Take care of your Passat and it won’t disappoint

Hi Baraza,

Thanks for the opportunity once more. Some time back I asked you about the 1999 VW Polo, 1600cc, and what you said is what I got. I loved the performance of the car, even though it was old.

Now I have a year 2000 VW Passat, 1800cc. Kindly educate me on the following features:

I’m told its turbo-supercharged, what does this mean?

It has a 2,3,4,D,N,R,P arrangement on the gear console. When do I use 2,3, and 4?

What is the best oil to use on the engine?

I use organic coolant from Total instead of plain water, is it right, and is there any other coolant that is better than the two?

Finally, kindly tell me in general, from your experience and knowledge, the advantages and disadvantages of this car, engine performance (on- and off-road, short and long distance).

Henry Opondo

Hello Mr Opondo. Here are your answers:

“Turbo-supercharged” is the full name for what we call “turbocharging”. This is where the engine is fitted with a device called a turbocharger (sometimes called “turbo”, “blower”, “turbine” or by its brand name: you might hear pundits claiming “I have a TD04 bolted onto my engine…”).

This turbocharger is made up of two fans: one, called the turbine, is turned by the exhaust gases exiting the engine. This turbine is connected via a shaft to another fan, called the impeller.

The rotation of the turbine is transferred through the shaft to the impeller, whose resultant rotation creates a principle similar to a vacuum cleaner: it sucks air into the engine at a pressure higher than 1 atmosphere. This means a greater mass of air goes into the engine than usual, and consequently, the engine develops more power/torque.

2,3 and 4 are used to “lock” the automatic transmission to prevent it from shifting up. “2” will not let it go beyond 2nd gear, “3” limits it to 3rd gear and “4” to 4th.

Though you can live your entire driving life without using these lever positions (D is enough for 98 per cent of all driving circumstances), there are two situations in which to use them: a) When in need of an extra burst of power, such as when overtaking: If you are driving along in D, then you feel you need some good acceleration, stomp on the accelerator.

If the revs are too low (thus low pulling power), slide the lever into “4”. If the car was in 5th gear, it will downshift into 4th and the revs will rise and the engine will pull harder. If the transmission was in 4th gear and you select “4”, nothing happens.

In that case, slide the lever further back into 3. Same applies all the way down to 2. I’m surprised there isn’t a “1”, but you won’t need it anyway. A way in which we road testers and some brain-donor street racer-types abuse such a gearbox is to drive it like a “manual”, i.e take off with the lever in “2” instead of D.

These transmissions are programmed to work with the engine at a rev range that will yield the best fuel economy and the smoothest shifts. This rev range, sadly, does not fall within what we call the “power band” (this power band is usually found near the red line).

So the car tends to change gears at mid-range revs. By locking it in 2, the hooning driver is sure he will hit the red-line (peak power), at which point he slides the lever into 3. The gearbox, by now wondering what is going on, then goes into 3rd gear. Red line.

Slide into 4. Gearbox goes into 4th. Dial up to the red line. That is the point where we can now select D and let the gearbox do its thing. Ideal for winning a drag race in an automatic car, bad for fuel economy and gearbox life-span. Don’t try this at home.

The other situation in which these lever positions are used is even more impertinent for passenger cars: It is ideally used in pickups, heavy trucks and commercial vehicles (yes, some of these are also automatic), and that is when engine-braking.

Engine braking is when one uses the compression resistance of the engine to slow down the car. The lower the gear the transmission is in, the greater the retardation effect of the engine braking.

Engine braking is as simple as getting you foot off the accelerator when the car is in gear. The lever position (and hence gear “lock”) used depends on the severity of slope one is descending.

Very gentle slopes can be tackled in 4, and the position goes further down into 3 and 2 the steeper the downhill slant gets. So for gradients close to vertical, you had best be in 2 or L/1 if your car is so equipped.

I’d say go for any synthetic oil of the correct grade and viscosity index from a reputable brand. There are some oil brands that have been known to incur grief on many a penny-pinching motorist.

High performance oils (Shell Helix, Castrol GTX, Mobil 1 etc) are good but superfluous for an unstressed engine. And they cost a bit more, but at least that way you will be sure.

The coolant is OK, no problems with that, but to save some money on the forecourt, most motorists are advised to mix the coolant with water (in varying ratios, starting from 1:1 all the way to 1:9, depending on which “expert” you are talking to). Don’t put plain coolant into the radiator, it is a pointlessly expensive exercise.

Engine performance is good, because it is a 1.8. I’d say “gooder”, because it also has a turbo. Don’t take it off-road though. It is ideal for long distances, but requires to be watched very closely on short runs because, again, of the turbo.

Hello Baraza,

Folks have been buying some old luxury vehicles for their daily use of late, and I really do not understand the thinking because of the mechanical inefficiencies of these cars.

Still, I am interested in a classic Range Rover from the 1980-94 era, 3-litre EFi fitted with a manual transmission. Could you shed some light on this marque, especially on:

Reliability: As compared to its successors —the 4.0, 4.6 HSE, 4.4 Vogue/TD8 and the mighty, supercharged 5.0.

Safety: In terms of roll over, collapsible steering, cabin (is it comparable to the Mercs?

Simple Mechanics: As in any qualified mechanic or electrician can work on it.

Replacements: Timing chains and any other parts that wear out periodically.

A Chege

Pots and kettles, eh? Or is it “if you can’t beat them…”? Anyway, I’m not judging, I also desire to own and drive a Classic Rangie.

Reliability: Poor. Even poorer if it is factory-spec. Most members of owners clubs worldwide found ways of circumventing the Range Rover Classic’s various infidelities, so you might want to get cozy with these folks for a less painful experience. The 4.0 and 4.6 HSE were not much better, if anything, the 4.6 was notoriously fickle in the electrical department and when (not if) the air suspension leaked, the car became undriveable (this I say from experience).

The later models were a vast improvement, courtesy of BMW’s input into the production protocols.

Safety: Poor also. The frame chassis, built out of steel, meant your Range Rover Classic had the upper hand in case of an accident. But that was just it: the car had the upper hand, not you.

The shock wave transmitted through the chassis meant whiplash would become a common affliction for the accident-prone: your car would survive the accident, but you most likely wouldn’t.

These were the days before crumple zones and energy absorption were discovered (by Mercedes). Roll-over probability was also high for pre-1989 models. Hard cornering meant the door-handles would almost scrape the tarmac, but this was easily curable by installing stiff sway bars at the back and a strut tower bar at the front, which then made the engine almost inaccessible as the stabiliser would pass over the carburettors.

Rudimentary build and simple design mean these are cars whose biggest problems could be solved using a Hayne’s manual, a well-equipped toolbox, a spacious garage (or driveway) and a sense of determination.

There are jobs that will still test your skill to the limit, though: balancing the carburettors on the old 3.5 litre V8. You need a special tool and the patience of Job to get it right (this, again, from experience).

The rudimentary build in 3 above means replacing parts is easy. Also, the use of the modular V8 engine means you can pilfer parts from other cars, and not necessarily within the Rover family either. If you have the wherewithal, you could do the Overfinch Range Rover Classic: it has the 5.7 litre General Motors V8, which can be seen in any number of cars from the US to Australia.

Mr. Baraza,

I own a 1995 Mercedes Benz C180 which heats up to over 110 degrees and above in traffic jams or whenever I engage low gears, but it cools down to slightly below 80 degrees once I am out of the jam or engage high gears. One mechanic said it was the fan clutch, which I replaced and even removed the thermostat, but the problem persists. Otherwise, it’s a very good car. Please advise.

Ogall G Kennedy

Your mechanic says it’s the fan clutch then goes ahead and removes the thermostat? What gives? If the fan runs erratically (sometimes on, sometimes off, irrespective of condition), then the fan clutch is the problem.

My suggestion would have been to set the clutch in the permanently engaged position as a temporary fix. If the fan clutch is not working properly, removal of the thermostat may not really cure the symptom or problem.

If you choose this path (constant engagement), be careful to not leave your car with the ignition in the ON position (with the engine off) for too long because the fan might keep running on battery power and the car will refuse to start as a consequence.

Have you considered other possibilities? Have you checked the coolant level in the radiator? Maybe the radiator is full of dirt and the airways are partly clogged.

At rest, no air is going through so the engine heats up really fast, but in motion, the air is forced through the radiator courtesy of the car literally “cutting” through the air, so the engine cools as the car moves but warms up at rest.

Hi Baraza,

I’m a small scale farmer and have been using an old Ford Courier pick up whose maintenance cost is extremely high. I have seen a TATA pick up fitted with 2956cc diesel engine and a very spacious flat bed body.

The only problem is the roaring sound the engine makes — similar to that of a tractor! Would this be a good vehicle? My only alternative is a second-hand Toyota?

I don’t know much about the 207 DI (except for the reminder that some things clatter and roar in an uncharismatic manner, sounding almost as bad as our MPs demanding a Sh 9m-apiece send-off package).

No complaints have surfaced about this car (unlike the case with our parliamentarians) so I’m guessing it would not be a bad buy in the foreseeable future. Try one. At least you can rest assured that if it goes wrong it will not be expensive to maintain (again, unlike our Honorable Members): TATAs are easy on the pocket, both in purchase and running costs.


Habari ya leo? You have done some articles on the Galant GDI 1998 model in the past. Kindly share them with me. Also, I recently changed the rear shocks of my Galant and it’s now making some squeaky noises. What could be the cause? Looking forward to hearing from you.


I’ve actually only answered some few questions about the Galant, I have not done a full article on one yet. Maybe I should. The squeaky noises are because the shocks are new.

Give them some time to bed-in properly then they will be quiet. If they don’t shut the hell up then they are not sitting properly in their mounts (huge tolerances or out of line) and so some metal parts are rubbing against each other, creating the squeak. My vote is on the first surmise.



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