DIY: 1997 Ford E350 (E Super Duty) Fleetwood Tioga Shock Change

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Active member
Jul 11, 2010
Powell, Ohio
Ok. My performance while riding down the road in my 32' Tioga was terrible. A Prius would  blow my rig off the side of the road. Another clue was that any old bump in the road very old since a pebble in the road would cause the chassis to bounce like a boat in the middle of a storm.

First thing to tackle was the shocks. A visual inspection showed no leakage but rusty and old looking. I treated myself to  the Bilstein HD (Heavy Duty) shocks all the way around.
Unfortunately, I could not find a darn thing on the internet on how  to change these specific shocks for the Ford model or camper model. Quite surprised, but being somewhat of shade tree mechanic and thinking - "Hey it's just shocks, right? How can it be?".  Famous last words as they say is very accurate in this case. (I also received quotes from 500-$1000 for the service  installation and I paid about $400 for the shocks)
Let's cut to the chase.  I would say if you are going to tackle this project, expect about 2-3 hours per shock (If you don't break any studs - This can go up to six hours per shock if you do - the problem areas are the front engine shocks) .

You will also need a varied assortment of tools, such as: (Not inclusive as your shock nuts may vary)
? 18/27mm sockets
? 11/16 sockets
? 9/16 sockets
? 1/2" breaker bars
? Penetrating Fluid
? Torch
? 1/2" and 3/4" Ratchet
? 19mm Flex head ratchet
? 18/19mm Stubby ratchet(s)
? Long/Large heavy Duty Screw Drivers
? Safety Glasses
? Large Channel locks
? Antiseize for new nuts/bolts
? A Friend with some mechanical skills
? Beer
? Pizza
--- Optional Equipment In Case You Break A Stud ---
? Heavy Duty Air Cutter / Die  Grinder
? Heavy Duty Jack and Jack Stands (Preferably 3 Ton or greater)
? 1/2"(yes - I said 1/2")  Drill with Metal Bit Set that goes from 1/8 to 5/8"
? This link How to fix a broken stud  (Includes Part Numbers and Procedure)
? Optional Solution:  One thing I did do differently was I saved the shoulder washer. Bought a standard grade8 5" 5/8 shouldered bolt, two stainless steel washers and a SS nylon lock nut. It saved a lot of time and since the arm on the ford e350 was inverted so you really couldn't get a grinder in there anyway.

Ok - A couple of key points to note since you haven't gotten this far. The most difficult shocks to replace are the front driver and the rear passenger. They have the worst/difficult/complex access points and these will require the most patience and the most creative use of your tools. (good time to plead with the wife for new tool purchases).
Technically, you can change the shocks with all wheels on the car. I even changed mine on a slightly angled driveway. Since you are not raising the vehicle at all, just have the emergency break engaged. Now, if you break a stud, you will have to remove the wheel to gain access. That's when you will need your 3/4" driver and 27mm and up sockets. You do have to be a bit flexible and willing to roll underneath the vehicle for this operation.

1. Pre-soak all nuts several times over several days before you start. You'll regret this if you don't.
2. Torch all of your bolts for 5+ minutes prior to removing them. (The main concern is the lower 18mm shock mount bolts). This should help prevent breaking the stud. Take your time. Don't rush. If you do, just go ahead and add 3-4 hours worth of work and extra tools to the list. Use a large break bar (2+ feet) to slowly loosen. If nothing happens, rinse and repeat tip #2 until success.
3. To access the front, top nut of the driver side do the following: Position yourself with your head facing directly up at the motor. Feet should be position toward the rear of the chassis. With your left hand , reach up and over toward the top nut with the appropriate sized wrench. You will not be able to get a socket on this.  Your friend comes in handy now by using channel locks to hold the shock from turning while you  take off the nut. To access the passenger side, use your right hand to reach up and over to the left to access the top nut. This should be a lot easier. Use friend to hold shock from moving while removing top not.
4. For the rear passenger shock position  yourself in the following position: Position your body so your stomach is facing/touching the rear tires. Your feet should be perpendicular to the vehicle. Now use right arm/should to brace yourself while you use your left hand to reach up and over into the slot with the top not and the longest gearwrench or straight wrench possible to give you maximum torque. In my case it was a 15mm. This is a very awkward position and it took a while (30-60 minutes) to finally get off. You will need your friend again to hold that shock while you remove.  You may be able to hold the top wrench while your friend spins the shock and removes the nut.

After I pulled all my shocks, one of the previous owners put underperforming NAPA shocks. You could physically see these were not meant to handle a big rig especially after comparing to the billstein's.
After replacing my shocks, the driving performance improved 100%. My wife was able to drive the RV through the WV mountains without one complaint. My next mission to is to replace the steering dampner as it IS leaking. I'm looking at a Safe T Plus. I'll write up on that one next.

Hopefully this will give you a good idea if you are up for the project or not.

Good Luck! :) ;D 8)

Hi, I read your suggestions for replacing the shocks on your ford. I have a 350 super duty also, a 1997 class C. When looking at the front shocks without beginning the process of removal there does not appear to be enough clearance to slide the shock off the stud and not hit the inner metal work of the wheel well. Did you find this to not be an issue? And if so how did you manage your way to remove the shock?

I did the shock change on our 2000 Georgie Boy Maverick E450 chassis just before we left on a cross country trip to Maryland. I installed Bilsteins including their steering stabilizer. Fought the left side shock just like you. What were they thinking? anyway, it improved the ride considerably (got rid of the Monroes it had). The other thing I did which also greatly helped in handling was to have the front end realigned to include a large increase in positive caster ( a search here will yield a lot of info on that, esp., that posted by Harvard)  That increased slow speed steering effort some but the improvement in tracking at highway speeds and being passed by big rigs and cross winds was amazing.

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