How cheap is cheap? Should I invest in a 1997 Mazda Midge?

Dear Baraza,

I am about to buy a Mazda Midge 323 of 1997 or thereabouts. It will cost me about Sh125,000 to acquire and about Sh20,000 to repair.

am confused. Should I sign the deal or keep off completely. I have never owned a car before and this car is cheap, with low fuel consumption. I need a means of mobility for my small family. What is your advice on this car?

Arap Kulet Kibs

That sounds like a fair deal to me. A 1997 vehicle that will cost you less than Sh150,000 to get on the road? If you are very sure this is what it will take, then by all means go for it. I have been looking for a Sh200,000 car (part of an elaborate experiment) and you will not believe how hard it is to get one. I even got offered a 1988 Honda Accord for Sh220,000.

1988! That car is older than some of the women I have dated, and the man wanted Sh220,000 for it. The closest I got to a deal like yours was a 1992 Fiat Uno for Sh85,000.

Yes, less than Sh100,000 but for that I was to get rotten tyres, split rims, the brake pads had fused with the discs (and drums), two seats (the front passenger seat and the back bench) no lights whatsoever… but the party piece was…. no engine.

Be glad of the deal you have landed, but I insist: ONLY IF YOU ARE SURE.

Hi Baraza,

I am an ardent fan of your column and I must say it is very informative.

Now, my question is about engine capacity vis à vis fuel consumption. Many readers have the perception that the bigger the engine the higher the fuel consumption. I remember an article you wrote about a Range Rover covering 17 kpl. With the same engine, not many Toyotas or Nissans can cover that distance.

1. How will a non-turbo car perform when fuelled with V-Power petrol and synthetic engine oil compared to premium/regular fuel and normal engine oil?

2. And by the way, why don’t you come up with your own monthly magazine for motoring fans?

Thanks and thumbs up for this weekly feature.

Ken Migiro.

Ahem, sir, I think you may have taken liberties with some of those figures. I never said a Range Rover does 17kpl. No, sir, I did not. I said, at 140km/h on an eight-lane superhighway, the engine is spooling below 2,000rpm and the “monster” engine is doing an incredible 14 kpl.

There are several reasons for this, the primary one being that the prevailing traffic conditions at the time could best be described as “light”.

Secondly, the vehicle in question was powered by a new-age turbocharged diesel engine which develops massive torque, allowing the car to be propelled effortlessly at very low rpm. Third, that Range Rover had just received a transmission update, so it was packing an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox. With so many ratios, there is a perfect gear for everything.

Also, given that the car costs Sh18 million or so, the amount of research and development that went into the power train is stupendous, to say the least. None of these factors apply to eight-year-old pre-owned Toyotas and Nissans. Yer gets what yer pays fer.

1. Superior engine oil and fuel grade does not make a car faster or more powerful. It only makes the engine run smoother and last longer.

However, the converse is not true: Sub-standard oil will kill your engine and adulterated fuel (or fuel with a very low octane rating) might push your car into “safe-mode”, where either the timing will be retarded to the lowest possible level or the engine speed will be capped at a certain rpm which is very far from the red line.

Ask anyone who runs high-boost in a turbocharged engine what “safe mode” is and watch their eyes water as they remember the time they told their friends “My car is fast!” Then proceeded to drive at 40 km/h. I know your question concerned naturally aspirated engines, but some suffer from this too.

2. I happen to be the features and road tests editor at a certain magazine run by The Jaw. Sometimes it is a monthly, sometimes it is not.

Dear Sir,

I came across your article on transmission which I found quite interesting as I am looking to sell automatic transmission discs.

The gearbox has transmission discs and at one end is the high nitrile high temp seal rarely available in Kenya. Basically, it comes as an overhaul gasket kit for the transmission gear box, much like an engine overhaul gasket kit.

Nobody stocks these in Kenya, not even Toyota Kenya. When the oil leaks because of a faulty seal, it burns the discs in the gearbox.

So what most mechanics do is look for good secondhand seals and fit secondhand discs. Currently, I have a about 20 types of new discs in stock and have sold a few. I am looking for a market for these products. Please advise.

Interested Seller.

I am not very sure how I can be of help here because it sounds as if you are asking me to assist you in running your business. Since there are no further explanations, these are my guesses:

1. You want to use my column as a platform to palm off your transmission parts to the general public. I cannot be of any assistance here because the Nation Media Group will require the two of us to pay for advertising and, take it from me, those two pages can be quite expensive. Also, I will receive an uncomfortable interrogation from other sellers of transmission parts as to why I endorsed you and not them.

2. You want my advice on how you can sell many transmission parts and make a profit while at it. In this case, too, I cannot really help because I am not a business consultant. Much as the objects involved fall under motoring, the matter at hand is not really about motoring.

Dear Baraza,

Kenya-trained road and railway engineers are the most useless in the world. In a highly populated urban area trains run in tunnels underground or in overhead viaducts. Never ever on the ground.

Jesus Christ! Can you imagine a slow moving 500 metre train trying to manoeuvre in Nairobi traffic. Are some people totally mad? Moreover, underground trains run underground on electric tracks, NOT diesel locomotives. Woi! We are in trouble.

Have you ever wondered why the passenger ride from Nairobi to Mombasa is so rocky and uncomfortable? It is because the track slippers are unevenly laid.

While the distance of the slippers should be evenly spaced, you find the contrary. One slipper may be 100cm apart, the next 200cm apart and the other 120cm apart.

This makes the train rock from one side to the other because it is unbalanced. Not only is the train unbalanced, it also cannot travel at high speed because it will eventually derail due to unbalanced rocking.

That is why a journey from Nairobi to Mombasa takes at least 12 hours to complete because of slow speed. Diesel locomotives can travel at a speed of 60km to 80km per hour.

This means that on a properly constructed railway track, a Mombasa-Nairobi train should take a maximum of four to five hours.

It is also not rocket science to find out why roads designed and built by Kenyan-trained engineers have a maximum defect-free design life of between five to 10 years.

It is because these engineers construct these roads with permeable soft as a base material instead of impermeable concrete. The problem with permeable rock is that rainwater seeps through the road surface easily. Once the water reaches the earth layer of the road, it becomes mud and essentially liquid.

Thus, this part of the road sinks due to the mechanical pressure of passing vehicles. The road surface eventually cracks, exacerbating water seepage. Finally, a pothole is formed.

You may have noticed that the Chinese religiously use concrete as a base material. This is how modern roads should be built. The result is an even road surface that has a defect-free design life of approximately 99 to 100 years.

Naturally, the initial cost of a concrete base road is higher than a permeable base road. But over 99 years, it is actually cheaper because a permeable base road needs to be maintained and rebuilt every 10-15 years.

Njoroge Gitonga.

Wow! I agree on all points. While an inner city train would be a good idea, it is not really workable in ANY of our cities. It will call for an extensive redesign and rebuild of the town centre. In other words, tear the city down and put it up again.

From scratch. I wonder where the three million or so people who infest the town daily are supposed to go in the meantime. Sweet Lord, this country needs help.

We do not necessarily have to have a train half a kilometre long snaking through city blocks. Several trams could do the trick. Question is: Where to lay the tram tracks? How to control jaywalking.

How to control the maniacal wayward drivers who believe that the secret to success in life is making sure you are ahead of everyone else on the road (including trams).

I do not think we are ready for this. Sweet Lord, this country needs help.
Trains are not necessarily a bad idea. What we could do is have four or five train stations around the city. We already have one which has a bias on the Mombasa Road side of town. How about another on the Westlands side? And another on the Thika Road side?

And maybe one more on the Ngong Road side? The trick is to reduce motor vehicle traffic, right? Charge people who drive into town in order to encourage them to take the train (like they do in the UK).

From those train stations we could have shuttle services running across the CBD instead of actual trains (which you and I agree will not work inside the town).

Anyway, the logistical hell that is the Nairobi traffic situation is not my headache. At least not now. Even with the new “digital” traffic lights, it still takes a traffic policeman to restore order at junctions and roundabouts, the same officer who will tell you to go when the light is red and pull you over when you drive past a green light “because he said to stop and you didn’t”. Sweet Lord, this country needs help.

As for road construction, I also agree with you in that the workmanship is sloppy. Some acquaintances believe that it is intentional: Not only does the contractor make an abnormal profit, but he also guarantees himself another tender.

When the road falls apart a few months after completion, he will be called back to do repairs, hence make even more money. Sweet Lord, this country needs help.

Just a question: Those rail things. Are they “slippers” or “sleepers”? Just asking.

Hi Baraza,

I own a Toyota Corolla 110. It recently had a minor accident and after the mechanic repaired the gearbox, I noticed that the light on the dash board keeps indicating that the overdrive is off (O/D off).

My mechanic says it does not affect fuel consumption because I do not travel long distances. Please advise.

Lucy.

How did this mechanic repair the gearbox? With the light indicating “O/D OFF”, one of three things could be happening:

1. The overdrive is actually on, but since the mechanic fiddled with the transmission and its many electronics, the light says OFF in error. Or…

2. In the course of fiddling with the transmission and its many electronics, the mechanic ruined the overdrive switch, rendering it permanently off. In which case he should pay for the extra fuel you would have saved by driving with the overdrive on. Or…

3. Maybe there is nothing wrong and you should try and put the overdrive on. There is a small button labelled O/D on the right side of the gear knob. Sometimes the only solution to a problem is the most obvious one.

Hi Baraza,

I love the advice you give in this column. I asked this question before and did not get an answer. What is a guzzler? If I drive a Toyota with an engine capacity of 2,000cc and a Subaru or Mercedes of the same engine size, how do they compare in terms of fuel consumption?

What of a saloon car and a sports utility vehicle (SUV) of the same engine capacity, for example the Toyota Mark X versus the RAV4/Harrier?

Cleo

There are very many things that determine the fuel consumption of an engine, most of them being external factors that fall under the general term “load”.

Intrinsic qualities that determine the rate of consumption include material science (low friction, lightweight and heat resistant materials lead to better economy as compared to their diametric opposites), degree of technology that goes into the R&D stage of making the engine (Electrical Fuel Injection (EFI) engines offer better economy than carburettor engines, direct injection also leads to better economy compared to port injection, Electronic Control Unit-controlled and other electronic engine systems are more efficient than purely mechanical ones) and the basic design: Number of cylinders, layout of those cylinders, and so on.

As for Toyota, Subaru, and Mercedes engines, these are too many and too varied to say which is which and the consumption factor is determined greatly by load, seeing as all three companies develop really high-tech engines for different applications.

One may be naturally aspirated, another one turbocharged, and another one supercharged. One may be used in a small compact saloon, another in a rally-ready performance hatchback, and yet another in a relatively heavy premium saloon… you get my drift, don’t you?

The same engine used in a saloon car will generally burn more fuel per kilometre when used in an SUV because the SUV is much heavier and has a higher coefficient of drag than the saloon, which means that it has to work more/spend more energy to move the body to which it is attached.

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