Piston Slap: RKE-Rolled by the Thunderbird?


Allan writes:

I have a 2002 Ford Thunderbird and I am the third owner. When I got the car, neither key fob would work. I took it to a Ford Dealer and tried new batteries in the key fobs, tried to reprogram them, and tried new key fobs—and none of them worked.

Any ideas as to what the problem is and how I might get the key fobs working again?

Sajeev answers:

Finding some electrical bits for the 11th-generation Thunderbird can be, well, terribly problematic. Luckily for you, I do not think the remote keyless entry (RKE) system falls in this category. It sounds like you’ve already tried the procedure below, so now we have to determine why it failed.

And since the dealership also tried new RKE fobs, odds are those little buttons for your hand are not the issue. The RKE module is misbehaving, either by being internally defective or by it no longer receiving power from the Thunderbird’s body. Provided my Google-Fu is still in good shape, here’s a photo of the module in question:

eBay | nationwidear

The RKE module is supposedly located below the convertible top. (Disconnect the battery and have fun removing all the delicate trim to get to it!) Once you see it, note the wiring harness on one side and disconnect it from the module. With a multimeter and wiring diagrams handy, find the correct pin on the harness to check for 12 volts of power. Depending on what the meter says, you have two choices:

  1. Got 12-volts of power? Remove the module and find a new or used replacement. These are not specific to the Thunderbird/Lincoln LS/Jaguar S-type, so they are readily available and affordable on eBay.
  2. No power? Now you begin the arduous task of finding the lost power! The aforementioned wiring diagrams are mandatory now, but most mechanics will have these on their handy-dandy computer. Odds are you won’t be lucky enough to trace it down to a bad fuse, but any technician with modest experience in diagnosing electrical glitches can restore power to the RKE module.

My best guess? Since the Thunderbird is a topless machine and you’re the third owner, someone before you let water creep into the cabin, and it damaged the module. Water can also damage wiring harnesses, but let’s not be so pessimistic. Only good vibes and a friendly set of hands with a multimeter should be allowed when working on these (now vintage) Thunderbirds.

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