If you think you'd like to get into working on cars, (you sorry sucker :) ), it will make life easier for both of us if you're ready to invest in a scanner. You can find used ones that will work on your car that are very inexpensive, as in less than 50 bucks. I have a Monitor 4000 that does GM, Ford, and Chrysler up to '95 models. It cost over $600.00 new but it's obsolete now. Today I use Chrysler's DRB3 scanner because with an extra plug-in card it will do emissions-related stuff on any car brand sold in the U.S. After 1995. With that card it also works on older Chrysler products so I never use my older scanners anymore. A lot of independent shops also use the DRB3 or other aftermarket products that do even more, so they are selling off their older equipment. That's why you can find them so cheap on places like eBay.
You don't want just a simple code reader. You don't need those for GMs and Chryslers. With Fords, before around '91 or '92, getting fault codes out is a miserable ordeal. It can be done with a test light or voltmeter with a pointer, but it's easier with a code reader. However, the full scanner lets you view live data too. That means you can see current sensor data and see what outputs the computer is turning on and off. Some of the tests are "bidirectional" meaning not only can you see what the computer is seeing and doing, you can talk back to it and command it to do things like turn on radiator fans or the fuel pump for testing those circuits. One of the problems with the early scanners is they only access Engine Computers. My Monitor came with an extra cartridge to access Chrysler's electronically-controlled transmissions, and now I have a cartridge for anti-lock brakes, but the newer scanners can access all the computers on the cars without switching to different cartridges.
By '92 or '93 Ford had made huge leaps with their self-diagnostics, but things really improved with all the '96 models and brands. With those, there's well over a thousand potential fault codes just for the Engine Computer. In '88 all cars were pretty primitive. There may be only two or three dozen codes and they weren't very descriptive. Often they only told you the circuit that needed diagnosis, but not what the unacceptable condition was. You had to figure that out with voltage readings.
The first thing I would do on your car is start with the basics. New spark plugs and wires, and a distributor cap and rotor. Eliminate the easy and common stuff, then if the problem is still there, we'll have to look into fuel pressure and ignition timing. Ignition timing can be erratic if there's wear in the bushing in the distributor or if the timing chain is stretched.
Also check for vacuum leaks. Don't forget that fresh air tube between the mass air flow sensor and the throttle body. Leaks there are a real common cause of hesitations and stumbles during acceleration, and surging at steady speeds.
Monday, October 19th, 2020 AT 4:51 PM