Words & pictures by Kerry Fraser & Michael Barton
The hard-working gearbox in our ‘06 Ford Ranger 2.5-litre, with about 98 000 km on the clock, was replaced in ‘09. The fifth gear of the original gearbox had failed, damaging the internal parts of the transmission and transfer box, which were then replaced. Since then, the newly transplanted gearbox has been treated with kid gloves. My partner, Michael, has obstinately refused to tow anything with the bakkie, so as to prevent undue strain on the gearbox. He also gears down when climbing up hills, and he always engages the gear lever with a loving touch. I’ve subsequently been given a steep learning curve in gearbox etiquette; regularly hearing, “Never drop the bloody clutch!”, and “If you’re going to drive like that, let me drive instead!” The up-side to this last point is that I’m often (in)gloriously chauffeured around.
Given our tender treatment of the Ranger’s new gearbox, you can imagine our surprise when we were recently driving through the thick, hot sands of the Kalahari and the Ranger started to make some clicking / grinding noises in low-range. Our isolated position in Botswana’s central desert was definitely neither the time nor the place for us to explore the intricate wonders of mechanical-gear technology, so the appearance of this noise was a cause for concern. Instead of using low-range through the Kalahari’s deep tracks, we favoured 4WD high-range and simply upped the pace – which often meant we had to game-view at break-neck speeds. The other consequence of our grinding gearbox was that Michael was nervously poised for any new and unusual noises the bakkie might make. (A rather tiresome and annoying occupation in itself.)
Roughly a week after we’d arrived back in SA, the gearbox suddenly packed up – with a spine-chilling grating noise that sounded like the Tooth-Fairy’s bones breaking in a meat mincer. It was instantly clear that the bakkie’s appalling gearbox racket was present in every gear except fourth – which is, incidentally, the direct ratio through the gearbox. Fortunately, we could tow the vehicle back to our workshop, but I had to wonder how catastrophic it would’ve been if our gearbox had blown when we were still in the Kalahari.