The PX Ford Ranger 3.2L has cemented itself as one of the most popular dual-cab 4x4s on the market, but it’s not perfect. Here we explore some of its problems and their solutions.
BY DAVE MORLEY: Take a look around an outback roadhouse, a remote-area camping site or any of the long, straight highways that make up Australia, and you’ll see that nobody is going broke making caravans or camper trailers right now. The grey nomads continue to make their mark, and the availability of cheaper (albeit imported) camping gear has meant the big outback adventure is now a reality for a lot more Aussie families.
But what you’ll also notice is that an awful lot of those caravans and campers you see are being towed by the PX Ford Ranger. The Ranger hits a sweet spot for a lot of folks; it’s not too big to use every day, its road manners are pretty good, and it has the on-paper towing capacity people are looking for. But another big part of its appeal is that big, 3.2-litre, five-cylinder engine that makes towing less of a headache.
There are plenty of Rangers out there now (it was launched here in 2011) and while it seems to be showing up as a low-aggro ownership proposition, there are still a few things you must know.
Problem – Oil pump blues: Oddly enough, the biggest watch-out for Ranger owners is not exactly a fault, but more of a foible. But whatever you call it, being ignorant is going to cost you dollars, brain damage and maybe even an engine. See, the Ranger uses a variable-displacement oil pump, aimed at improving efficiency by not pumping more oil than is necessary at the time. As such, it uses a chain-driven design that is not self-priming. And there’s the big clue.
The problems start when an owner (or a workshop without the right service bulletin) drains the Ranger’s oil and goes off to make a cup of tea or answer the phone while the oil drains. Ordinarily, this is a great idea, but not with a Ranger five-cylinder. If the oil is left drained (or draining) for more than about 10 minutes, the pump can `bleed out’. Then, when the sump is refilled, and the mechanic hits the key, the dry pump won’t prime itself, and the engine is effectively running without oil pressure.
Run like that for any length of time, and the engine will be shrapnel before you can say `big ends’. But it can be even worse, because the first instinct of many a would-be mechanic, on seeing the red oil pressure light glowing, is to give the engine a rev to make the light go out. Bad idea. Very bad.
Solution: It’s simple: Don’t leave a Ranger with an empty sump for any more than 10 minutes. Tops. Less is better. A fast oil change is a good oil change, in this case.
Workshops we spoke to reckon it’s also a good idea to fill the new oil filter with fresh oil before fitting it. Oh, and change the filter before dropping the oil from the sump. But if you have been caught out, the pump can be re-primed, but it isn’t simple.
Home remedies we’ve heard of include filling (literally) the engine with 15 litres or so of oil, letting it sit overnight and then draining off the excess, and even using compressed air to pressurise the crankcase and force oil through the pump. But we wouldn’t try any of those at home, to be honest.
Problem – Injection failure: The Ranger is far from being alone on this one, but it’s a problem that owners of common-rail injected diesels can’t ignore. A lot is going on in a modern common-rail turbo-diesel, and it seems it’s that level of complexity that is causing injectors to fail at very modest mileages (like, less than 70,000km in some cases).
The enormous pressures involved in direct-injection mean that the injectors and the pump are continually working hard to keep the Ranger rolling down the road. Now, if you’re unlucky enough to combine that work ethic with a tankful of fuel that is even slightly contaminated with water (or anything else, but water’s the biggie) you’ll soon have dramas.
Because water doesn’t lubricate as diesel does, any H2O going through the high-pressure pump will make a mess of it internally. But contaminants won’t stop there and can quickly damage an individual fuel injector(s). At that point, you’re looking at a new pump and injectors at about a grand apiece (and there’s five of them in as Ranger 3.2, remember). And it only gets worse: Should a damaged injector stick open and pour fuel into the cylinder, that piston can actually get so hot it burns a hole in the slug’s crown. Ouch. Hello new engine.
Solution: Ford Australia, like many manufacturers, doesn’t like the idea of fitting auxiliary fuel filters. The official line is that the smaller-micron filtering of these units isn’t compatible with the pressures the injection operates on. But our expert spanner-twirlers reckon a finer filter is okay if it’s fitted upstream of the high-pressure pump (i.e.; between the pump and the fuel tank). It’s no guarantee that you’ll never get dirty fuel in the engine, but it’s a hell of a lot better than nothing.
Also, don’t ignore a check-engine light, as sometimes, a damaged injector-pump return valve can stick and overheat the fuel, sending the vehicle into limp-home mode. The other advice is to be a bit picky from about where you buy your fuel. And if the refinery tanker is on the forecourt when you arrive to fuel up, keep driving and find another servo. That’s because dumping a few thousand litres of fuel into an almost empty underground tank is a sure way to stir up whatever water and sediment are already in there.
Problem – Flywheel and clutch worries: While it’s a fact that the vast majority of Ranges 3.2s were sold with the six-speed automatic transmission, a small percentage of buyers went for the version with three pedals. There’s nothing wrong with the six-speed manual gearbox itself, but a few owners have found out the hard way about the standard dual-mass flywheel (DMF).
The DMF is an engineering solution for the vibrations and driveline shunt inherent in a lot of modern engines that produce big Newton-metre at grumbly-low engine revs. Fundamentally a flywheel within a flywheel with springs to join the two sections, the DMF allows for a bit of `give’ during gear changes to smooth things out. The problem is that in such a torquey beast as the Ranger (especially one with a driveline hitched up to 3.5 tonnes of trailer and Bobcat) the DMF cops a terrible hammering and can, literally, fall apart on the job. Some owners have also found that the harmonic-damping of the DMF has encouraged early clutch wear.
Solution: It doesn’t do anything (at all) for the smoothness of gear changes, but some Ranger owners have switched to a conventional, single-mass (solid) flywheel. It’s a gearbox-out job, and it requires a new clutch assembly, so it’s not a cheap fix, but it does get you around all those DMF durability worries. Various companies make a conversion kit for this exact application.
Problem – EGR coolers: Modern engines use pretty sophisticated methods for keeping their emissions clean, and one of those is the Exhaust-Gas Recirculation (EGR) valve. On the 3.2 (and 2.2) Ranger, this valve is water-cooled, using the same coolant as the engine itself.
The problem is that the cooler can split, leading to a loss of coolant from the radiator. In turn, that can cause the engine to overheat and the head gasket to blow. In a lot of cases, coolant from the split EGR cooler gets into the exhaust manifold, but we’ve also heard of the odd example where the coolant has got into the cylinders and hydraulicked the engine.
Solution: A specialist workshop will be able to test your EGR to see whether it’s leaking or not. The test involves pumping fluorescent fluid into the EGR assembly, pressurising the EGR to beyond its normal operating pressure and checking for leaks with fluorescent light. The test should be done with the fluoro liquid both hot and cold, as some EGRs seem to leak with the engine hot or cold but not both. It’s a pain in the neck, though, as the ERGR is right at the back of the engine behind the cylinder head, so it’s fiddly.
One switched-on workshop we spoke to reckon the problem is that the coolant for the EGR has to first pass through the heater matrix inside the cabin. The theory is that the heater slows the coolant too much, and it gets too hot, causing the cooler to split. A secondary coolant path to the EGR has worked in some cases where a vehicle has suffered multiple cooler failures.
The other thing to bear in mind is that this test will only tell you if your EGR is leaking now. It’s not a crystal ball for gazing into the EGR’s future and many workshops recommend replacing the EGR valve at regular intervals.