17 November, 2018

With some surprise I just realized that I have been posting reports on our 2004 Ranger TM for ten years.  It’s probably a good time to look back on a decade of ownership of the UTV with a view to the goods, bads, and how the machine has changed life at the farm.

I’ll start with the bads. 

Ignition switches haven’t lasted at all well in an otherwise very durable machine.  I have long since lost count of the number I have replaced.  Batteries didn’t last long until I upgraded to a higher level model.  It lasted three years and we’re on our second.

The engine no longer generates electricity, so the Ranger runs on a put-and-take battery setup like my first outboard motor, a 1958 Johnson 18.  I just charge it every week or so, but long trips are not feasible until I repair this.  Engine removal and replacement is a part of the six-hour job for a service tech, so I have held off for over a year with very little limitation on the TM’s use.

One ground wire has burned off the connection between the engine at the starter and the frame post where the line joins the negative cable of the battery.  When I trailered the dead UTV to the local service guy, he simply replaced the wire, charged me $75. and made no other comment.  A couple of weeks ago it burned up again.  This time I put the Ranger up on the hoist to track down the problem.  I found a very brittle 18 gauge wire which gave way to my touch.  Why would anyone replace that wire with one so fine?  Hoping it wasn’t some sort of improvised fuse, I popped a 12 gauge wire in its place and the machine has started fine ever since.

I have spent years wondering why the thing would hesitate at startup in warm weather, but eventually come to life.  This light wire connecting ground points could be the answer.

To illustrate just how reliable the Ranger TM has been in 1000 hours of operation, the only other repair parts I have bought were a pair of lower ball joints.

That’s it.  There have been lots of oil changes, spark plugs, and a set of tires last year, but the disk brakes still seem to be in fine condition.  A long time ago a local upholstery guy redid the lower seat for $150.

How has the Ranger changed over the years?

First came a full cabin frame.  The dealer had three of them in his warehouse because for government purchases he had to include an approved roll bar, not a mere cabin frame.  He sold me one of the take-offs for $250.  I found a metal roof at a dealer in North Bay for $150.  My own dealer offered a plastic windshield for $265.  Ebay provided a rear windshield for $40.  I made a plywood shield to go between the cabin and the box.  A $68 eBay mirror made driving on the road much easier when our township legalized ATV travel on local roads.

Four years ago I decided to close off the passenger side of the UTV for winter use.  The vinyl used for convertible tops on boats worked fine, held in place by seven stainless steel pipe clamps and a variety of screws backed out of the body and reinstalled to pin the vinyl in place.  Our dog found this confusing until I attached strips of duct tape as a visual barrier for her.  Then she no longer tried to force her way out through the strange window.

So what tasks on the farm does the Ranger own?

It’s a good tank sprayer vehicle, either for herbicides or for irrigation.     A Princess Auto 25 gallon sprayer equipped with a coiled garden hose and nozzle gets its power from an old 12v tractor battery which rides around all summer in the box of the Ranger.  This takes care of any watering which needs doing.  When I must spray weeds with herbicide, I use a similar 15 gallon tank with its original hoses and wand, driven by the same battery.

Primarily the Ranger is a runabout, carrying people and tools around the property.  Typically I’ll go to a work area with  snips or chain saw, do the job and then return with a tractor and implement  such as the chipper or dump trailer to complete the job.

Sugar-making involves the Ranger’s ability to haul sap and personnel, often with very inexperienced operators.  Visitors to the farm inevitably take the Ranger for a photo-tour of the property.  Christmas tree expeditions have become popular among friends and family as the white spruces have matured.  Each expedition centres around the Ranger to carry tools, trees, and various personnel.

After legalization, the Ranger has spent an increasing amount of its time as a neighbourhood runabout on the small paved roads of our township.  Helmets and daylight operation are required, but ATVs have been widely accepted by the community.

What would I change in another UTV?

I certainly wouldn’t want one which could not carry three across.  It’s perfect for a couple and a dog, or three passengers.  Besides, I built a tandem trailer to carry it. Two wheel drive with a differential lock gives the TM good off road capability.  Its belt would get wet in a deep water hole, but for 11 months of the year it functions well on the farm.  Would I buy a 4X4 next?  Not if it meant giving up the three-across seating.

On the farm I have three small and compact diesel tractors which handle the heavy work.  I also have a 4X4 Tacoma pickup.  The Ranger has found its niche, offering a relatively weatherproof, comfortable ride for up to three with very easy access for its operator and lots of luggage space for tools, water bottles and coats.  Its short wheelbase and durable plastic body allows it to go places my Tacoma doesn’t.

If I didn’t have these other toys I might demand more from the Ranger, but as things sit, it neatly fits into the garage I built for it, it races down the road the half-mile to the mail box, and it makes tree-watering and berry-picking runs to my neighbour with little preparation or effort.  For most fuel runs to Portland the Ranger gets the nod because I can back the cans of fuel right into the shops for unloading on the return.

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