrill bent tubes that are not restricted at the bends and a straight through muffler that does not restrict flow while still silencing the engine. This is typically worth a 5-10 percent power boost, and that’s about what Gibson claims for an ’01 4.0L Ranger. The system is easy to install, even for a home wrencher, but because of time constraints, we enlisted the aid of Brad and Joe at Spirit Exhaust in East Liverpool, Ohio to walk us through the installation.

Wrench Rating


1. The Gibson cat back stainless exhaust system is almost too pretty to install. Before installation, it’s a good idea to lay the system out on the floor as it would be installed on the truck to make sure all the pieces are there and you are clear as to the order of assembly.

2. Unbolt the stock exhaust at the flange behind the catalytic converter. You should support the cat with a stand in the process. On a high mileage engine, it may pay to install a new cat. They slowly get plugged over the years and can restrict flow. There was no indication of this on our rig, so we left ours alone. However, high flow cats are available from various sources should you want to replace yours.

3. Begin at the front and start assembling the system towards the back. Don’t fully tighten the clamps until the system is installed and adjusted. You want at least 3/8-inch clearance between the pipes and anything else on the truck. The piece de resistance of the system is the gorgeous polished stainless steel tip. The Gibson sound is mellow, yet has a healthy, competitive ring. It takes the Ranger from a shower caterwauller to spotlighted, tuxedo-clad crooner.

Painless Wiring Dual Battery Kit

If you do a lot of winching, a second battery is a vital necessity. It gives you two batteries to extend winching time, or allows you to use one battery exclusively for winching and the other for the vehicle. There are a lot of ways to wire up an extra battery, but why bother figuring it out yourself when Painless Wiring offers a pre-engineered system for about the same money and less hassle than piecing a system together yourself? The Painless dual battery switch offers three positions. When centered, the vehicle’s electrical system is completely isolated from the auxiliary battery and whatever it’s connected to. In the green light position, both batteries are connected for charging and for starts, but only when the key is on. In the red position, the two electrical systems are totally connected regardless of ignition key position.

1. The Painless dual battery kit includes a heavy duty solenoid, switches, relays and wiring.

2. The weatherproof solenoid can be mounted nearly anywhere and Oaks chose to mount his in the bed near where the batteries are mounted. He used bulk welding cable and crimped his own terminals. Because this solenoid is rated for only 250 amps and the winch is rated for 400 at max pull, Oaks will install a second solenoid in parallel to carry the load.

Winch, Batteries, Lights and Electrical

The need for a winch was not a hard sell to Jim Oaks who had recently spent several hours winching up a bunch of Ranger Station Snowball Run event participants out of a frozen gully. A 12,000 pound winch is a bit of overkill for a Ranger, but since Oaks typically uses his rig as a rescue vehicle at many ‘wheeling events, he reckoned the extra capacity was needed. Oaks was particular about the look he wanted for a bumper and winch mount, so he tested his budding fabrication skills on the project. He bought a tubing bender, some tubing and plate steel. With the advice and aid of his master welder buddy “Ozzy” Osborne, he built the winch bumper you’ll see in the installation and it’s plenty stout for the job. Hooking up the winch was very simple, but because the battery was relocated to the bed, Oaks replaced the power cable with 00-gauge (a.k.a. “double ought”) welding cable. That’s the trick if you need to extend a cable, go a size or two bigger to prevent resistance and voltage drop. Also, welding cable is the best cable to use because it can carry more amps at any gauge than standard battery cable. It’s also more flexible and easy to run.

Tools Required:

generally none (for prebuilt mount)

tubing bender, wire feed welder, cutting torch, ironworker (for custom bumper)

Wrench Rating:

(winch alone on prebuilt mount)

(custom fabbed mount/bumper)

1. MileMarker’s E12000 winch is relatively new to the market. It’s a planetary unit with a 265:1 gear ratio and a 5.5 hp motor. It weighs 93 pounds with a full 100 foot load of 3/8-inch cable. The winch draws 400 amps at a full load. It’s pretty fast, with a 21.3 feet per minute (fpm) line speed at no-load, 6.5 fpm at 8,000 pounds and 4.4 fpm at 12,000 pounds.

2. The MileMarker fits many standard winch bumpers and MileMarker offers bolt-in mounts to fit many applications. In this case it will bolt up to a custom setup. Here, Oaks measures the mounting bolt location to drill the holes, which are 10 inches on center.

3. There are four wires coming out of the solenoid box, three of which attach to the winch. The correct hookup is pretty hard to screw up when color coded this way. The fourth cable is the red power cable that attaches to battery power. There is also a separate ground cable that’s vital to proper operation. It connects to a stud on the bottom of the motor and is ideally run direct to the negative post of the battery. It can be chassis grounded as long as the winch battery is grounded to the chassis with a cable of the same gauge.

4. The solenoid box mounts to the tie bars on the winch and makes the winch controller accessible. ProComp tow hooks are mounted on either side of the mounting plate, just under the lower tube of the bumper. Oaks’ home built winch mount and bumper turned out pretty nice for a first effort. The right tools, patience and a good coach named Ozzy were key ingredients to its success!

Homebuilt Snorkel

Our Ranger’s owner has seen several hydrolocked engines, and given that his rigs get a fair amount of “frequent floater” miles and mudhole duty, a snorkel was on his hot list. Because no manufactured kits are available for the Ranger, he opted to build is own as he did on his earlier Ranger. The way this system is built, using mostly 3-inch hardware store PVC, it is likely to cause a slight drop in top end power. Oaks knew this tradeoff going in, but he reckons it’s worth the cost of saving an engine vs gaining a few high rpm ponies.

Wrench Rating:

1. Oaks removed the O.E. fenders to replace them with prerunner type fiberglass units and this made the snorkel instalation easier. The part he’s removing is the inlet duct.

2. The system is built of PVC, readily available at hardware stores. You can pretty much get the idea on how to build it from this shot. It’s secured to the body with U-bolts and the pipe joints are glued with PVC glue.

3. The inlet mounts up on the cowl and is protected by this grate that keeps out the big chunks. It could easily be extended higher.

ProComp Lights

Oaks is a frequent night ‘wheeler… and not necessarily by choice! Because he runs events or leads trail runs, breakdowns and stuck rigs often keep him out late making sure everyone is off the trail. For that reason, a full set of off-road lights are a necessity for him. He chose six ProComp 6-inch lights. Each crank out 100 watts and all six can turn night into day. Four mount on the roll bar behind the cab and two on the bumper.

1. These are easy lights to wire up, needing only power and a ground. The important thing to remember is wire size. A 100 watt light draws about 8 amps (to get amps, divide the wattage into the volts: 100/12=8.3 amps). Times four that’s a total of 32 amps. The wires must be large enough to handle the load and be able to supply full current for maximum brightness. To avoid voltage drop, the wires must be larger the longer they are. A 14 gauge wire can handle up to 20 amps if it’s less than four feet in length. From there to ten feet, you need to bump up to the next gauge, which is 12, after which you should use 10 gauge.

2. Oaks wired the lights to two relays with a fuse box mounted inside the toolbox in the bed. This spot is protected from the weather and relatively close to the power source. A single 10 gauge wire powers the relays, while 12 gauge wires run from the relay to the lights. The relay trigger wires run into the cab. Relays are also amp rated, so make sure you don’t overpower them. Each relay powers two lights. More stuff will be wired into this remote fuse box as needed. We’ll show you how he set up the switches when we do the full interior in the next issue.


Explorer ProComp

Gibson Performance Exhaust

Jet Performance Products


Painless Wiring

The Ranger Station

Spirit Exhaust

  • 2880 St. Clair Ave.
  • East Liverpool, OH 43920
  • 330-385-4914


Check Out:

Part 1: Taking a 1996 Ford Ranger from Bone Stock to Trail Brawler

Part 2: Suspension and Tires

Part 3: Gears and Lockers

Part 4: Manual Hubs and Explorer Rear Axle Swap

Part 5: Taking a ’96 Ford Ranger From Bone Stock to Trail Brawler

Part 6: The Full Monty


Also check Out Off-Road Adventures Magazine

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