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Used car review Ford Laser KF/KH 1990-1994

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Graham 'Smithy' Smith reviews the used Ford Laser KF/KH 1990-1994, its fine points, its flaws and what to watch for when you are buying it.

It’s hard to imagine looking at today’s sales figures, but there was a time when Ford had the top selling small car in the land. It was only a decade or so ago that the Laser was Australia’s most popular small car.

The Laser was based on the Mazda 323, but Ford’s designers gave it a cosmetic makeover and the company’s marketing people came up with a slightly different model line-up to differentiate it from its Hiroshima cousin.

MODEL WATCH

The KF kicked off the third generation of the Laser. It was roomier inside thanks to an extended wheelbase, which resulted in more legroom, and was wider, which gave it more elbowroom.

Two main body styles were offered by Ford – a five-door hatch, a four-door sedan – and there were four levels of specification – L, GL, S and Ghia. There was also a three-door TX3 sporty hatch, but we’ll focus on the mainstream models here.

Ford stylists based in Japan did the cosmetic rework to provide some differentiation from the Mazda 323. Their work resulted in a mildly revamped nose with a different grille and bumper, rear lights and wheel trims. Inside, the little Ford had different a steering wheel, dash and instruments, and trim.

The body was stiffened in an attempt to reduce the noise, vibration and harshness complained of in earlier Lasers, but it still came in for some criticism. The hatch was rated a little noisier than the sedan.

Refinements to the MacPherson Strut front suspension and MacPherson Strut, twin trapezoidal link rear suspension resulted in more responsive steering and sharper handling, along with a more comfortable ride.

New speed sensitive power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering was warmly praised for its precision and tight turning circle.

All models benefited from more powerful brakes, a combination of disc front and drum rear was used on most models. But it was before the time of anti-skid electronics on small cars so drivers had to rely more on their skill to avoid collisions.

Three engines were employed in the Laser. The L and GL models had a 1.6-litre single overhead camshaft 16-valve four-cylinder engine fed by a carburettor, the S and Ghia got a fuel-injected single overhead camshaft, 16-valve 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine.

The 1.6-litre engine was more powerful than the engine in the previous model and had 64 kW at 6000 revs with 123 Nm at 3100 revs. While it wasn’t as spirited as the 1.8-litre engine it was smooth and flexible with good midrange torque.

The 1.8-litre engine delivered more spirited performance and is clearly the one to chase now. The single overhead camshaft engine gave 76 kW at 5500 revs with 150 Nm at 4000 revs.

The choices of transmission were a smooth shifting five-speed manual ’box and three-speed auto for the 1.6-litre engine, while a four-speed auto was offered on the larger engine in addition to the five-speed manual.

When you ticked the ‘L’ or ‘GL’ box on the order form you got an AM/FM radio-cassette, cloth trim and steel wheels with wheel caps, but if you stepped up to the ‘S’ you drove away with alloy wheels and power steering as well. Go all the way and tick the ‘Ghia’ box and you also got central locking and power mirrors.

The KH/KHII updates followed in 1991 and ’92 and mainly brought some minor styling changes.

ON THE LOT

You’ll be searching the classifieds more than car yards to find one. Pay no more than $2000 for one nearing the end of the road, $4000 for a neat one with a current ticket for roadworthiness, and $5000-$6000 for one in top order.

IN THE SHOP

The KF Laser is getting on in years now and like all old cars should be approached with care. It’s worth having a mechanic or at least someone with mechanical knowledge give the car you choose a thorough going over before purchase.

On average the KF will have done close to 250,000 km so there’s every chance it will have a number of problems simply because of its age and the mileage done.

Start by checking the service record, older cars tend to be neglected by owners who simply ignore it or can’t afford it. Neglected cars should be avoided, they are trouble, so look for cars that have been well cared for, even if they take longer to find.

The engines are generally robust and reliable and will go for a long time if they’ve been serviced, which really only means a regular oil change. The cam timing belt needs to be changed every 100,000 km, if you don’t you face the prospect of a belt breakage, which will have you grinding to a halt on the side of the road. Internal damage is unlikely if it does break.

Go for the 1.8-litre engine, it’s the one with the best performance and the most fun to drive.

Gearboxes are generally reliable, listen intently for noises in intermediate gears, and make sure the manual engages smoothly without baulking. If it does baulk it may mean the clutch is nearing the end of the road.

The body tends to stand up well, but look for rust, particularly around the windscreen and rear window.

Inside, look for cracked dash pads, torn seats, and worn seat belts.

The good thing is that because it was such a big seller there are plenty of cars around, and plenty of spares to fix them when they break down.

IN A CRASH

No airbags or anti-skid ABS brakes here; safety is down to the body shell, seat belts and the driver’s ability.

The body shell will provide the protection needed, provided it hasn't been in a big crash or heavily rusted, the seat belts should be in good condition and not worn, and the driver needs to know how to brake without locking the brakes.

OWNERS SAY

Ted Endacott recently bought a 1991 Ghia 1.8 manual after checking through a host of Camrys, Corollas, Pulsars etc. The 1.8-litre fuel-injected SOHC motor has the extra grunt to run air-conditioning and to haul a load of passengers. He says it’s well worth chasing this motor. In manual form it sips fuel at 8.5 L/100 km in city traffic and 6.5 L/100 km on the highway. Engines sometimes die around 200,000 km, but pampered models often run past 300,00 km. These are tough and durable. The five-speed manual gearbox is fun to use. Fifth gear is tall, with revs around 2600 revs at 100 km/h. There is an irritating gap between first and second, but other ratios are close. Expect around 100,000 km between clutch replacements. The steering is precise with no torque steer and the handling is sporty. The seats are comfortable, the interior is spacious, air con/heating is good, boot space generous. It is a well-designed little car.

LOOK FOR

• record of regular servicing

• roomy interior

• good performance form 1.8-litre fuel-injected engine

• good fuel economy

• age is starting to weary them

RIVALS

• Toyota Corolla – 1991-1994 – $2500-$6000

• Nissan Pulsar – 1991-1995 – $3000-$6500

• Holden Nova – 1991-1994 – $2500-$6000

THE BOTTOM LINE

A good one is a great little car with a good-sized interior, good performance, handling and fuel economy.

VERDICT

65/100

Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 18 comments

  • i have a KF laser Livewire, sedan model, 1.8LTR engine, currently off road for defected seatbelt(got it free with having defect), after recieving it, i noticed a crack in the windshield which i will be replacing shortly, but when i got the permit to drive it home, ran great, very zippy and powerful little car, everything engine wise is sound(very good), i am thinking break pads need replacing, easy job, though, not a ford fan, but i recommend one as a budget car.

    Aaron Head of Australia Posted on 11 October 2013 1:17am
  • I have a 92 KH Laser, love it to bits, first car, bought private. I've had to do repairs on it tho, previous owner didn't tell me high beams don't work & dash light goes off & on as it pleases. bought at 167***, now has about 175***, had two services done due to travelling interstate on a monthly basis. First service revealed brake pads were nearly stuffed, air con needed regassing, windscreen wipers needed replacing, got all done. Soon after the brakes failed, father fixed it no probs. Second service revealed air con needed replacing (regas was useless). Got it fixed. Father noticed water pump needed replacing but due to unforseen circumstances it didn't get fixed in time & engine overheated stuffing both water pump & head gasket. Even with all this, I love this car & will be sad to see it go :( (looking at buying 1990 Toyota Corolla as I'm a Toyota lover)

    Sarah Shepherd of Berwick Posted on 01 September 2013 8:01pm
  • 1993 laser gli 1.8 litre 5 speed hatch..185,000km's timing belt never been changed... will run it till it breaks

    billy gatey Posted on 11 July 2013 5:50pm
  • i have a 91 kh laser 5spd paid $1,000 for her done nearly 400000kms still in great condition great on fuel its true a laser will amaze ya

    patrick ryan of bute south australia Posted on 10 January 2013 2:00pm
  • I have a 1994 Laser Ghia hatch has done 190000 klm has 12 month reg looking to sell not sure what sort of price to ask. In very good condition appart for a little rust under petol filler in gaurd

    Michael Ambler of Melbourne Posted on 13 November 2012 11:35am
  • anybody have parts for one

    Piasky Posted on 10 August 2012 1:06am
  • Fantastic stuff, these are the article types that pave the way for budding bloggers. A great starter kit for times of writers block too.Nice resource Kim!

    {jordans for sale of http://www.jordanstoday.com/Air-Jordan-Shoes-8-210 Posted on 09 August 2012 12:04am
  • have '94 KH . What a gem . usual CVs worn don,t accelerate round corners to hard till replacement .everything works fine,beaut little cars , would have been fantastic when new.

    Wayne S Stumpf of Adelaide Posted on 05 July 2012 10:11am
  • I bought a smelly little KF Laser for $300 from a girl who smoked like a chimney in it. She bought my WRX off me ($30k) and I made her an offer this. It's a little gem - now I've replaced the carpets and dry-cleaned the seats and roof! Like all these old Front WD cars, CV joints are an issue but I'm replacing them, the dodgy rear view mirror and the speedo cable. The engine is superb - solid as a rock. I bought it for my son but I'm driving it myself! grin

    Ray Ahern of Canberra District Posted on 11 June 2012 9:40pm
  • The main differences in body between the KF and KH is the found lights and grill, and the back grill or what ever you call it where the boot closes. the rest is the same you can put either bumber on them.

    Martin of Perth Aus Posted on 27 January 2012 12:07am
  • Over the last ten years my family have owned 3 KF lasers and 1 TX3, they have been super reliable and very cheap to maintain. I currently have a 2007 Holden Viva 70,000 klms on it and so far have had issues with fuel sender, inhibitor switch and airbag light. Would sell it in a blink and buy another KF laser if I could find a buyer for it.

    rod wallis of bittern victoria Posted on 09 September 2011 10:15pm
  • Is there any difference in the body of a KF and KH? im looking to replace my bumper and am unsure whether these are interchangeable! I have a 1991 Ghia.

    Jordan Neis-Beer of Adelaide Posted on 08 July 2011 5:54pm
  • I think the Ford Laser's are one of the most reliable and powerful cars compared to the Toyota?s and the stupid Honda cars! I bought a 1992 KF Ghia with a 1.3 engine and it outruns any ordinary car. There are a lot of repairs that are needed to be done since the previous owners have hacked it. But in my opinion it?s fully worth to restore such a car. Interior looks brand new with tan seats and a brown and black dashboard its one of a kind car. It has run 230,000 km's. I'll buy another sporty version if I have more money smile

    Afdhel Sariffodeen of colombo Posted on 17 June 2011 1:03am
  • Hi Dave of Adelaide, the symptom you described (i'm having trouble with the starter system, when i try to start it i get a clicking sound) can occur from not having enough charge in your car battery. Though you probably have diagnosed the problem by now. I am currently changing the waterpump, timing belt, tension wheel, seals behind the two sprockets on a 1991 KF Ghia 1.8ltr 299,000kms. I found the rubber timing belt sitting forward (not centre) of the sprockets as a result of the tension wheel bearing having a small amount of 'play' from wear & tear. Hence the baffle plate (in front of crank sprocket) has done it's job to keep the timing belt on the sprockets, though the rubbing has almost 'eaten' the thin plate out. I have found the space VERY tight on this side of the engine bay to dismantle the waterpump elbow, caused mostly by the close proximity of the steering pump, and air conditioner pump. But with patience and a few swear words from under the car it is achievable by the careful and practical DIY. It is worth doing the planning to do this job yourself with the help of a service/repair manual. While underneath you get to appreciate why this little car was so successful.

    scott bach of Melbourne Posted on 26 March 2011 9:45am
  • i have a 93 kh in good nick but i;m having trouble with the starter system, when i try to start it i get a clicking sound and motor doesn't turn over. any suggestions please as its a bit complicated to take the motor out. thanks dave.

    dave ford of adelaide sa Posted on 20 February 2011 1:24pm
  • I purchased a KH laser without looking at it 6 months ago without looking at it I'm really happy with it as it gives little trouble. I have had all the usual things changed and done on it as I didn't know what had and hadn't being done. This is a great little car with the usual minor rattles and squeaks in it. There are only a couple of minor oil leaks in the engine bay, it does not use much oil which I was suprised at given the age and kms. The one thing that gets frustrating is having to warm the motor up otherwise the motor stops as soon as I put it in reverse being an auto transmission. Overall it has being a great little car for me, first cars can be a bomb for a $3000 but this isn't as the motors in these little cars are mazda. I'm happy with the leg room which I get being quite tall. Best sort of car for the first car buyers as they are robust and reliable, and really easy to get parts for if needed.

    jayden henderson of central victoria Posted on 13 July 2010 10:54am
  • ive just bought a kf 1.8 s laser hatch and am amazed at what good condition its in, i used to work at peter warren ford when the kf first came out twenty years ago and this little beauty is every bit as good as they were all those years ago, maybe im lucky or ford built them well in those days. no abs or airbags but if your a driver with enough inteligence not to hit things or be hit you cant go past this model if your after a good solid little performer, top marks ford

    joseph sarasola of sydney Posted on 08 July 2010 9:27pm
  • I have a 1990 KF Laser. It has has 406,000 ks on the clock but still runs like brand new and does not look like it will die. I reccommend KF/KH Laser to anyone despite it's age.

    matt johnson of QLD Posted on 20 May 2010 11:39pm
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