This Week On Car Clinic: A Foton & A Ranger

Dear Baraza,

One of my employer’s vehicles  is a double-cabin Ford Ranger. I find this car very uncomfortable because:

  1. Entering and disembarking from the back seat calls for a lot of effort and is quite a big challenge, especially to women.
  2. When you sit at the back, your knees get raised quite a bit, making you  really tired on a long journey.
  3. Whenever the tyres have been used for, say four to five months, some wheel gets a puncture (while driving on tarmac) especially the rear ones; last weekend  alone we spent Sh2,100 on punctures.
  4. The Radio/CD buttons are “stuck”, making it difficult to change channels.

We recently got a Foton Cummins double cabin from China and this one is much better that the Ford Ranger in terms of comfort, clearance and even fuel consumption (I guess). A full tank in the Ford Ranger takes you from Kisumu to Nairobi and back after refuelling in Nakuru on the way back but the Foton does not need refuelling.

However, I don’t know if the fuel tanks are of the same capacity. I have also noted that the front panel of the Ford Ranger is exactly the same as that of the Ford Everest. Confirm please.

Kindly give your opinion on these two cars and also add the Grand Tiger— which our policemen use — in terms of performance and durability.



Very interesting piece of correspondence this is, Mr Job. Now, what you failed to do was specify which model of Ford Ranger you were referring to, because the newer vehicles are the height of excellence in overall quality. I doubt that  these are the ones you mean.

  1. Please specify the effort required. From your second point, this might indicate a lack of manoeuvring space during ingress, but why is this of particular concern to women? Did you mean heavily pregnant women, owing to their size? Or did you perhaps mean that there is no sidestep and the floorboard is too far off the ground, making it an exercise in immodesty for ladies in (short) skirts?
  2. What you say in so many words can be summarised as “poor rear legroom”.
  3. This might have more to do with the choice of tyres and/or the people involved in that vehicle’s operation than the vehicle itself. Poor driving habits and/or the use of cheap, low-quality tyres are to blame for the numerous punctures.
  4. Again, this has to do with the people operating the vehicle. I can wager a month’s pay that this vehicle did not leave the showroom floor with the buttons stuck. One of the many drivers who have handled it was rought  with the radio controls, and after bashing them into the dashboard, did not bother getting the radio repaired so the rest of you have to live with the results of his misdeeds.

Many people will clamour against your allegations that a Chinese pickup would be superior in any way to the current No. 1 ranking double cab pickup in Australia, where they take their off-road cars very seriously. I’m not saying the Cummins Foton is not better than the Ranger, but then again, I’m not necessarily agreeing. You really need to clarify which  model of the Ford Ranger we are discussing here and I strongly suspect the vehicle in question is the international (non-USDM (United States Domestic Market) model, either the 1998-2002 car (poor rear legroom) or the 2002-2006 car (poor everything). These two cars were not Ford’s finest moments, particularly  the latter, and I’m sure those closely associated with the American nameplate might be quick to blame the joint venture with their Japanese compadres.

The logical extension of the above paragraph is that the Ford pickup you are carping about is of a vintage somewhere in the range within 10 and 15 years of age. Show me a Chinese pickup that is 10 years old and let’s compare like for like. I’d be surprised if the dashboard were still intact, let alone having a stereo with stuck buttons in it.

The Foton Tunland is what I guess you call the “Cummins double-cab from China”. It does seem to be a tidy piece of kit, though from certain angles there’d be no mistaking its origins: a country with a fledgling auto industry that is yet to perfect such mundane details as the gelling of design nuances to create a comely whole. The back of this truck is ugly.  The rest of the car is well put-together, though, and it comes very well equipped with toys such as HVAC, cruise control, ABS, airbags, powered glass (windows and mirrors), remote entry, multifunction steering wheel, Bluetooth, interiors designed with human beings (and women too) in mind.

Consultations with  my Australian counterparts in car reviewing reveal that it is actually a cut above other Asian (but not Japanese) offerings; names as big as TATA and Mahindra and as long established (relatively speaking) as Great Wall. You might be on to something here, after all.

It still isn’t fair to compare it with something from the ’80s.

Given that the Foton pickup comes with such high specification and viscera from established bigwigs like Cummins (engine), Getrag (gearbox), Dana (axles) and Borg Warner (?), perhaps it is best to shove it into a classroom with rivals from the same reading level and from the same model year (2014), and this is where it meets giants like the Nissan Navara, the Toyota Hilux the Volkswagen Amarok, and of course, the Ford Ranger T6.

This sounds like the makings of another big fight in the double-cab class, and I’m not sure the Foton will not be bloodied by none other than the T6 whose ancestor’s name you have sullied ruthlessly. The T6 was, and is, the car to beat, and the Foton, unfortunately for you, might not be the car to beat it. If the sellers can put together a road test of one unit, I will be only too glad to share my findings here.


  1. The number of tanks used per drive is not an accurate method of calculating fuel economy, nor is expressing consumption in fractions of a tank or money spent at the pump. I strongly disregard people who come up to me saying they used “Sh1,000 worth of fuel from Nairobi to Nakuru”. I expect to hear about miles and gallons or kilometres and litres, not shillings and no sense.

As you guessed, tank sizes vary, so driving a Mitsubishi (notorious for small tanks) over the same distance as a Subaru (some of which have large tanks) will result in the Mitsubishi  visiting the fuel forecourt sooner than the Subaru, but that does not mean the  Mitsu is thirstier. There is also the issue of driving tendencies: the Foton has a 2.8 litre diesel engine that develops around 130hp. The Ford Ranger T6 has a 3.2 litre turbo that does 190hp in Power Stroke form. For the Foton to keep up with the T6 at highway speeds, it might need a lot of thrashing, which will hurt economy overall, despite its smaller engine capacity.

  1. The Ford Everest is a Ford Ranger estate. Same car from the C pillar forwards, and that includes panels, engines, fascias and platforms. The same way the Toyota Fortuner is a Hilux station wagon and the Pajero Sport is an L200 long-roof.
  2. The Grand Tiger looks promising, but I sometimes refrain from commenting on vehicles used specifically by the disciplined forces. They recognise me nowadays at police road blocks and more than once I have found myself being asked, “What was that you said about our car?”

Also, I am yet to ride in a Grand Tiger, and the Australians were of no help either.


Hi Baraza,

I am an ardent reader of your column.

I own a 2002 Nissan Vanette van with an R2 diesel engine. Last December,  the timing belt got broken and ended up damaging the cylinder head and one piston arm. I went to a mechanic and we bought an old cylinder head, took it to a workshop where it was  milled  and we were assured that it was okay. We replaced the bent piston arm and put new rings and a gasket.

When we hit the road, the vehicle performs fine except that it tends to overheat in hot weather, especially around midday. We have checked the fan, radiator and all have been confirmed to be okay, so what could be the reason for its overheating at noon?

I met another mechanic who told me that during the head repair, we should have put sleeves in the engine block; is this true?

There is very little information on the net about the Bongo, Vanette and Delica which share the same engine. I am now contemplating buying a new engine, or would the “sleeving” sort me out?




About that overheating: have you checked the coolant levels? The second mechanic might be pointed in the right direction in that during the milling and/or installation of the old cylinder head, something might  have been a little off. The probable result is either compression leakage out of the cylinders, which boils the coolant, or coolant leakage into the cylinders, which drops coolant levels. Either way, the car will heat up and also lose power. Either way, it needs fixing.

There might be a need for sleeving the engine block too. When the timing belt snapped, the con rod (what you call “piston arm”) got bent, meaning there is a very high likelihood that the piston crown dug into the cylinder walls/sleeves. While this might not necessarily cause heating problems, compression leakage is definite, though this is the kind that leads to power loss and oil fouling, not overheating. If the piston dug hard enough to go through the block and reach the water jackets around the cylinders, you have much bigger problems than overheating. Sleeving might  be a stop-gap measure, but eventually, you will need a new engine.

I am not familiar enough with these engines to know whether they qualify as sleeving candidates but you might have to buy a new engine and see how much of this cost you can recoup by selling the serviceable parts off the broken one.


Hi Baraza,

Thanks so much for your informative column.  I drive a 2005 Toyota Fielder and I have noticed that the rear braking is poor, despite my many attempts to have it fixed. I am considering replacing the drums with the disk and apparently, I have to change the whole axle. Is this possible? Will my braking stability improve? Is it safe? Will it compromise the ABS, steering geometry, etc?



Hello Everton,

Explain what you mean by poor braking. Unless brake force is unevenly applied, it is hard to tell when an isolated section of the braking system is malfunctioning. The front discs are self-adjusting for force distribution, unless one of them is binding. With the rear brakes, uneven force distribution will cause you to fishtail wildly and possibly spin. Is this what is happening? If not, what kind of braking are you doing that warrants an upgrade?

I did complain about the braking in the NZE (and Fielder) in an early review but that is because sometimes in my road tests I perform some… err… unusual manoeuvres, and the car failed to hold up, unlike its competition. In normal day-to-day operations, the brakes should work well enough. Not impressively, but well enough.

Now, on to your question. Yes, in most cases a brake upgrade from drums to discs might call for replacement of the entire rear sub-frame, not an inexpensive undertaking. The braking will improve, yes, but not necessarily its stability. Getting the force distribution right is not easy, but even harder will be trying to recalibrate the ABS. In fact, if you manage to recalibrate the ABS at all successfully, perhaps you should ask for employment in a Formula 1 Team.

The alternative is to go ABS-less, which comes with its own associated risks, more so given that you find the current braking setup inadequate. Steering geometry will not be affected.



The Foton seems to be a tidy piece of kit, though from certain angles there’d be no mistaking its origins: a country with a fledgling auto industry that is yet to perfect such mundane details as the gelling of design nuances to create a comely whole.

Still, it is a cut above other Asian (but not Japanese) offerings.

The Foton pickup comes with high specifications and viscera from established bigwigs like Cummins (engine), Getrag (gearbox) and Dana (axles). It is best to pit it against vehicles from the same model year (2014) than the old Ranger.



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