Project VehiCross: Part 2 – The Lemons Budget Overhaul

Project VehiCross: Part 2 – The Lemons Budget Overhaul

by David Zipf

Scheduled.  Maintenance.  To car people, these two words usually mean a weekend under your pride and joy, with a visit or two to the parts store, getting good and greasy, and finishing up with a beer (or soda if you're a younger wrencher) as you admire your handy work, basking in the glory of a job well done.  Or…maybe sulking in the defeat of a stripped bolt head.  For everyone else however, “Scheduled Maintenance” means “Do I choose between getting overcharged at the dealership or getting ripped off at Jim-Bob's Tire, Lube, Dry Cleaning, and Horse Shoeing?”  It never ceases to amaze me how long people will put off simple repairs and cheap work because they either don't know certain jobs need to be done on a regular schedule, or because it's a hassle or expense.  Unfortunately, putting off this basic maintenance can lead to a cascade of expensive and sometimes dangerous issues.  

When we bought our VehiCross a few months ago, we got it for a steal.  A lot of the reason we got it so cheap was because those two simple words we just mentioned had been largely ignored for most of our truck's life.  The lack of normal care lead to a lot of weird problems we had, which we chronicled before.  Not long after buying our VX, we took it to a local shop to have it inspected.  They came back with a laundry list of work to be done, the most notable of which being nearly every fluid from bumper to bumper needed replacing (except the engine oil, which had been changed only a few dozen miles prior).  Both diffs, the transfer case, the transmission, the coolant, the brake fluid, and the power steering fluid were all very old.  The shop could determine they were all over 5 years old.  We guessed that most of them were originally poured in by a Japanese tech in the Isuzu plant 14 years ago.  This wasn't going to do, so we got to work, systematically replacing everything we could easily get our hands on.

Oh and to add extra challenge to this project, almost all of this work was done in an apartment parking lot with $100 worth of basic hand tools.  Between YouTube and Harbor Freight, it's easier than ever to learn how to work on your car (yes, investing in good tools is more cost effective long-term, but Harbor Freight is a good place to get your feet wet in the DIY trade).  By doing all this work ourselves, we probably saved $1000 in mechanic fees.  Encourage your non-car friends to try it out, they'll be surprised how much they can do on their own.


We started with the spark plugs.  Plugs are super cheap and can easily add an MPG or two and a few horsepower when they've become worn out.  Considering a 1 MPG gain in our VX is a 7% increase, this is a great place to start.  Not only were our plugs worn, but they had actually rusted to the cylinder head!  They were so jammed up with corrosion, we were worried that they were actually cross threaded.  Luckily, a bit of WD-40 on the new plugs helped clean the head's threads of the old rust and the new plugs slipped right in (well, slipped in after we invented a new way of removing some of them).  Right away the motor idled better and revved a bit more freely.  We picked NGK's platinum plugs, as they were a nice price compromise between basic copper plugs and fancy, but ultimately unnecessary, Iridium plugs.  This engine sees daily driving duties and has a relatively low compression ratio of 9.1:1: Iridium is overkill for this motor.  Autolite was the OEM supplier for Isuzu back in its day, but we've had great success with NGK for many years, so we opted for them instead.
Next, we turned our attentions to the air filter.  The stock paper filter was white on top, but a gross shade of black on the bottom.  We swapped in a simple K&N drop in filter.  Not only do we pick up a tiny bit of power and some sweet sounding intake noise, but we get better filtration, AND a lifetime warranty!  K&N's are all reusable, so we will never need another air filter ever again.  
Ugh, the stock filter is gross and needs to go.  Amazingly, the K&N filter is thinner, yet flows and filters better than the factory filter.  We should have weighed the two, I bet we saved a full quarter of a pound by switching to the K&N.  Colin Chapman would be proud.
The filter only takes a few minutes to install and requires no tools as the airbox pops open with four clips.  Of course since it was a high quality K&N product, it fit perfectly.  K&N filters do not void factory warranties either, so it's a no-brainer for any air filter replacement.  We would have loved to have gone with some sort of intake kit, but guess what, nobody makes an intake for a VehiCross.  We will have to fabricate our own.  And if we go to that trouble, don't be surprised to see an elbow snorkel popping out of the hood…

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