Do you want to know how to get the best out of your car? Simple; understand it!

Great job Baraza. I never miss your Wednesday column. Now, I have a Toyota Premio with a D4 engine.

I once decided not to replace the timing belt and the whole engine went bonkers and ended up requiring a complete new engine replacement.

  1. Please expound further on the care of this kind of engine.
  2. When you talked of the use of ‘recommended lubricants, especially those that go to the engine’ (Daily Nation April 16, 2014) did you mean synthetic or normal?
  3. What lubricants and fuel would you recommend for a D4 engine? I mix V-Power and unleaded fuel to the ratio of 1:3 and it cruises the hills of Meru like it’s on steroids. I also use Total 5000 engine oil and service the vehicle every 4500kms. Is this okay?


Dominic Ndung’u.

  1. I don’t get it. What do you mean by “this kind of engine”? A petrol engine? A 4-cylinder? One with direct injection? Or one with a failed timing belt? Anyway, the rules are the same all round (except for the timing belt failure): stick to manufacturer-recommended service protocols, do the necessary repairs and maintenance procedures sooner rather than later or else they will turn into expensive nightmares such as your failed timing belt, use the right fluids, particularly lubricants and fuels, and generally don’t treat your car like it offended you at some point. You should be fine.
  2. I mean exactly what I stated. Use recommended materials. Rare is the vehicle that still uses mineral oils, but it exists.

Most of them will take synthetics with no issue at all, especially high performance lubricants such as Shell Helix, Mobil 1 or Castrol GTX. However, just to be clear, RTFM (Read The Flipping Manual) for confirmation on what oil to use.

  1. See 2 above. As for fuel, use unleaded premium from reputable sources only. I am beginning to feel like I am stating the obvious here.
  2. Sounds okay. The car goes like it’s on steroids, so that should be a good thing, right? Plus doing the service 500km earlier (most of these cars require an oil change at 5000km) means you have eliminated the risk of running on oil that has gone beyond its usefulness.


Hi Baraza,

Thank you for the valuable advice. I am planning to buy my first car; a car that can give me that invincible feeling and won’t make me spend a week in the garage; a car that has relatively better fuel consumption and service costs. I am torn between a Land Rover Discovery 4 and an Audi Q7. Kindly advise.



Weird request, this is. Both cars will cost a lot to maintain, and both will guzzle fuel in their petrol-powered iterations. The Audi is less likely to spend a week at the garage though.

The Disco 4 is still in the “discovery” stage, so to speak, but if its predecessor is anything to go by, watch out for the air suspension (costs more than a Sh1 million to put right if it collapses).

Watch out for the turbo in the diesel version too, failures are not uncommon and again it will cost an arm and a leg to rectify. The Q7 diesel may not be as problematic but parts costs are horrendous.

News from some time back revealed that the turbocharger actuator, which is essentially a fuse, costs Sh180,000… 180 grand for what is, for all intents and purposes, a short piece of wire. You are straying into fat cat territory with these cars, my friend.


Dear Jim, 

I’m an ardent reader of your weekly column. What is the difference between a Toyota RAV4 a Toyota Vanguard? Which one would you prefer?

Dear Jim, 

I’m an ardent reader of your weekly column. What is the difference between a Toyota RAV4 a Toyota Vanguard? Which one would you prefer?

 Gikuhi Ndegwa.

Gikuhi Ndegwa.


Hello. The Vanguard has a slightly longer wheelbase compared to the RAV4 but they are the same car. I may not have a particular preference of one over the other but it is fairly obvious the Vanguard is the better vehicle owing to practicality (bigger space).

Also, Ndegwa, my name is not Jim.


Hello Baraza,

Kindly let us know what happens if you mix Shell V-power fuel with the unleaded FuelSave?



You will end up with a relatively high octane fuel full of cleaning agents that also burns cleanly and thus optimises fuel consumption. In other words, you will end up with a mixture of V Power and FuelSave!


Dear Baraza,

Thank you for the useful advice you provide through your column. I drive a turbocharhed Mitsubishi Airtrek which has a problem of intermittent smoking.

I did some research on the Internet and concluded that the problem could be due to worn out valve seals, as compared to worn piston rings, which would be characterised by continuous smoking. Does my conclusion make sense to you?

Second, I also searched on ways of replacing worn valve seals, and came across some videos on how this can be done without removing the cylinder head.

I tried to sell this idea to my mechanic, who says this cannot be  done. What is your take on this?

Kamau Kimani.


Your diagnosis seems sound enough. I may also need you to enlighten me on how to change the valve seals without removing the cylinder head. Are the valves in an Airtek engine exposed to the outside world like they were on the engines of World War II aircraft?

Most modern engines come with even more covers than are absolutely necessary, so it would be a fair assumption that to reach the valves (and hence the valve seals), one would need to do a tidy bit of disassembly.

Replacing the seals without head removal sounds like laser surgery to me… without the lasers. Plus, how would you install the new seals? Does one squeeze his hands through the manifolds or what? How big are those manifolds anyway?


Hello Baraza,

I like your informative articles on motoring, keep up the good work!

1: How can an individual acquire articulated vehicle (lorry) driving training in Kenya?

2: I’m in the process of importing the car of my dreams. However, after doing my research, it only comes in left-hand drive. Since I’ve spotted several cars in Kenya that are LHD, I would like to ask if driving such vehicles on our roads is safe and advisable.

3: Following the success (and demise) of the UK motoring show Top Gear, maybe we should also form our own motoring show, tailored to the motoring landscape of our country; shouldn’t we?



  1. Apprenticeship is the way here, followed by a road test just like the one you did when you got your regular license; the difference being this time round you will most definitely be asked to reverse the articulated vehicle into a corner.

This is the ONE driving manoeuvre that has consistently defeated my skill set. Driving schools do not offer training of articulated truck drivers as a course, so you will have to learn it on the trot. The day you feel you are up to the task, head to your nearest regional traffic headquarters and tell the policemen there that you want to take a test. They will handle it from there.

  1. Road safety is entirely up to you. Advisability: I’d say no. LHD cars driven on keep-left traffic systems (and vice versa) are notoriously cumbersome, especially when exiting oblique junctions and overtaking. You will be one frustrated individual driving around in such.
  2. Yes we should. Too bad none of the media houses wants to give it the seriousness it deserves and everybody with a proposal in his hand is after one thing: the chance to say “I transformed Baraza into Africa’s Jeremy Clarkson”.

That is not the way to approach the making of a TV show, and that is mostly why my motoring thoughts are still in the form of the written word.

There is the impetus of embarking on a particular exercise, and this impetus is determined by two things which are not mutually exclusive: there is WHY you do it, which in turn will greatly affect HOW you do it.

Fame-seeking opportunists end up with half-baked output; a rushed job that gets old really fast and in some cases may destroy a reputation that took years to build. Passion and purity of purpose, on the other hand, result in world-class performance and the creation of a yardstick against which all other efforts are measured.

The creation of this column is a story I would love to share one day, but it is not what many think it is. Fame and fortune were not on the menu of consideration, as my editors would attest. My starting stipend was unimpressive and my insistence on use of a pseudonym with the absence of a profile picture was summarily ignored.

Apparently, internal policy demands readers know the real names and faces of the people who write for their edification and entertainment; but we eventually settled on the initialiding of my first two names to create a semblance of the mystery I so desperately sought. Five years down the line and here we are, with no sign of flagging.

The same applies to a TV show. Trying to reach 350 million viewers or earning an annual salary of half a billion shillings while cracking clever jokes on screen and powersliding expensive vehicles sounds cool but should NOT be the raison d’être of any fact-based programme.

Sure, these are goals that one would hope to reach and they may act as performance incentives, but they should not be WHY one would start such a project in the first place.

I actively sought to write this column for three reasons: the quality of journalism in general (not that I am a journalist) was wanting, the level of writing was at primary school level and my favourite subject of all (motoring) was not getting any of the attention it merited.

I could have either written a letter to the editor complaining about it all; or I could have written a letter to the editor asking to be given a column to institute the changes myself. Guess which option I picked? Look where the segment is now: five years of non-stop motoring anecdotes, an ever-increasing readership and international attention like I would never have imagined.

That being said, there are several reasons why a locally produced car show will never reach Top Gear levels. As earlier stated: First, none of the powers-that-be is interested in investing in such. Without the necessary investment, financial or otherwise, one can never hope to compete with the big dogs.

Second, very few people fully understand the motoring industry, so output will most probably be shabby at the worst while being light in substance and content.

Third, concerned parties are unwilling to play ball… try asking any local franchise to give you a car for a road test and prepare for a litany of excuses, unanswered emails, bureaucracy or narration of stories about bonded warehouses, KG number plates, mileage issues and “orders from above” that you are completely uninterested in. So how does one make a car show without any cars?

And, last, ours is a weak automotive theatre. Cars are bought and sold more on whimsy, fancy and hearsay than actual preference; the variety of new cars available is pathetic, to say the least, and the number of new cars sold is not enough for any major manufacturer to take East Africa seriously, except maybe for General Motors.

We do not have a homegrown auto industry, except for maybe the Mobius, which has since dropped out of the public eye. We depend too much on used cars, and who is going to review used cars? It is like discussing the results of the 1988 General Elections when someone asks you for your opinion on the current political landscape. Largely irrelevant, or impertinent; would be the accurate description.

So, a car show? I can script one, no problem; and tailored to our circumstances too, no less. But only if the people involved are as serious about it as I would be.


Hi Baraza, 

 I was made aware of your column about two years ago and I have been a huge fan ever since. Your writing and vehicle expertise has given me loads of insight as far as making vehicle purchases.

A few months back, we embarked on a journey trying and testing the new automobile craze of Xado additives. I tried their automatic revitalisant for my 2007 VW Golf GTI and their fuel system cleaner and was impressed with the smooth shifting and reduced rattling of the car while idling.

Obviously this prompted me to take it further and try the magic elixir in my engine when I did my last service, I am nearing my 1000 mark and was hoping to hear about experience trying it on your engine. 



So far so good on my end. When I went down the Xado path I remembered saying it will be difficult to see the effects if the car is in good shape and, well…. yeah.

This is the writer of Car Clinic; what shape would you expect his car to be in? I still have Xado in the car’s circulatory system and everything is running as it usually does, which is perfectly.

The only change of note was in the transmission which became more tactile and less notchy. The engine is still as silky smooth as it was when the car was bought, still as punchy, still as revvy and it is due for another service shortly.

I may need new Xado-unrelated stuff like brakes and shocks, but things are sunny in Barazaville as I write. As a scientist, I may opt to go for the control path this time and resort to defaults just to see if anything gets worse over the next 5000km.



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