For a Jaguar, Volvo or Merc, you must be ready to pay top dollar

Hi Jim,

I have been a discreet enthusiast of your articles on matters automobile and I am compelled to say that you demystify and debunk the myths with ease. In fact, if you are a Catholic, I would initiate your beatification sooner rather than later. That aside, I would like to buy either a Jaguar XF series or Volvo XC90 and/or an E-class Merc. In that regard I would like  your advice regarding: 

  1. Efficacy of fuel consumption of each per litre of fuel.
  2. Aesthitical superiority. 
  3. Back-up, with regard to ease of getting spare parts locally.

Kenn

 

Hello Kenn,

My name is not Jim. Thank you for your nomination for beatification but I’d rather not delve into religion just yet. Perhaps in another non-motoring column.

Now:

  1. Consumption: you need to be specific. The Jaguar XF can be had with a variety of engines, ranging from the teetotalling 2.2 diesel turbo (20km/l if you are a bit special behind the wheel), through some V6es in the 3.0 litre neighbourhood, all the way to the dipsomaniac 5.0 litre supercharged V8 petrol in the XFR-S (1km/l if you try setting lap records). The same thing applies to the Volvo: the XC90 can be had either as a 2.4 diesel, 4-cylinder turbo, some not-so-common intermediate 5- and 6-cylinder units, or as a 4.4. litre petrol V8. The Benz? It is quite similar to the “Jag”: there are economical 2.2 litre diesel engines, there are infinite V6 engines, and several V8s, all of which are flagshipped by the positively mental E63 AMG  and AMG S. Depending on vintage, this could be packing either a 6.2 litre V8 or a twin-turbo 5.5 litre V8 (the newer S). I don’t need to tell you that the consumption of a heavy, blocky 585hp V8 car is worrisome, do I?  Nor do I need to tell you that there is no blanket figure that serves as an average across the entire engine line-up of a model range for a particular vehicle, do I?
  2. Aesthetic superiority: it’s the Jag. Many will say, “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”, but make no mistake, the Jaguar’s achingly beautiful silhouette is as evocative as it is stunning. There are no qualms about it.

The Mercedes is inoffensive — typical German restraint, spending all their energy on pointless horsepower wars and forgetting to experiment with design — though there are some who say it could be called “unattractive”, especially when specified in brown. I don’t mind it; I think the whole idea of a Mercedes is to exude gravitas without being flashy, kind of like a sharply cut and understated business suit.  It doesn’t exactly stand out, but you will know something is up, something special, something patrician and something expensive, just by looking at it. “Discreet” is the word to use, borrowing from your own vocabulary.

The Volvo XC90 is an SUV. This is where beauty lies in your eye. Do you like it? No? Understandable. It is an SUV and most SUVs are not pretty anyway. Yes? Also understandable because I think the Volvo has a good overall design, inoffensive like the Mercedes, but the front façade does seem a little off.

  1. Spare parts: there is this thing called the Internet, where you can search for stuff not readily accessible following a simple but failed stroll down a business street. I’m not going into discussions about which franchise stocks which parts or supports which vehicle models; those franchises have marketing departments whose  work is to get this information out there. Besides, they are always changing: Volkswagen moved from CMC to DT Dobie, Nissan moved from DT Dobie into their own apartment, whoever moved wherever… it’s a game of musical chairs. That said, Jaguar and Mercedes parts should be fairly easy to come by (assuming the Mercedes is not an AMG model). The thing is, the cost of some of those parts (and the labour charges involved) might be off-putting. But, hey, you are shopping on the highly customisable Saville Row analogy of auto boutiques, so expect to pay Saville Row levels of money for peace of mind.

*Note: similar sounding words do not necessarily have similar meanings, i.e homonyms are not synonyms. “Efficacy” does not mean “efficiency”, which is the word you should have used in 1 above.

********

Hi Baraza, 

Your spiel on which car to buy to impress the ladies when you’re a third year university student tickled me a tad. It caught my attention because I drive a 2005 Subaru Legacy GT wagon which, I told the missus this morning, if I had to replace, it would be with a car with German DNA.

The Subaru’s a great car but over the last three years I’ve had my share of problems, from replacing the air-flow meter, variable valve timing injection sensor, clutch system (more than a couple of times) and various other bushes and sensors that help the car maintain its sporty pedigree.

It has all cost a little too much, and I’ve increasingly got the feeling that either a Merc or Beemer would do better in the mechanical reliability sweepstakes, an opinion that has also been heavily influenced by the feelings of friends towards their German cars. 

Now, if I could just get my hands on the spare Eurobond change rolling on the floor…

Eric

 

Haha… thanks a lot for making me even more nervous about owning a Subaru. Your list is predominantly electronics (sensors and whatnot), which causes me even more concern. Should I be worried? Will I be joining the Jag-seeking individual in the preceding query at the ATM as we both deplete our rapidly shrinking kitties trying to maintain cars we probably shouldn’t have bought in the first place?

This might sound odd coming from a person notorious for “bashing” Subaru owners (and not Subarus themselves as many assume), but it has nothing to do with the fact that I am one of those owners. Subarus are hardy, robust little things that, if unmolested, are quite reliable too. That much cannot be said for the Germans from Stuttgart, particularly the lot made in the decade beginning 1995 to just around 2005. Daimler-Benz (later Daimler-Chrysler then just plain old Daimler) was going through a “phase” and it showed in their cars. It’s unclear what exactly this phase was, but it’s safe to assume they were on a profiteering binge and tried to tip the pecuniary scales in their favour by cutting cost, and in the process forgetting that they became the world renowned Mercedes-Benz brand through perfectionism. I think they have got their act together now, though; quality has improved dramatically in recent models. However, the profiteering has not gone. Rather than compromise on quality, they have taken to copying highly controversial but apparently profitable niche concepts from their Bavarian rivals. Mercedes-Benz GLE/GLA/GLC and BMX X6/X4: Would someone kindly tell me just what these are?

The same could also be said about BMW, although they did not lose the plot on quality via profiteering so much as losing quality via biting more than they could chew. They introduced a slew of pointless models (again, what’s up with the X6? And the 5 Series GT?), and also encumbered themselves by incorporating troublesome British brands (Rover) into their fold, which then led to one of the most fantastic and unbelievable board meetings I’ve ever read about. More on that meeting in a later article; trust me, it’s a story you will want to read.

The used car market is the greyest of grey areas. There is no telling what one will come across. Hitherto unforeseen and unexpected problems make themselves felt at the most inopportune moments. Besides service histories, maintenance plays a big role in vehicle condition, as does use. German cars generally cover less mileage compared to cheaper Japanese fare, and are also generally better maintained by their owners. If German cars were treated the way most Subarus are, female bloggers would have had different headlines for their poorly researched and error-filled treatises. That applies all over the world, and might explain why you had problems with your Subaru while your friends rocking Teutonic sleds seem to have no issues with their transport. Let them drive 2,500km or more a month, daily, on bad roads, and then revert. I might have to start writing Car Clinic in German.

About that Eurobond cash, that makes two of us. I will buy a Jaguar XFR-S. Very handsome car, though the spoiler is a bit silly, and it goes like a bat out of hell.

******

Thank you for your continued insights into car care.

I bought a 2006 X-Trail that had done 100,000 km. It looked good, meaning quite well maintained, drove quite well and I did not detect any issues at the time I bought it.

I decided to service the car – spark plugs, oil change…the works, then hit the road to Mt Kenya on a Saturday. I returned on Sunday evening and guess what, the temperature gauge was at max! I checked the radiator and could not see any leak, but the coolant tank was boiling and the coolant level had gone down. There were no broken pipes. I added water, the engine cooled a bit but later started heating up again. I decided to read a couple of online reviews and came across  narratives describing similar experiences with current/previous owners of X-Trails. Most of them had reported this at around the same mileage – 80,000 km to 100,000 km. What I could not get, however, was whether any of them managed to diagnose the root cause and treat it once and for all. Some said the radiator was small or clogged, others that the thermostat had failed, etc.

Now to my question(s): do X-trail engine cooling systems, especially 2000 to 2007 models, have a fault that causes them to overheat? And what exactly is the cause if this is a common problem?

Anthony Mwaniki Mburu

 

Hello Mwaniki,

My sympathies for your woes. However, take comfort in the fact that yours is a relatively easy problem to diagnose. The symptoms are classic: the temperature shoots up, coolant boils as well as coolant level going down.

You say there is no visible leak, right? That leaves only two other possibilities: head gasket failure or a vapour leak via the radiator cap.

That coolant has to be disappearing somewhere. This is where the other theories get dismissed: if the radiator is small, why did Nissan engineers not fit a bigger one?

There are also water pumps and fans; with a small radiator these supplementary items will still do their damnedest to keep things out of the red zone. If the radiator or its hoses are clogged, this will not affect the coolant level either.

Water cannot be compressed so even if the water pump tries to push it through the attendant channels, nothing will happen. The thermostat does not consume coolant, and failure will not make it thirsty either.

What is happening is that coolant is probably finding its way into the cylinders, and the only way through is via the seam between the cylinder head and the engine block, in other words, right through the cylinder head gasket.

This explains the reducing levels, as well as why the coolant in the expansion tank was boiling. There is compression leakage as well through the head gasket.

The hot charge, during the power stroke, seeps through and goes into the coolant, heating up. Combine this charge heat with the friction heat being battled by the cooling system and it’s easy to see why the coolant is steaming.

Accompanying symptoms include loss of power and white smoke from the exhaust. A leak through the radiator cap could cause similar heating and coolant loss, the difference being that the coolant boils faster because its volume is too low and thus lowers

its heat capacity, making it boil easily (it is faster to boil a cup of water than it is to boil an entire bucket, right?).

However, the thermostat might not be the immediate cause of the coolant boiling and subsequent loss, but it very well could be the root cause. Apparently, the Nissan X-Trail from that era does have an issue with the thermostat. The “normal” engine heat causes the “thermowax” used in the thermostat to get blown out of the thermostat after a while.

This causes the thermostat to malfunction, allowing engine temperature to reach high levels. High temperatures cause gasket failure and/or damage  the radiator cap (if plastic), which then leads to overheating and coolant loss: a vicious circle, which also seems to be your exact problem.

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