This advice is given in good faith and believed to be correct but is followed at you own risk.
OUR MAZDA BONGO FACEBOOK GROUP!
A while ago, we created a Mazda Bongo and Ford Freda Facebook group. It's a place to hang out with other Bongo & Freda owners and fans. Chat, ask questions, post photos, arrange meets, buy, sell & swop Bongo related stuff!
The Mazda Bongo was also produced as a Ford Freda. The trim differs but they are mechanically identical.
They are a versatile 8 seat MPV, suitable for everyday use. They’re built to the usual high Japanese specification.
The Bongo has two body types; The AFT (auto free top) with a raising roof, and the flat top/tin top/Bongo-low! The AFT roof compartment raises to give standing room, with sleeping space for two adults in the Bongo roof tent. Two more can sleep ‘downstairs’ in both the AFT and the tintop. Add an awning to either model Bongo to double the space.
Diesel model Bongos are either 2 wheel drive (SGL3) or 4 wheel drive (SGL5). The 2.5 diesel Mazda Bongo is relatively quiet and has plenty of power. The automatic transmission coupled with a turbo boosted engine has significant pulling power. The Bongo's torque converter locks between 40-45mph. The 2.5 diesel engine has more torque than any other Bongo engine.
There are fewer petrol engine Bongos; the petrol 2.5 V6 Bongo being noticeably more powerful than the petrol 2l Bongo. All petrol models are 2 wheel drive.
Manual gearboxes are rare in any model Bongo.
The Mazda Bongo is similar in size to a VW T25, handles well, and is comfortable to
Many Mazda Bongos are converted to camper vans. These are either dealer converted or self conversions.
Spare parts and accessories are readily available for the Bongo.
Mazda Bongo and Ford Freda have a cult following, Facebook pages, clubs and forums.
I haven't used the pick-up much since its last MOT. Seems a pity to just leave it standing when it could be out posing somewhere. Or making itself useful. It currently needs a bit of work, an MOT and a small service. I'm happy to do this before selling. Make me an offer for this rare vehicle. Sensible offers only. I'm in no hurry to sell.
HOW I MADE THE PICK-UP.
Several years ago, I had a black Bongo as a breaker for spare body parts. Mechanically, it needed a lot of work. But the body work looked good. In fact, the body was the best part of it. Mechanically it wasn't good.
I had an idea that it might look pretty good as a pick up. Something to build in my spare time. It took me over two years... So much for spare time!
There was a lot of measuring, discussion, cutting and welding. Once the back was off the Bongo, it was too light, so I added weight.
I strengthened the chassis and body.
I rebuilt the cross member and replaced the rear quarter panels.
Getting the Bongo tailgate to open was tricky, but we got there.
I cut down the Bongo's AFT roof as a ‘lid’ for the cabin.
I blanked off the Bongo's rear air conditioning and heater pipes as I'd removed half the system when I'd chopped the back.
I rebuilt the Bongo 2.5 diesel engine.
I carried out a major service and replaced coolant hoses and pipes, radiator and water pump.
I fitted 4 new shock absorbers, suspension bushes and links.
I fitted new brake discs and pads all round.
I replaced the Bongo's transmission and all it's rusted oil pipes.
(I told you it was in bad mechanical condition.)
The weight of the Bongo, as a pick up, was radically different. So I tried a few different wheel and tyre combinations until I was happy with the way it handled. Getting it tested was nail biting but all was OK.
I had the Bongo pick up's body resprayed black, with a subtle metalflake laquer.
The Bongo's seats were refinished in leather by Paul.
I stained the mats and carpets black.
I added a different Bongo steering wheel, a pod of gauges, new temperature gauge and white dials. I had a graphite style dash from another Bongo I was breaking, so I fitted that. I'm still adding to it, in my spare time...
If you're passing and would like to see my Mazda Bongo pick up, pop in.
If you're buying a Bongo then it's good to get one with a decent Service History. Then you know if it’s been properly looked after. If you're looking at one that been previously owned in the UK, it should have service history.
Plenty of people do their own servicing and should have receipts for the parts they've bought. If it's been serviced by a garage, there'll be invoices and receipts.
If you're looking at a newly imported Bongo, service history is rare. But you can ask to see the 'auction sheet'. This shows the general condition of the Bongo when it was sold at auction in Japan.
If you have the registration number, you can check the MOT history online. You can check the mileage recorded at each MOT. Sometimes when a vehicle passes an MOT, there is still work that is 'advised' to be done. These are generally things that are OK for now, but will need doing fairly soon. You can check if there are any 'advisories' and ask if this work has been done. Here’s the MOT history link: https://www.gov.uk/check-mot-history
It's sensible to have a good look around the Bongo, inside and out.
Prepare to get your knees grubby! Get down on the ground and look underneath for evidence or leaks or corrosion. Common corrosion areas are the front and rear crossmembers, inside the wheel arches and inner and outer cills. If it is corroded, many can be welded and repaired, so you can factor the cost of repair into the purchase price.
If a Bongo has been undersealed, it will have a black
or clear coating over the metal. This can be waxy or look like thick paint, depending on what's been used. A few Bongos are just undersealed on the very edge of the underbody, so look further than
the edge. If it's not undersealed, you'll see bare metal.
Sit inside the Bongo and check all the controls work - aircon, front and rear heaters (when fitted), all wipers, windscreen and rear screen wash etc.
If it's not obvious, ask what the switches are for; front and rear foglights etc.
Check that the AFT roof raises smoothly and fully; there should be no bagginess in the sides of the roof tent canvas. Look inside the roof tent to check for mildew or damage to the tent, net screens or zip.
You probably know that a Bongo engine is under the seats, so carry out the usual under seat and under bonnet checks. Commonly, you'll see a very small oil leak behind the diesel pump and an oil weep around the rocker cover gasket. These are common on the Bongo. They leak slightly for years are aren't an immediate problem unless the leaks are bad. It'll be obvious because the engine oil level will drop more quickly and you'll notice the oil fume smell. On the petrol V6 Bongo, the rocker cover oil leak lets oil seep into the sparkplug holes; You'll notice a misfire if this happens. On the 2 litre Bongo, the oil leak from the rocker cover eventually finds its way onto the gearbox and manifold; you may notice the smell of oil fumes if this has happened.
Check the engine oil and gearbox fluid (ATF) levels and conditions. A check of these might reveal either emulsified (creamy) engine oil or brown ATF (gearbox fluid). Emulsified oil suggests water in the oil and brown ATF, especially if it smells burnt. These problems can be present, even if the engine starts OK and the gearbox is just a little snatchy.
Lift the bonnet. While the engine is cold, you can remove the header (overflow) tank cap and look in the tank to ensure there are no copper coloured particles or gloopy sediment. If you see any, it can suggest a ‘leak stopping’ additive has been used, so ask the seller for reassurance. Leak stopper or K-Seal is sometimes used to conceal a cylinder head problem. Check the brake fluid and windscreen wash while you're there.
Ask what antifreeze is used as you'll need to use the same type. I like to flush the system, as sediment can build up in the radiator and lead to overheating. You can use standard UK blue or red antifreeze. Just don't mix the two types. Ask when the thermostsat was last changed. If it hasn't been done recently, you could change it. A sticky thermostat can cause the cooling system to overheat.
While the seats are up, check the condition of the cooling system hoses. These are rarely changed until they fail, and many have been on the Bongo foe at least 10 years. If they fail, the system can rapidly loose coolant and overheat. If a hose (or metal pipe) has a slow leak, coolant loss can go un-noticed, until the system overheats. Look for swelling or cracking on the hoses. Check for rust stains on metal pipe joints, the engine block, cylinder head - anywhere where water could squirt or drip from a leak. If you notice any, ask waht acused it and has it been fixed. There should be an invoice for work done by a garage, or a receipt for parts bought if it's a DIY repair.
Take it on a long road test, incorporating hills. Check the temperature gauge when driving uphill. The standard gauge should never rise above the ‘11 o’clock’ position. It’s ‘dumbed down’ by Mazda and will only rise above that when it has a cooling problem. If another temperature gauge is fitted, the Bongo runs at about 82* as standard and a bit more on hills.
Pull away on a slope; The Bongo should pull away smoothly. And reverse to ensure there are no problems. When driving, the engine should acclerate well and gear changes should be smooth. The steering should be light, not heavy or notchy. And braking should also be smooth, with no judder from discs or vibration from the pedal.
I've mentioned 'overheating' several times. This is said to be a common problem with Bongos. It's not. But it's a common problem with Bongos that haven't been properly maintained. So double check service history! If things have been omitted, factor in the cost of getting this rectified.
You'll find more advice on buying a Bongo, on the various Facebook groups and Bongo websites. This is the Mazda Bongo Facebook group I set up: https://www.facebook.com/groups/7571714956/
We can carry out a ‘Bongo Health Inspection’ at our premises. The inspection can be adapted to include other checks you may like.
I get asked dozens of questions about Bongos. Some questions only need a short answer, others are complicated and can take hours to reply to! I need to put my customers first so don't have time to answer all questions. I'll add a few of the simpler ones here, when I have time. There are also several Bongo forums on the internet and various Facebook groups where Bongo owners can ask for advice.
Battery charge light & Sediment light
If the Bongo charge light and the sediment light illuminate at the same time, it means that there is a fault with the alternator. It should be refurbished or replaced.
Ensure the new alternator is rated at 90 amps. Some are only 80 amps and may fail sooner than expected.
FITTING A BONGO CYLINDER HEAD
What to check when buying and fitting a new Bongo cylinder head.
I helped write a similar post for the Bongo Fury forum. I've added more detail here, as several people struggle to fit a Bongo cylinder head. Or they find the cooling system won't bleed after they've fitted a new cylinder head.
This advice is for general guidance only, to make you aware of some of the checks that may be needed.
When a new cylinder head is supplied as 'fully assembled' or 'ready to fit', do not assume that it is ready to fit. It's advisable to check it first.
Once unpacked, check for hidden packaging debris inside the head.
The head face should be clean and free from grease.
And it should be smooth, free from scratches, nicks or damage. If it's not, you'll have to return it or fix it. Otherwise it will leak and lose compression. You'll struggle to bleed it.
A smooth surface is needed so that it will seal.
To ensure a tight seal, check the deck of the head and block. This YouTube link is to a 'How To' video. It shows you how to deck a block DIY, without specialist tools.
It's possible that valves and collets will already be fitted. But you should check to ensure the collets have been fitted correctly.
Check cam caps are tight.
Check all fitted items are tightened to the correct torque, including the rocker caps.
Check valve and tappet clearances.
Check the camshaft oil seal is in place.
Fit injector heat shields.
Ensure the oil gallery plug is tight.
Ensure the dowel pin is fitted correctly and is perfectly aligned.
If the head is supplied with a seal kit, you may not need all the seals - check with the supplier.
Heads are sometimes supplied with a 2 pipe water elbow. This is not standard on the Bongo and you'll struggle to bleed it. Buy a 3 pipe water elbow. The Mazda part number is: WL02-10-2EO.
Some parts are can be transferred from the old head. This will save you money.
But I recommend fitting some new parts:
New head bolts; Old bolts usually stretch and won't tighten fully again. If this happens, the head won't seal.
New exhaust manifold studs; These harden with age and can snap when removing or re-tightening. Number 1 manifold stud, nearest the alternator, is especially prone to snap, possibly to the varying temperature it receives. If you don't replace all the studs, play safe and have a couple to hand, in case they're needed.
A new fan sensor; This is especially important if the previous head has overheated, as excessive heat can damage the switch and the fan won't operate when it should.
A new thermostat; The thermostat helps to regulate the temperature in the cooling system. If it’s faulty, the temperature of the coolant will be affected. If the coolant gets too hot, your Bongo could overheat again. The comparatively small cost of a new thermostat is definitely worth paying.
Remember, unless you are doing the job yourself, it is safer to get the garage to supply and fit the new parts.
There's a reason for this advice; If you supply the part and anything should go wrong afterwards, you will have to prove whether the part supplier or the mechanic who fitted it is at fault! You'll be caught between the two.
But if the garage supplies and fits the cylinder head, then the parts and workmanship are their full responsibility. You will only have to seek recompense or repair from them.
Over the past 10 years I estimate we have supplied and successfully fitted more than 100 Mazda Bongo cylinder heads!
We can supply and fit a Mazda Bongo cylinder head for you.
But we don't currently supply the cylinder head for you to fit yourself.
This information can also be downloaded as 'HOW TO GUIDE', see below.
V6 Cambelt and seals
When changing the Mazda Bongo V6 cambelt and tensioner, I recommend replacing the camshaft and crankshaft seals at the same time. The seals don't add a huge amount to the parts cost.
Sooner or later they will leak, your Bongo will lose oil and you’ll smell the fumes from the burnt oil that’s dripped onto the hot exhaust and engine parts.
Replacing them separately, means paying for several hours labour, all over again. In the long run, you’ll save a lot of money by having them replaced at the same time as the cambelt.
AIR CONDITIONING REGAS
Why isn’t the air conditioning working?
The most common reason is because the air con gas needs topping up. To prevent damage, the system will automatically shut down when the gas is too low.
The air con system naturally loses some gas over time. It generally needs topping up every 1 – 2 years, depending on use.
When I re-gas (top up) the air con, I also add the right amount of PAG oil. This is vital as it lubricates the system and helps to keep the seals supple, so they don’t leak.
When seals dry out, they leak and the gas will escape. So run the air con all year round, for at least a few minutes each week, to help to keep the seals in good condition.
Please get in touch if you’d like your Mazda Bongo air conditioning system re-gassed or sealed.
CHECKING THE COOLANT LEVEL
Many expansion tanks (overflow tanks) are discoloured and the level hard to see. A new tank is available direct from a Mazda main dealer and (at the time of writing) costs about £100!
Unless the tank was leaking, I'd keep my money in my pocket and work out how to check the level on the discoloured tank.
The level should be checked regularly, to monitor for coolant loss.
To check the coolant level, remove the cap when the engine is cold.
Some people dip their finger in to check the level. If their finger tip touches coolant, the level can be OK. With a bit of practice you'll get the hang of just how far to reach.
Others use a stick or coffee stirrer, marked 2cms from the end - see the picture. Remove the expansion tank cap when the engine is cold. Dip the stick in until it touches the bottom of the tank. If it's wet on the the 2cms line level, it's usually OK. It shouldn't be above or below this level.
Top up as needed, into the tank. If you overfill, some of the coolant will come out of the hole you’re filling through.
There's a hose on the side of the tank. The cooling system on the Bongo is pressurised. If it’s still overfull when you replace the cap, the excess coolant will be expelled under pressure, when the engine is hot. If this happens, re-check the coolant level when the engine is cold.
If the engine overheats, the valve on the coolant tank cap opens. It releases pressure and coolant. When a Bongo engine overheats, owners often report a ‘rumbling noise, then a hiss’ as the coolant boils in the tank and then hisses on hot metal as it is expelled.
We can check the cooling system on your Bongo. We can also flush the cooling system and replace any parts.
MAZDA BONGO EGR SYSTEM: BLANK IT OR LEAVE IT?
EGR systems are added to standard Bongo engines, to meet the strict Japanese emissions limits. They are not necessary for the Bongo engine to operate, and generally aren’t fitted to Japanese vehicles destined for the UK market.
If the Bongo EGR system is working as it should, there's no need to do anything to it. Unless you want to.
If the EGR system is leaking, you may smell diesel fumes inside the cab. The fumes can cause nausea and headaches.
Other signs of a faulty EGR system on a Bongo can be loss of power, black smoke, knocking noise and/or excessive fuel consumption.
On the Bongo, this can be caused by faulty EGR valve and/or pipe operation; The system can block and the valve jam, remaining open or half open.
EGR pipes can leak and lose back-pressure through the manifold or turbo, resulting in reduced power from the engine.
If you’ve a few hours on your hands, you could clean the Bongo EGR system. It will need to be cleaned again if a problem returns. You could also replace leaking pipes. You could remove it completely. You could fit a replacement EGR system.
You could pull off one vacuum pipe to disconnect the EGR. But if the EGR valve is jammed open or half open, as they often are, this won't fix the problem; Exhaust fumes will still circulate into the inlet manifold, causing a 'dirty burn' and using excess fuel.
I blank the EGR system, to remove any problems. I don't use a coin or layers of thin steel as they have been known to disintegrate and can cause damage.
Blanking the pipe with a ball bearing is not effective when the valve is stuck in an open position.
I blank off the Bongo EGR system at both ends. Why? To isolate it completely and prevent a problem if the pipe splits.
I use my own EGR blanking plates to do this.
I fitted them for more than 10 years. I have not yet heard of a problem from doing this. It hasn't prevented them from passing the MOT emissions test.
(Incidently, if your Bongo fails the emissions test, with or without a blanked EGR, I suggest running a diesel cleaner through the system and giving it a really good run, to clean the system.)
While working on the Bongo EGR system, you may notice that the green one-way valve is broken. You can order a replacement part from a Mazda main dealer. Or fit a cheap one-way windscreen washer pump valve! These are readily available from most motor factors for a couple of pounds or less.
There are downloadable instructions below, for fitting the Mazda Bongo EGR blanking plates that I sell. Click to go to our shop.
If you have a tow bar on your Mazda Bongo or Ford Freda, please check it.
As the Mazda Bongo and Ford Freda have aged, it’s become apparent that the nearside (NS) (passenger side) mounting point is only spot-welded. This means the mounting point is weak. The spot welds can fail. If a tow bar is mounted to that point, it will be stressed and may fail. Anything attached to it would be at risk.
The offside (OS) (drivers side) mounting point is fixed to the chassis and is stronger, provided the chassis is solid and not corroded with rust.
There are a couple of different styles of tow bar; they’re mounted in different ways. If a tow bar mounts (fixes) into the NS mounting point, then you should strengthen the mounting point by welding it before fitting the tow bar.
If a tow bar is already mounted to this point, the mount will need to be strengthened. The bumper can be removed for access. It’s not always necessary to remove the tow bar, but this can also be removed if needed.
The Bongo and Freda are also susceptible to corrosion (rusting) of the rear cross member. The crossmember contributes to the strength of the chassis. Any tow bar attached to a weakened chassis is at risk. A corroded rear crossmember should be removed and a new one welded into place. It will last longer if it is also undersealed.
TowTrust have altered the design of their Mazda Bongo tow bar and it now mounts to the chassis. A1 also manufacture a tow bar that includes mounts on the chassis. Please let me know if there are other tow bars for the Mazda Bongo, that mount to the chassis, and I will add them.
We can check your tow bar mounting point and carry out any welding or repairs you need. Email, phone or text to arrange this.
Please get in touch if you would like to book your Bongo or Freda in to have the mounting points checked, crossmember replaced, welding or undersealing.
ROOF TENT MEASUREMENT
The AFT (Auto Free Top) Mazda Bongo has a raising roof, with a roof tent. This provides a sleeping area for two adults.
There are 3 different sizes of roof tents. The difference is hard to notice without measuring.
The early model Bongo up to 1999/2000, has the lowest height roof tent (see image).
The 1999/2000 onwards (shape change) model has the highest roof tent.
And the tent of latest model Bongo is between the two sizes.
We've written a 'How To Guide' (above) on removing and replaceing the roof tent.
REVERSING THE MIDDLE SEATS
If you reverse the Bongo middle seat, it will face the rear. This gives you more space in the middle of the van. Under current MOT rules, rear facing seats do not need seat belts.
I've reversed Bongo seats many times. It's a straight forward job. But lifting the seat and turning it in a confined space is much easier with 2 people. The rest you can manage alone.
The only tools you need are a Phillips screwdriver, a 17ml socket and ratchet, and a hammer.
To save me writing the instructions up again, please see the photos and advice given by dvisor on this link.
DYING THE BONGO CARPETS
Several years ago I dyed the carpets in my Bongo pick up.
They were worn and were a grubby and faded grey. After dying they almost looked new! They still look good after several years.
I used Autosmart midnight black carpet dye. It's used by Valeters and often availabe from them. I estimate you'd need about 5 litres to dye all the carpets in a Bongo.
It's also sold on EBay and Amazon. At the time of writing, it's around £10 for 500ml.
I decanted the dye into a hand held spray bottle (99p from the Pound shop!). I sprayed the dye on, allowed it to dry, then applied another coat. I applied about 5 coats to achieve the depth of colour I wanted.
The dye smells when wet, so it's sensible to wear a mask and spray it in a well-ventilated area. Be aware that the dye will stain anything it blows onto, so wear gloves and remove anything you don't want sprayed!
NEW WHEELS? WHEEL SIZE CHART!
This links to a wheel specification chart. You can edit to to compare Bongo wheels with other wheels.
When buying replacement wheels, check the load capacity is sufficient to carry the weight of the Bongo.
And remember, alloys look good but can be more vulnerable to potholes.
BLACK BUTTON IN THE FOOTWELL
I'm frequently asked what the black button under the Bongo throttle pedal is for. Despite the rumours, it doesn't operate an ejector seat.
It's simply a 'stop' for the throttle pedal.
If you remove it, there are no hidden controls. You'll just find the fixings that hold it (and the carpet) in place.
RESTORING 'FADED' HEADLIGHT LENS
The headlight lens on a Bongo is made of polycarbonate plastic (PCB). UV rays from sunlight degrade the outer layer, causing it to look dull. The light of the headlight bulb cannot shine clearly through the cloudy lens and visibility is reduced.
Some headlights are also coated in a yellow fim, which suffers from in the same way.
Luckily it's fairly simple to restore clarity to the lens. We've found a good video from AMMO NYC that shows 3 different methods of doing this yourself.
UNDERSEALING A BONGO YOURSELF
We do Waxoyl underseal Bongos.
But some prefer to do their own undersealing. It's a messy job so I recommend wearing overalls, gloves and eye protection. The fumes are waxy and you don't really want to breathe them in, so also wear a protective mask.
And protect the ground under the Bongo with a dustsheet or tarpaulin.
I found a handy video that shows you the basics on how to apply Waxoyl underseal. Other underseals are available.
I've been applying Waxoyl underseals for over 10 years and find they are very effective when applied properly.
The advice given is believed to be correct but followed at your own risk.
The guides are listed in alphabetical order.
If you're unsure how to fix your Bongo, please get in touch to book your Bongo in with us, we're happy to do the work for you.
We'd like your comments about the Bongo Tips page. What do you think of it? Is the page useful? Is there anything else you'd like to see here?
To avoid spam, comments are reviewed before appearing on the page.
Sorry, we don't have time to answer questions about Bongos here.
You can always ask on one of the Bongo Facebook groups, or on a Bongo forum. Our Facebook group is ON THIS LINK.
Allans Vehicle Services,
Wixenford Depot, Plymstock, Plymouth, Devon, PL9 8AA.
VAT no: 909 7647 80
Tel: 01752 403400
Mob: 07471 002034
Text: 07471 002034
If we can't answer right away, please leave a message with your telephone number, so we can return your call.
Allans Vehicle Services
If you contact us on Saturday or Sunday we will respond on Monday.
Terms and Conditions
Vehicles, keys and contents left at owners risk. Please read this link for full details.
MOT advice ON THIS LINK
Welding and undersealing.
Has your car or van failed the MOT due to corrosion?
THIS LINK shows how we repaired a rust corroded Mazda Bongo.
If you drive a Mazda Bongo, do you know how to check the ATF (gearbox fluid level)? Download the factsheet ON THIS LINK.