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Petrol Stations: Come on! You can do better than that!

I begin by warning that what I am about to narrate is brutal and disgusting in nature and if you have a weak spirit it will ruin you forever. I offer you the opportunity to stop reading this immediately and think yourself lucky to have escaped with your innocence intact.

A couple of months ago, some two gentlemen of my acquaintance convinced me to accompany them on a ride to Masinga Dam. I loved the idea because it was an opportunity for me to see how three bikes I love compare on the road. I was on a Bajaj Pulsar 200NS while the other two were on a Yamaha FZS-FI and a KTM Duke 200. The bike riding and sightseeing was alright, but it was what these two men did to me during a stop we made that defined my day. The two gentlemen are simple unsophisticated Christian men, whose reputation I do not wish to tarnish and I shall therefore not expose their identities by saying that they are called Peter and Danson.

The stop in question was a lunchbreak in a small ramshackle of a town near Masinga Dam called Kanyonyoo Market. I should have taken a hint from the name because it was a pitiable little town and all it could offer was readymade roast meat in a series of horrible looking butcheries that lined the road.

We got into one of the horrible butcheries and the enthusiastic butcher and his assistant led us to a grill that had heaps of roasted meat which to my trained eye, could not possibly be the goat they advertised. The bones were suspiciously too small and I thought it strange that it was on the same grill as intestines and other internal organs which I imagined were meant to mask the actual taste of the meat.

My simple unworldly companions laughed off my feline and canine suggestions and assured me that in Ukambani, people’s tastes were not as diverse. They seemed unperturbed so I reluctantly joined them in the feast.

When we returned to Nairobi, we each went our separate ways home and it was then that it happened. I had been feeling some abdominal discomfort since the suspicious lunch and it seemed things were getting worse. I determined that I would push on until the house but that determination lasted about one hundred meters when my stomach churned very violently and threaten to expel some elements in it there and then.

I grimaced involuntarily and tried to do the same at the opposite end of my anatomy, but my stomach was not having any of it. It had to expel the culprits and it could not wait a minute longer. I slowed the bike and tried all manner of movements on the seat hoping to reverse the looming onslaught but it was getting desperate. As luck would have it, I was riding through a heavily populated area and an emergency fertilization of the land would not be taken with kindness. Tears were welling and I was horrified it would turn into a full-blown trouser accident but I managed to muster some will power to hold because such an accident would mean I would have to remove the trousers before walking into the house and walking into the house with no trousers, I judged, would traumatize my people irreversibly.

Just as I was saying the words “take me Jesus”, a petrol station loomed into sight. I made for the nearest security guard and asked him where the lavatory was. He pointed it out and I rode right up to the door and leapt at the door handle only to find it was locked. Damn it! At this point, the churning in my stomach had turned into a boiling cauldron, especially at the sight of the respite. I tried to steady myself by the door and then let out a crude animal yell, asking the security guard to fetch me the key.

The security guard, whose lineage I was certain includes a tortoise, a chameleon and a sloth finally arrived. I stared at him with eyes that were a combination of pitiable puppy eyes and the bewilderment of a man being lynched, begging him to open the door. To sustain my dignity as he opened the door, I had crossed my legs into a double helix coil and TIG welded all the remaining gaps.

The disciplines of seismology, geology and meteorology, cannot sufficiently describe the thundering and sheer force with which my stomach evacuated. It was a brutal affair but after a minute or so, I regained a feeling of wellness. I was glad to have escaped with my dignity and I thought about the two evil men I had spent the day with and wondered if they too were in a petrol station somewhere or had succumbed in more embarrassing fashion. Whatever the case, I cursed them comprehensively, wishing them and all their all their descendants for all eternity the very worst.

My indignation subsided and as I slowly took in my surroundings, I realized that my ordeal was far from over – there was no means of acceptable sanitation. Why do petrol stations do that? For heaven’s sake, you are required by law to maintain a lavatory and what’s the sense in having one when it doesn’t have the very tools required to make a trip to it a success?

It is a wicked shame for oil marketing companies, some multinational, not to bother maintaining a lavatory and yet profit from the country’s citizens. It’s not that expensive I imagine, unless your petrol station is at Kanyonyoo Market, in which case I can excuse you because I know the whole town will be turning up every afternoon after lunch.

You must be keen to find out how I eventually got out, but I shall spare you the details and save myself extra embarrassment. I loved that t-shirt though, it was branded with my favorite musician of all time, the late Kiptesot arap Sang of the Junior Kotestes band.

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What bike to buy in 2017

I love listening to people go through the agony of choosing which bike to buy.

My friend Eric aptly calls it “Kung-fu”. In his mind, a sick one I might add, a person agonising over whether to pick a KTM Duke 200 with ABS or one without, is akin to a Kung fu fighter kicking, chopping and performing all manner of violent acts in the air before finally settling on top of a mountain with one foot on the ground and another held up.

When the agony moves to whether it’s actually worth it spending a fortune on the Duke 200 when you could get virtually the same engine and gearbox on a Pulsar AS200 at almost half the price, Eric imagines that the Kung fu fighter has leapt from the top of the mountain, hurled himself across the landscape, kicking everything that’s standing before settling once again on a small twig at the top of the tallest tree in the forest.

I love Kung fu. It’s an absolutely necessary process because it helps justify decisions and creates a feeling of satisfaction, which if you ask me, is more important than the actual value of the bike. As a person that sells bikes, I have been on the receiving end of thousands of such fights. I have had my neck snapped, my head punched and my legs twisted until I tap out. Sometimes I punch back to keep the fight going but some people are very rude and they react by kicking me straight in the plums.

I write this because I know that several new year resolutions have “Get new bike” or “Upgrade bike” somewhere in them and so I imagine the country is awash with bikers looking for their black belts and getting ready for Kung fu. This article is therefore meant to help you begin the fight or at least show you to the right battlefield.

The broad categories

There are six main categories of bikers (and hence bikes): Those that love racing (sports bikes), those that like falling over and being dirty (off-road bikes), those that love looking good but only in urban areas (street bikes), those that love touring the country (touring bikes) and those that love wearing leather vests, taking oaths and keeping long armpit hair (cruiser bikes).

You might know what category you fall into but question is, at what level are you?

Levels of bikers

The first level is the one-percenters. These are people who feel the urge to ride a BMW R1200GS and they go to Bavaria Auto to get one. You are not a one-percenter if you go to Car and General to get a TVS Apache, read on because I will be putting you in your place soon. This level belongs to those that can afford the best of what the world has to offer right now.

The second level is the decent-second-handers. These are people who want to get a brand new R1200GS but economic considerations make them settle for decent second hand bikes. These are usually well kept bikes from South Africa, the US, the UK and other such places; bikes that might be second hand but still are expensive and very good indeed. I love this level of bikers the most because they are pioneers who suffer the cost of importing and owning a bike not supported by a dealership all because of love. These are the true bikers if you ask me.

I like to call the third level the fake-it-till-you-make-it people. These are the folks that will get a horribly old and broken Suzuki Hayabusa and nurse it to ill health, all for the scant reward of telling people they own the fastest bike in the world. These are the chaps whose bikes break down during every group ride and they have a shortcut and an explanation for every single ailment on their bike. They know the mechanic’s children and wife a little too intimately and if you look under their beds, you will find a minefield of broken headlights, fairing pieces, cables and old chains. This level is mainly characterised by bikes from Uganda. The idea here is to own a bike with a respectable name, irrespective of how it treats you.

The gradual-progress level belongs to those that are not able to break the bank the way the one-percenters or the decent-second handers do, but still want a unique and decent bike to begin with. They prefer to begin with smaller cc bikes and slowly learn the art of riding in the hope of eventually buying their dream bike. The more discerning of this type go for very well made bikes that offer good value for money despite the bikes not being immediately available in the country. For example, bikes from the Bajaj Pulsar range and other global brands with licences to manufacture in India such as KTM Duke, Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki and Piaggio. They know that these Indian manufactured bikes are genuinely well made and priced to offer great value for money.

The final level is the dealership-only fellows. These are people that treasure the comfort in numbers and perception of good service that dealerships such as Car and General offer. It is the place that Mr. TVS Apache belongs. Nobody in this group actually wants the bike they own, it’s just that it makes so much sense to buy a bike from a shop you can see and a bike you have seen at least a thousand others riding. They are a sensible lot I agree, but very boring.

Making the decision

By now it should be pretty straightforward then as to what category you belong and at what level you operate. You will find dealers and a community that will help you choose the best bike. You will also find groups of riders that share your interests and ideas about social life so whatever bike you choose, you will not be lonely.

I should also tell you that pillions, people that don’t own bikes but are always riding on one, are there in plenty and they too are of different categories and levels. I shall not delve into that today because my research is inconclusive but I thought you should know that once again, whatever bike you choose, you will not be lonely.

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This Week On Car Clinic: Tiguans & Touaregs, Noahs & Voxys, And a Farmer’s Pickup

Hi JM,

I have been looking around the Web for a blog with your articles. It seems there’s none. It’s a bit hard to find older articles on

But now to my question: There are rumours and assertions that VW Tiguans and Touaregs have lots of gear/engine problems, especially as you head to/pass the 50,000km mark. Is it that our mechanics don’t quite understand this German car or could it be true that our fuel is too dirty for their engines. Or is it the manufacturer’s mistake? A look at a US car complaint website also hints at unexplained errors, such as the cars stalling unexpectedly.

Please assist.


Hello Asaph,

There is a repository for a number of my past articles as well as some material that was not meant for, or could not make it, to the newspaper. This includes videos, more of which I will be uploading in the next few days.

Yes, on to your question. Rumours and assertions are what I get both on this page and in my various engagements with people out there in the real world, and I will admit I’ve not heard much about the Tiguan. It seems as rock solid a car as one can possibly hope for, and the only issues I seem to trace online centre around the cooling system, more commonly (but overall infrequently) found in 2007-2009 cars. The problem is nothing that a simple fix can’t cure, so I can declare (until further notice) that the Tiguan is what millenials call “one hundred”.

The Touareg? Not so much. The second generation car is a massive improvement of the original, whose main flaws were inherent in the build and had nothing to do with mechanical or electrical glitches.

The first car was so flawed that a friend who bought one sold it before long due to the intense dislike he developed for it during the very brief period he had it.

I will not delve into those flaws (uncomfortable ride, hard and slippery seats) because I have done so already (poor rear visibility, shady looks) on a number of occasions (medieval gearbox, complicated and needless V10 engine).

The biggest problem we had with the Mk. I Touareg was actually our own fault, not the car’s. The diesel engine could not run for long on the derv available from the black pump in fuel forecourts across the nation, and DPF clogging became a topic that we soon got very intimate with.

You can’t blame the car for failing to run after feeding it the basest sort of sulfur-laden muck, can you? People in the energy industry will be quick to comment —sometimes in all caps — that nowadays the entire diesel supply is imported (as opposed to what? Did we used to dig up our own before?) so the quality is world class (as low as 50 ppm, down from 500, they might add) and any euro 6 engine will run fine with it… Yea, I don’t think so. We might be getting diesel so fresh that it is safe to cook with, but we have these people called distributors and some of them are callous knaves who are not above adulterating the content for the sake of expanding their already wide and ill-gotten profit margins. How do you handle that, Mr. Oil-Industry Executive?

How widespread are the complaints on the American website? The unexpected stalling could be a few isolated cases, and given that it is coming from a whiny demographic that solves the most insignificant problems either through declaration of war or via class action lawsuits, I might not take it too seriously.

Volkswagen, as an entity, has been on the back foot Stateside ever since the emissions scandal came about and Toyota found itself having to account for several deaths after their accelerator pedals stuck open and the affected drivers did not have the presence of mind to shift their transmissions into neutral instead hugging their families as they awaited impact at 190km/h. The Americans could be complaining about nothing.

I, on the other hand, checked out a few British forums (England is where we are more likely to import a used Touareg from anyway, not the US) and the reviews there are all glowing. No derision, no vilification, no major complaints. These, by the way, are about the second generation car.


Dear Sir,

Thanks for the good work you are doing, resolving our motoring issues.

I own a 2001 Toyota Runx. Its mileage reads 191km on the odometer. Is there a time when a vehicle comes to the end of its working life? So far everything is okay. I try to ensure  that maintenance is done, that is, changing oil as required, topping up all the engine fluids like I should and replacing parts at the slightest warning sign – no major parts though, just routine (fan belt, water pump, bushes, shocks, etc). Is there a way of extending the life of a vehicle? The car does about 40 km a day to work and back (city traffic) and a couple of trips upcountry per year. 



Hello Kenneth,

Good work on the maintenance aspect. That is exactly how to run a car, and to answer your question: that is also exactly how to extend the life of the engine.

There is a time when the engine comes to the end of its usefulness, and that depends on how it was used.

There isn’t an actual solid figure, but most small engines will become white elephants past the 500,000km mark, though there are a few that made it to a million kilometres. The rule of thumb is, the larger and more unstressed the engine (doesn’t need high revs to do its best work), the longer it will last. Truck and bus engines are supposed to go as high as 5 million kilometres.

The daily mileage you mention is also very important. I’d advise most car owners out there to ensure that most of the time they crank the engine, they won’t be driving distances less than 20km in one hit.

This allows everything to warm up properly and the oil to circulate to its best, keeping things in order. Shorter runs mean the oil might not warm up properly and a lot of drive time is spent with no oil in the moving parts, which greatly increases wear and tear.

That is why I have managed to put another 14,000 trouble-free kilometres on the Legacy I got a mere nine months ago. The odometer is hovering around the 200,000km mark now and the engine still purrs like new. Oil it properly and it will serve you well.



Between the Toyota Noah 2010 and Toyota Voxy 2010, both with 2000cc engines, is there any difference in terms of fuel efficiency, mechanical problems, or availability of spares? I see more Toyota Noahs on the road than the Voxys; could there be something unique to the Noah. I am planning to buy one of them in future.



These two are the same car. The only differences are in trim and ride height, with the Voxy riding lower and looking fancier and hence costs just a little bit more depending on mileage, but they really are the same car.


Hi Baraza,

Thanks for your  informative column.  I can never wait for the next.

I have two issues that I need your advise on.

  1. I am getting into commercial poultry farming, I will be having local clientèle, supplying eggs and broilers. I need a pickup truck for this work and I am torn between the Toyota Hilux single cab and Isuzu DMAX single cab, (you have compared these two pickups before) but my worry is that a local mechanic tells me the DMAX comes with a turbo that is somewhat problematic, while the Hilux comes with  the D4D engine that seems to upset everyone online; is this true?

In my view, the new-look DMAX is a bit higher/raised, which is somehow a good thing compared with the Hilux, which is always in the same position – I would say low. Which one should I go for between these two.

(PPS Is there something like a Toyota Hilux High Rider and is the Toyota Tundra available locally? Can it do this work)

  1. In the recent past, there has been a remarkable increase in the commercial usage of the Mercedes Sprinter, Ford Transit, Volkswagen Transporter, mainly as PSVs, with some modified to serve as hearses. Between these three vans, which one would you advise me to go for? Please note that I am not getting into the PSV business; maybe I will have it for hire.

Brian Bwana

Hi Brian,

  1. Poultry farming, eh? Tasty vocation. Well, I do have an answer for you, but not from the perspective you gave. I’d say get the DMAX for one very simple reason: it is more comfortable than the Hilux. Every single example of the two cars I have driven yielded the same outcome: the ride in the DMAX is a lot less jarring compared withthe Hilux, whether single cab or double.

Given that you will be ferrying live animals and eggs, your needs here focus more on comfort than outright firepower. You don’t want to shatter the skeletons of those broilers, do you? And your eggs are not ordered broken and pre-scrambled, are they? This is where the DMAX wins. Toyota will have my skin for this, but it is what it is.

The turbo in the DMAX is not problematic, at least not as far as I know. Run it as you would any other turbocharged engine (install a timer, use the right oil, and avoid overloading the turbo with insane throttle applications) and it will serve you faithfully.

The DMAX comes from the dealer with both high-riding and low-riding formats for the single-cab.

Toyota also has both, but locally, the high-riding single cab was discontinued, I don’t know why. In case it has been reinstated, they should let us know.

The Tundra is a  United States Domestic Market (USDM) car and is mostly available as LHD. I am yet to spot a RHD Tundra. It is a massive vehicle that will cost you a pretty penny; the Tacoma is more analogical to the Hilux and probably more appropriate, but then again, it is a Hilux, only reskinned for more contemporary models; why go for an American LHD car when there is a more familiar RHD available?

  1. Interesting question this. Now, I am not very familiar with the other two (Volkswagen and Ford), only with the Mercedes, which is very good in its own way, but this is one rare instance where I will follow the democratic method and say go for the Ford.

This car outsells the competition on a scale not seen since Microsoft Windows became a monopoly many seasons ago, and surely there has to be a solid reason behind it. It is affordable, it is reliable, it is versatile, it is powerful, it is economical, it sells by the million in Europe.

Sure, the Sprinter also has these qualities and probably the Transporter as well, but why would the Transit outsell them that badly? And this is in Europe where they take their cars and car reviews seriously.

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This Week On Car Clinic: Why You Can’t Get A Tesla Model X… Yet

Hello Baraza,

I’ve been a loyal reader of your column  and  admire the advice you give. My question  regards electric cars. The likes of Tesla Motors’ Model X. I’ve been reading a lot about this car in foreign tech blogs and so far it seems people are very impressed with it .My question is, do you think there is potential for this car in Kenya? If somehow I were able to import it,  what kind of challenges do you think I would face, apart from the charging issue? Would you advise me to buy it? 

Kirtan Patel

Hello Patel,

I seriously doubt that there is potential for this car in Kenya. Get me right – I did not say this type of car, but this particular one and here is why:

  1. Left-Hand Drive and the American (USDM) export rules: First, Tesla is an American car company that  does not export to right-hand drive markets, which means that all the vehicles they make are exclusively left-hand drive. Besides the sometimes-here-sometimes-not embargo by the Kenya government on the importation of left-hand drive vehicles, there is the fact that these cars will be quite tricky to drive on our keep-left traffic setup, more so on a two-lane single carriageway. For instance, how would you overtake?

The United States is a strange place. To buy a high-end vehicle such as a Mercedes-Benz or a Range Rover, one has to undergo a background check and vetting to ensure one will not export it to the Middle East in general, and to the Taliban and/or the Islamic State in particular. China, too, seems to be blacklisted and there is an actual database of motor vehicle dealers expressly banned from exporting vehicles. The exportation seems to be a real problem, especially given that limited inventory and high tariffs in the affected areas mean that wealthy customers are willing to pay up to three times the advertised price for a black market car.

The illegality of this under-the-table export is not fully understood, but manufacturers want to squash it for two reasons: loss of sales and loss of money in future. Loss of sales stems from the fact that the insane import taxes levied on top-tier cars means that a company like Land Rover will sell their Range Rover luxury SUV for close to half a million dollars in China, but through the black market they get nothing. This leads to the second problem: paid-for after-sales service. From the initial lost sale also comes lost revenue in post-sale maintenance and repairs not covered by warranty.

Now, if non-domestic US sellers such as Mercedes-Benz and Range Rover can get really hot under the collar about such exports, what about a homegrown company like Tesla? Besides the revenue loss, there is the real fear that the vehicle might end up in a market that does not respect intellectual property rights and the car might be reverse engineered. With this in mind, who, exactly, is going to sell a Tesla to a Kenyan?

To make matters worse, your name betrays your race and the anecdotal evidence that pointed me towards this little bit of information in the first place arose from an incident in which a New Jersey Mercedes-Benz dealership got sued for discrimination on racial grounds by a man of Indian descent who went to  buy a GL Class SUV and was told he could not have one because he might sell it to the Taliban, simply because of his name and skin colour; never mind that the Taliban have nothing to do with India or vice versa. This was overlooking the fact that the man is a US citizen and had bought Benzes for the past 30 years without incident. Now, look at the man who has just been voted in as president of the US and tell me racial discrimination will not go away. Can you?

  1. Supercharging: Elon Musk chose a strange word to describe the ultra-quick battery charging technique for his electric cars. Supercharging typically means forced induction for an internal combustion engine; but in Tesla’s case, it means charging an electric car really fast.

There is a dedicated Supercharger Network set up all over the United States exclusively for use by Tesla owners and it has been free of charge (pun intended) for unlimited use. Incidentally, Tesla just announced that from  January 2017, the charging will also be free, but only up to 400 kWh, after which owners have to pay for the electricity. Apart from that, Tesla still recommends normal charging with electricity that comes out of the wall at home and at work when the vehicle is not in use.

Even if you do manage to import a Tesla, what will be the pecuniary sense behind spending astronomical sums (Teslas are damn expensive) buying one if you are not going to enjoy the associated benefits?

  1. Maintenance and Recalls: Lately, the motor vehicle manufacturing industry has been inundated with a flurry of recalls surrounding issues as insignificant as technical service bulletins (TSBs) for minor electrical glitches (General Motors’ ignition switch fiasco) to those as grave and expensive as the multimillion dollar settlements following the deaths of end users (the Takata airbags saga).

Should the car you buy be affected by a recall, replacement of parts and/or the vehicle itself will be out of your own pocket since you operate it in a place where they did not sell the car in the first place. And you will replace your car to avoid lawsuits; car companies go as far as hiring bounty hunters to track every single vehicle down and bully the owner into honoring the recall.


I love the good work you do but of late you appear to have lost your way somewhat. I believe the nascent motoring class that buys the paper on Wednesdays to read  Car Clinic does so to get answers to mundane and everyday motoring issues. Certainly not to be bored with your out-of-this- world experiences driving through the Namib Desert sands. Who does that except maybe you and Maina Kigeni. 

I certainly don’t believe readers want full-page examination and detailing of expensive European cars that are out of their range, like the Jaguar you reviewed in two articles. I believe the upscale readers who want those details have other avenues and magazines to pore through, like What Car and Monthly Motor, among others. I don’t want to sound like Trump, but this is a family newspaper and your readership is not as advanced.              

Now my question is, what’s your take on the new instant fines  by the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA), especially the one that makes it criminal to drive with your arm hanging out of the window. Does anybody do that? I personally like driving with my arm resting on the window, not outside, with the glass rolled down, especially when it is very hot.  Is that not taking away our mundane civil liberties?


Greetings, Sir,

You are the one who seems to have wandered into the wrong room. The nascent motoring class would do well to upgrade their knowledge through exposure to more advanced material rather than stagnate in the highly repetitive albeit popular Car Clinic Q&A back-and-forth.

If you found the Namibia experience  boring, then I apologise. I will turn up the linguistic wick one or two notches and hope for your attention next time. What I am not going to do is stop the narratives. When you say readers don’t want a full-page examination and detailing of motor vehicles, you speak for yourself. There are those who find Car Clinic monotonous. So who do I listen to? The whole idea behind the detailed review is to kill the need for questions week in week out: have you any idea how trying it is when seven weeks in a row one gets the same request to compare a Toyota RAV4 to a Subaru Forester? Why not just do an in-depth review of the two cars and keep things moving?

When a car manufacturer forks out millions of shillings to plop me in the middle of the desert the way  General Motors did in Namibia, or Range Rover in Morocco , it is because they have seen it fit to engage me,   and they expect two things:

  1. Direct and honest feedback on what I think of the car as a representative of the people’s voice based on the following I have established over the years.
  2. Dissemination of accurate information about the motor vehicle:  what is good or bad  about it, whether or not it makes sense, and what they can get for their money should they buy one.

It, therefore, follows that if I return home and shut up about the car, I have let down my side of the deal.  What is involved here is social responsibility, not an urge to please a few individuals.

Clearly, you are new to this page. This column started six  years ago with the exact same reviews that you claim are sending you to sleep, and the birth of Car Clinic was incidental from that beneficial concord between the Nation Media Group and myself. The original name was Behind The Wheel/Car Review because that is what I would  do: I would  get behind the wheel of vehicles that run the gamut from Premios and NZEs to Nissan GTRs and supercharged Jaguars to Hino trucks and Scania juggernauts, and I reviewed them all. This is a motoring column, not a private consultancy.

To cut a long story short, progress is moving upwards to be level with those above you instead of pulling them down. If part of my readership is not advanced, they’d better catch up with their more sophisticated colleagues real fast because forward is where we are moving.  Car Clinic continues, but so will the full-page narratives.


I have spoken against some of the rules enforced by the NTSA several times for their thoughtlessness (in the same full-page examinations that you are averse to), and this is just but the latest in a string of knee-jerk statutes dreamt up in the heat of the moment by a body that seems less focused on pride in its work and more locked in a struggle to maintain its relevance and justify its existence.

The idea behind this particular ordinance is to criminalise the extremely dangerous habit of dangling outside a moving vehicle commonly espoused by touts on PSVs. A few individuals in private cars also practice this foolish manoeuvre at great risk to themselves. The problem comes in when the authority tasked with reining in this obvious lack of wisdom does not take the time to draft up a bullet-proof law that will simultaneously eliminate the problem while still sidestepping the delicate issue of infringement on civil rights and liberties.

If there is an ombudsman for this kind of issue, they should ask one simple question: what if the driver has to make a hand signal?

The last time I checked, hand signals were not only legal, but were also highly recommended for the sake of making one’s intentions as clear as possible to make the lives of fellow motorists easier. Should I make my hand signals from inside the car and hope that other drivers have some sort of penetrative, voyeuristic vision that enables them to see my hands all the way down to where the gear lever is?

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This Week On Car Clinic: The Problem With Mitsubishis

Hi JM,

I am a Mitsubishi fan, period. Having said that, you’ll have to forgive me if I am a little biased towards cars Mits. I love the Evos, and I can’t help ogling at the Outlander, especially, the Roadest.

Anyway, I want to acquire an Outlander, so I have to try and be realistic regarding whether I can live with one or not. So,would you please tell me what you know about the Outlanders, 2000cc and 2400cc? Their evolution since 2006 in terms of performance, fuel efficiency and safety/reliability? 

 I know they are beautiful, so you can skip that. Can you also try to demystify the much-touted MIVEC?

Nyawa Mwangulu.

Hello Nyawa,

The problem with Mitsubishis is if they are good,they are very good. Take a gander at the Lancer Evolution and the Fuso line of trucks: paragons of excellence in their respective fields. However, when Mitsubishis are bad, they are damn near pathetic. Steal a glance at the ordinary Lancer saloon. Boring car, further marred by constant unreliability. The Pajero would be an awesome off-roader if it wasn’t so soft – literally. The thing bends and splits along the B pillar if you are always going down the untrodden path. Then there is the Outlander.

The performance is so-so, nothing spectacular for its field despite the extra cubic inches from the 2.4 litre engine (most of its rivals hover around the 2.0 litre mark). Fuel efficiency is very good if you drive like a coward; put your foot down and all that MIVEC-GDI sorcery focuses on not getting left behind and forgets that fuel economy is a real thing. Turn on the taps and the thirst becomes apparent. Safety ratings look impressive: five stars each for drivers and passengers (as well as their seats), with the not-quite-fly-in-the-ointment four stars going to general rollover rating.

A deeper look reveals that while most parameters receive the maximum “good” mark, the safety cage, roof strength and passenger foot wells can only manage as second best score of “average” at best. Not bad at all. As far as reliability goes, the Outlander does not wield a strong club when it comes to street cred. Many are the lamentations against it, its electrical systems and its automatic transmission. I’d give it a pass and steer towards a Honda CRV should the need to buy one of these vehicles arise.

MIVEC stands for Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing Electronic Control. It is analogous to Toyota’s VVT-i and Honda’s famous VTEC in that valve timing is controlled electronically to optimise power and torque outputs. In essence, the camshafts have two profiles: a low performance, high-efficiency setup for low rev operations such as when going to the shops or to church, and a high-performance (and thirsty), high rev gig for when you notice a Subaru Forester in your mirrors and it has a hood scoop.


Hi Baraza,

I am about to buy my first car and I am yet to decide between the Honda Stream and Subaru Exiga (without turbo). Which one is better in terms of maintenance costs, fuel consumption, efficiency and availability of spare parts? I am yet to see you review any of these vehicles in your articles. 



Hello Wanjohi,

The reason you have not seen a review, however cursory, of a Subaru Exiga is because I have never written one. This in turn is because I am yet to drive one and the vehicle is still new enough on our shores for there to be a dearth of intimate knowledge about long-term ownership implications. That said, it is a Subaru: the availability of spare parts is a given, efficiency is 50:50 depending on many things, consumption is the same as efficiency (why did you use two different expressions to ask about the same thing?) and maintenance costs will be comparatively higher than those of cars in the same class.

The reason you have not seen a review, however cursory, of a Honda Stream is because you probably failed to buy the paper on the material day I wrote it. For your sake I will repeat it (more or less). It is becoming fairly common so parts are easily available. It is very efficient, this car. However: try not to pursue Exigas in it if you want to maintain its teetotalling tendencies. While maintenance costs are not exactly punitive (given the car’s reliability), keep an eye peeled for profiteering seekers of fast money who will regale you with tall tales about how you need platinum plugs with four electrodes that sell for three grand apiece. You don’t need them – ordinary plugs will do.


Hi Baraza,

There’s this car that my dad owned that kicked the petrol head in me. 

His first car was a Peugeot  504 station wagon. It was a speedy car and the revs used to sound  “cool”. Then one day he showed up with a “smaller” car (a 1979 B210 Datsun Coupe).  I hated it the first time I saw it. It had two doors. But once I got inside, I thought I was looking at a Boeing cockpit. The car’s dashboard used to light up in a “beautiful” green and everything about this small car seemed so beautiful. That is where my love for “sporty cars” started.

I wish you could do a review of this gem of a car.



You are right, Moses, this was  one beautiful car. They don’t make them like they used to, huh? I’d do a review if I could get my hands on one, so to any readers out there who have such a unit (and that includes Moses’ Dad) and are willing to submit it for a temporary testing regime, get in touch with us at this address. It’s about time I did another classic car review.


Hi Baraza,

I join other fans in applauding you for the very informative and educating weekly column on all things cars.

I have driven a Toyota Voxy 2006 for three years now and it has served me well in spite of its very low ground clearance.  I wish to upgrade to either a Mitsubishi Outlander, Honda CRV or Subaru Forester. I do weekly return trips between Nairobi and Eldoret and will be changing residence very soon, which will entail regulalry covering a two-kilometre stretch of rough road that can be very challenging during the rainy season. I have enjoyed the versatility of the Voxy in terms of space whenever the  need arose but it  will be a nightmare in my  new residence.

Kindly advise on a better choice between the three  SUVs in terms of reliability, durability, comfort and economy. My budget is Kshs1.7m

James Chebii


Hello Chebii,

This will be fairly easy. You have a choice between the Outlander, the CRV and the Forester, right? Your criteria include reliability, durability, comfort and economy, right? And you have at hand Sh 1.7 million. I’m assuming you want a fresh import; not metal that has already endured Kenyan hands on Kenyan roads with Kenyan driving styles and Kenyan maintenance, right? So here goes:

The Outlander is summarily dismissed from the list because it fails on the reliability and durability fronts (see today’s response to one Nyawa Mwangulu above). So that one is out. The CRV follows suit in making a rapid exit because you will not get one for 1.7 million, unless you source it yourself from wherever they come from; and at that price range you will be dabbling with high-mileage examples.

That leaves us with the Forester. Problem solved.


Dear Baraza,

Please advise between the following cars using the parameters of cost, maintenance, versatility, running ease, prestige and availability in the local market.

VW toureg

Toyota Vanguard/RAV 4 (what is the difference)

Ford Escape

Subaru Forester

Mitsubishi Outback

Toyota Hilux double cab/Isuzu DMAX double Cab/Ford Ranger double cab (please compare the pick-ups)

Honda CRV

Toyota Harrier/Lexus

Suzuki Escudo

Please help because my wife and I can’t seem to agree on which one to buy. My budget is Sh 2 million to Sh2.5 million  for a car that is not more than six years old , that is  2010 made. Also, do not hesitate to advise on other cars that you think fit my criteria.

Stephen Mbugua.


Interesting quandary, this. I will give the ratings relative to each other, on a scale of zero (“you’d rather walk than buy this”) to five (“you should be transferring money by the time you are done reading this”)

*: The difference between a Vanguard and a RAV is one or two extra inches of wheelbase length in favour of the Vanguard

**:Subaru Outback. Mitsubishi Outlander. There’s no such thing as a Mitsubishi Outback.

***: I have compared these pickups countless times before.

****: There are some differences between the Lexus RX and the Toyota Harrier, much as they are the same car.

Disclaimer: for a car newer than YOM 2010 on a budget of Sh2.5 million means you will have to scrap half the list, leaving only the Fozzie, Escape, Outlander, Escudo and CRV. All the rest will cost more than the 2.5 you have budgeted for.


Hello Baraza,

I am an ardent reader of your very  informative column. I am in a dilemmat trying to decide between the Nissan skyline 250GT and the Mark X 250G. I am looking for something sporty and reliable.


Get the Mark X. It is more reliable than the Skyline, plus the replacement model is hot.


Hi JM,

I’m a big fan of yours and now need some help on an issue that has been bogging me down.

I have a 2006 Peugeot 307 with overheating issues. I’ve tried all manner of fixes but the problem persists. I’ve changed the water pump, thermostat and switch, head gasket, flushed the radiator system but the overheating persists.

The Funny thing is that this mostly happens when I am stuck in a jam or driving at low speed. Once I pick up speed, the temperature gauge moves to around 90. I’ve tried driving with the fan on and AC temperature at maximum but when I slow down.

it displays “stop” on the dashboard  and temp gauge reaches the red line. Someone mentioned  that it could be the ECU or coolant temperature sensor acting up but before I replace them, I need a second opinion 



I’ll give you a third opinion instead. Sell it while you still can. If you can manage to sell it “as is”, then do so, sinking any more money into it might prove futile, frustrating and you might  end up shopping for a stool and a rope.

The thing with Peugeots is that remote diagnosis is rarely accurate as their myriad problems could be caused by anything, from as serious as poor maintenance to as fickle as poor weather.

Posted on

This Week On Car Clinic: Comparing Apples To Saucers – The Premio & The Rush

Hello Baraza,

I’m looking forward to owning my first car. I don’t know much about cars but I have always admired the Premio and Toyota Rush. Kindly advise me between the two which is better for a first-time car owner and why.


Hello Winnie,

An odd selection you have here. These two cars occupy different niches. I will not say which is better or which you should buy; that you will decide  yourself. However, I will tell you about each car’s unique idiosyncrasies that might enable you to make a choice.

The Rush is a tiny little wannabe. It really is minuscule –  inside and out. It is not exactly pretty, it is buzzy and revvy at speed owing to its short gearing, it is adversely affected by crosswinds and the small 1.5 litre engine does struggle a bit at a rather noisy, wide open throttle.

The Premio, on the other hand, is roomy by comparison and will seat five without too much compromise. It has a much smoother engine, making it a comfortable cruiser (comparatively). The saloon car profile and stellar build quality means noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) containment is impressive.

It is available with three engines: a 1.5, a 1.8 and a 2.0, the last of which could easily make short work of all but the most demanding of driving tasks.

There are caveats to the Premio. For starters, they are overpriced: they cost as much as BMWs in the used car market, while they are not exactly at BMW level of premium niceness. Blame the “Toyotarisation” of the Kenyan motoring public.

That high price tag notwithstanding, there’s a whole lot of them trundling about, which presents its own set of problems. You will never stand out anywhere, you will look like a taxi or Uber contractor, and sundry accessories such as side mirrors will be stolen off you on a regular basis, if not the vehicle itself.

Parking a car with a large-ish rump like such a saloon also calls for a bit of practice, now that you say you are a first timer. You need to understand your car’s dimensions intimately to avoid scrapes and dents.

The Rush, being such an oddball, is quite cheap, both by comparison and for what it is. There are a number of them around but their population density is not such that you are likely to find two of them parked next to each other.

Its compact dimensions and large glasshouse makes all-round visibility damn near excellent and the lack of a dedicated sedan trunk means parking it is very easy without external assistance.

The Rush has the bonus of its goat-like go-anywhere ability. It might be a wannabe, but it is a capable little wannabe. Its off-road mettle is almost at par with that of the big boys owing to its 4WD, high ground clearance, short wheelbase and nonexistent overhangs. Rhino Charge on a budget, you might call it, but only up to a point – a point you are unlikely to reach or discover.



I respect your vast knowledge of cars, that’s why I need your expert advice. I am thinking of buying a car, preferably a Toyota Passo because that’s what I can afford. But the problem is that it seems so small, especially the tyres, yet I live in rough terrain. So I am thinking of either the Passo or Nissan Note. Regarding performance and consumption, which one would you advise me to buy? Also, is it safe to modify the Passo and put bigger tyres? And finally, what is the carrying capacity of each car?



Funny question, this one. How big a difference is there between a Passo and a Note in size terms? Not that big, right? That means both consumption and performance (Why?) will be exactly as you expect them to be: easy on the pocket and of very low quality respectively.

Bigger tyres might make the car develop weird driving characteristics and possibly affect the accuracy of the speedometer, the odometer and ABS calibration, but this is only marginal at worst, and it only applies if the change in size is dramatic. The carrying capacity is also not a talking point, though I’ll admit the Note does seem superior at first glance.

I have a question of my own: why are you limiting yourself to just those two? Look wider and ignore the registration because this reeks of another plate-buying bent: you want a car with as recent a number plate as possible for the financial outlay at hand rather than a car that can serve your exact needs, hence your admission that you can afford only a Passo.

How about a used Rush? It will cover rough terrain painlessly and it has a bigger carrying capacity compared to the two midgets you are considering. It is not exactly thirsty either, but forget about performance whenever you are discussing such vehicles; you don’t want to go fast in them anyway.


Hi Baraza,

Once again, awesome job you are doing with your articles. For both motorist and non-motorists alike, you’ve become the go-to guy when it comes to everything vehicular! I am not resident in Kenya, so I follow your column religiously online.

Now to my query: I have been driving a Mitsubishi Outlander since 2005, the same year I bought it new. It has served me well and I still adore the old girl. However, it has developed a peculiar habit of late.

Every time I brake, the steering wheel starts shaking furiously, a feeling that I also acutely feel being transmitted through the brake pedal pulsating (for lack of a better word) with almost the same intensity as the steering wheel.

I’m seeking your opinion on the possible cause and remedy so that when I take it for repair, I don’t come across as a clueless idiot ready to be taken advantage of by the mechanic.


Greetings, Dweller of the Diaspora,

I am glad that my scribbling is not only available, but also both accessible and accessed in foreign lands. It is my honour to be of service.

Your problem is fairly straightforward: you have a serious case of warped brake discs. There are two cures for this:

  1. Skim the discs, but this does not always work and in some cases it weakens the disc and might lead to fracturing at some point down the road.


  1. Replace the discs. This might  be costly, but it is guaranteed to solve your problem permanently.

Keep reading this column and I will keep writing it….


Hi Baro,

I recently bought a 2008 BP5 Subaru Legacy 2.0 (naturally aspirated, not turbo). 

  1. What is the rated BHP and MPG (city driving) for these cars? I checked online and got different answers. 


  1. The people  at the centre I took it to for alignment insist that they have to adjust the  caster and camber whereas my mechanic tells me, “Hakuna kitu kama hiyo. Hizi gari hazina camber (There’s nothing like that. These cars don’t have cambers).” Who is taking me for a ride here? 


  1. My windows make a horrendous screeching sound when opened. My mechanic says I need to replace the “rubbers” (which I gather are the black things that would prevent water/dust from getting into my window winding mechanism) to sort this out. Where can I have this sorted out properly.  


  1. My car has “eaten” the front mud guards (Is that what they are called? The plastic underside things that prevent dirt, water, and mud from getting to the engine).  Where can I have them replaced properly? 


  1. Finally, what can I do to get more perfomance out of the engine (short of installing a blower)? 


Great stuff you’re doing educating us, novices. 



Hello Karo (I can call you that, right?)

  1. The reason you are getting varied answers is because the answers are varied. If we are to be pedantic, there is no definite answer to these two questions because, as  I have explained here so many times, fuel economy figures are never constant, and neither are the factors that affect them.  The engine output also varies, depending on altitude and fuel grade.

The higher you go, the cooler it becomes, we were told in primary school geography but the higher you go, the thinner the air is also. Naturally aspirated engines work best at sea level; at high altitude they begin to slowly suffocate. High octane fuel also means a much lower knock count, enabling the ECU to run the engine with marginally higher ignition timing.

If you want to know the exact outputs of your vehicle (in particular), for the power you will have to put the car on a dynamometer,  aka a rolling road, colloquially known as a “dyno”. For the economy test, I will say it one more time: fill your tank to the brim, activate your trip computer, drive around for some time then refill your tank. Note the litres taken during the refill and the reading on the trip computer. Do the maths from there.

  1. Your mechanic is a charlatan. He either cannot express himself accurately (by using wrong terminology) or he does not know much about suspension systems. Either way he is lying.
  2. Quite a character this Mr Mech is, ey? Do this: step outside your car, wind the window up and down and observe the gapping between the rubber seals and the glass pane. Also try and observe where the noise is coming from. The seals are not guilty, right?

As I write this I have just returned from my electrician who was fixing a similar problem on my car (also a Subaru Legacy).

Now, my mech alleges that this is a common problem with Subarus, and a joint troubleshooting session revealed that the winder motors and the joints on the mechanism that supports the glass pane needed lubrication to kill that screech.

Besides irritation, the unoiled joints/motor create a lot of resistance and strain on the entire assembly, which then sets it up for failure, which is exactly what had happened to me. the main switch was not working properly and the driver’s window stayed firmly embedded within the door and wouldn’t rise. Oiling this assembly can either be a DIY job  if you fancy yourself a bit of a grease monkey and deft with a wrench, or you could drive into the nearest garage and pay a pittance to watch your door upholstery being mercilessly ripped apart by a man you have only just met.  Garage days make for nerve-wracking circumstances, I tell you.

  1. That plastic shroud is called a stone guard. Mud guards are the little flaps that dangle off the body work behind the tyres. Like the lubrication needs above, these can be sourced almost anywhere.
  2. There are some small mods you can do to eke a tad more oomph out of your horizontally opposed mill. The simplest and cheapest is advancing the timing, but once you do this, you will need to run on trustworthy fuel, preferably that with a high octane rating. You could also run mad and run the car on kerosene with the timing set at maximum. This will work briefly before your motor grenades itself. Also, try not to advance the timing too much. Another mod is chipping the car, that is, either reprogramming the ECU or installing an aftermarket unit.

You could also go for hardware changes like changing the exhaust system (ports, headers, downpipes, throughpipes,  decatting, etc); polishing or replacing the induction ports (this works especially well when coupled with a cold air intake or a cone air filter element) and replacing some internals such as pistons, con-rods and crankshaft for much stronger, lighter ones (titanium comes to mind).

They improve the engine response, making it rev much easier and faster as well as allow the internals to withstand the much higher combustion pressures that are attendant to bumping up the power output of your engine.

At this point, you will be straying into costly territory and might be on the throes of building a Stage 2 Plus car; one step removed from a full-on Stage 3 car.

Posted on

This Week On Car Clinic: What Engine?

Hi Baraza,

Am a great fan of your motoring column, i must congratulate you for the great advice you give.

1.) I am torn between what engine size car to buy between 1500cc,1800cc and 2000cc.  I mostly intended to use the car to commute from home(approx 25km) to work here in Nairobi and a few occasional runs upcountry probably 250km. Which engine size would you recommend?

2.) A friend normally spends most of his time driving along highways Average speed btwn 90-120km/h what would be the most appropriate and efficient engine size for him?  Among these three 1500cc,1800cc and 2000cc.

Kind Regards, Marts


Hello Martin,


  1. The recommended engine size depends on a variety of factors. All three will serve the listed purposes: 50km town-bound round trip and the occasional 250km jaunt to the village. The 1500 will be the cheapest to buy and probably run, the 2.0 liter will be the costliest to buy and run, with the 1.8 falling somewhere in the middle. However, the differences in running costs are not that big. The biggest difference may lie in buying price. That being said, if you have even the slightest hint of petrolhead in you then you could take the plunge and splurge on the 2.0 liter if the price difference will not have guilt gnawing at the cockles of your heart. If, on the other hand, you believe a car is nothing more than a convenient alternative to a horse, then just get the 1.5 and save oodles of shekels and get bored out of your damn mind…


  1. This will depend on the gearing in question. All three cars will do 90-100km/h easily; the question is at what rpm in top does the car do it in? Again, the differences will be slight and I will use my own cars in comparison. I had a manual 1.5 liter Mazda Demio Sport, 5-speed. In 5th gear, at 100km/h, the engine would be turning nicely at a steady 3200rpm. This car was replaced by a 2.0 liter Subaru, similarly a 5-speed manual, which does a hair short of 2800 rpm in 5th at 100km/h. You can see the bigger engine needs lower engine speeds to achieve the same road speeds, which, theoretically is good for consumption but in practice makes for a smoother, quieter, fuss-free drive.


A car fitted with a 6-speed transmission will do 100 at even lower rpm than quoted above. Go figure.


Hi JM,

I am an avid fan of your column and love the insight you give car rookies and enthusiasts alike.

I have a 2008 Merc A Class 169 with a 1690cc engine capacity. I have two questions:

  1. After an average of about 3,500Kms, I have done an average consumption rate of 11.3Km/l. Is this normal for a car of such low engine capacity? 
  2. After about 3,000 kms, I am experiencing a jerking action immediately i release the fuel pedal (the car is an automatic). This is especially chronic while I drive in sport mode. My mechanic seems to ignore this problem and insists it just needs service. The engine runs smoothly while in acceleration but the jerking gets very distinct when I rev between 2,000-3,000 rms. 

During my last service (which was not actually due!), I noted that my plugs had burnt out and I have a funny suspicion that my oil could be the problem. Currently, my service is still not due but my oil seems to have darkened completely. What would you advise on the above issues?

  1. Why is it so hard to get parts for Mercedes A class models? I recently cracked my windshield and DT Dobie are asking me to cough 78 thousand for a windshield (minus repair!). I’ll either have to sell off my kidney or worse, dive around with a 50 shilling note in my drivers license (in case of emergency!).

Thanks for the help in advance, Baraza


Martin Jones Kuyu


Salutations, Mr. Jones,


  1. I have written this statement so many times I think my computer now has an auto-complete option for it: fuel consumption depends mostly on where and how you drive, closely followed by the mechanical condition of your car. If you are always caught up in gridlock driving a car firing on only 3 cylinders and compensate for the time wasted by trying to send your right foot through the firewall, then yes; 11.3km/l is your lot. Otherwise, no; 11.3 is a wee bit high for the wee Merc.


  1. There are several conclusions I’m drawing from your description and I hope they are accurate. a) this jerking started after 3000km of driving and was not there before. b) this is not the first time you are engaging Sport Mode c) the mechanic did not specify what particular aspect of service it required urgently. So now,


You may have a case of bad driveline joints. For a front-drive hatch like the A, these are constant-velocity joints, more famously known as CV joints. Replace them. When lifting off, the load on the powertrain is suddenly reduced which means that there will be shock which will jar or shake p anything that is not properly secured; in this case, your CV joints. This is manifest either as an audible clunk or even a jerk if the looseness is severe.


It also won’t hurt to check the level and quality of ATF just to rule out any other possible suspects. Also, there is a strong likelihood that the clutches are damaged or the bands are out of adjustment. Unfortunately I can’t explain this further without diagrams and at least 5000 more words, so… ahem… if all other diagnoses show nothing then you may have to take apart your transmission, a very expensive and risky exercise. Just to be sure: how does the car behave when NOT in Sport mode? The jerk could be from a software glitch unique to Sport mode only, in which case maybe you need to flush/reset your control modules.


As for the oil, change it ASAP. The plugs too.


  1. Blame it on capitalism.


Hi JM,

Thank you for your wise answers to everything automobile.

My unsolicited advice as to why we have so many cars on our roads is the predictable  numbering which singles out fairly new cars as old. My Toyota Carib s/ wagon is perfect but because it’s KAR… it feels old. Even KBR. feels old. Why can’t the government demystify car registration like it did with motorcycle and tractors and solve the unending congestion on our roads                                                                Two questions for you now.

  1. Why do vehicle manufacturers change perfectly good cars and bring in New models every 5 yrs or so. Is there anything substantial they add apart from looks and a hike in prices. Does this trend augur well for availability of spares . Why can’t they stick with one model and shape like the landrover defender and peugeot 504?
  2. Which is the best transmission out there between manual,automatic, selectable automatic and the CVT( continuously variable transmission)? Sorry for the third one. Since Kenyan motoring class believe everything you say on Wednesday, why don’t you tell them without  mincing words which is the best compact suv in 2014 onward between the Honda crv,Toyota rav4, Nissan xtrail, Mitsubishi outlander,Ford escape,and Subaru Forrester? This debate has gone on for far too long and someone who is man enough needs to throw down the gauntlet. Are you man enough?


Hello Donald (Trump?),

I thought the current motor vehicle registration protocol is as predictable as predictable gets. If there is a format that seems randomly wild (or wildly random), it is that of motorcycles, auto-rickshaws (tuk-tuks) and tractors. I have no idea what is going on there.

  1. The biggest determining factor of constant updates is competition, especially in lucrative segments such as performance and pseudo-utility. People like us -and by that I mean self-proclaimed judges and juries on matters motoring- have empowered car buyers with a wealth of information that has transformed what would otherwise have been a casual client into a not-picking maniac armed with a magnet and tape measure ready to tap bodywork to affirm its solidity and gauge clearances, tolerances and various “-rooms” such as headroom, legroom, shoulder room and knee-room. Once upon a time these words had no meaning and manufacturers would shift metal on the basis of string ad campaigns and dominance in motorsport. Nowadays, a BMW 3 Series will be released with various parameters, after which Mercedes-Benz will release their C Class with a slightly bigger boot, or slightly better rear headroom or something. This will force BMW back to their design sketches to stretch the 3 a little to match the C’s interior dimensions, because in the world of today where having an Instagram account is more important than having a worthy opinion, a difference of 5mm rear legroom could spell disaster in sales. Having stretched the 3er to match the C, Audi will then come out with a new A4 that offers better economy or better driving dynamics or better features as standard, which will send both BMW and Mercedes scampering back to their design studios and /or engineering workshops to “update” their vehicles to match or better Audi’s output; which will subsequently displace Audi from first to last in this automotive game of one-upmanship; which in turn means THEY will go back to THEIR drawing board to improve their car in an never-ending cycle of marginal improvements.

Nowhere is this ridiculousness as manifest as it is in the two wars between Mercedes-AMG and BMW’s M Division horsepower wars; and the incessant jabbing between the Porsche 911 Turbo and the Nissan GTR with their silly 20hp increments year-on-year trying to stay ahead of each other on the Nurburgring lap time leader board.

Besides competition, there is the bottom line to look out for. Accountants are clever people and they know how to squeeze money out of unwitting customers. Buying a brand new car is more of an ego trip and desire to dominate the Joneses than an actual need for transportation. So if I sell you a car now, say a BMW M3; come next year the car will still be relatively new so you won’t need a new one. But I can make you WANT a new one; by simply improving on what you have. Suddenly, your “dominant” M3 is no longer king of the hill; there is a better one available and if anyone else buys it, you don’t get to rule the roost. You want it because you have to have the best, nothing less. So you get rid of your newish one-year old M3 and shell out more money for the latest. For you, you get bragging rights. For me, I make TWO sales, rather than one; from the same person. See where I’m going with this?  Ferrari is notorious for this kind of thing: they have been accused of releasing a limp-wristed version of a car at launch then charging people more a year later for something better with evocative suffixes like “Scuderia” or “TdF” in their names.

Yet another contributing factor is legislation, particularly on safety and emissions. The standards for these two are getting increasingly stringent; and the penalties meted out for failure to meet expectations can quickly drain one’s kitty and hurt one’s reputation; so manufacturers have to keep up. This explains your two examples: the Land River Defender and the Peugeot 504. Lovely cars, these, but they are inefficient and unsafe, and are therefore obsolete- rabid dinosaurs that have no place in the current motoring landscape of frolicky puppies and fluffy kittens. This is all the more important to some friends of mine who, to date, still lament the passing on of the Scania F330. Let me explain.

I belong to a group of enthusiastic bus-spotters. Over the past few years, there has been a Scania F330 bus on sale, an 11-liter, 6-cylinder beast fitted with an 8-speed manual transmission good for 330hp and the most charismatic engine note if you are into that kind of thing. The bus was phased out in favor of the current F310, a 9-liter, 5-clylinder creation with a 6-speed transmission making 310hp that doesn’t quite sound right, turbo whine notwithstanding. Well, my fellow bus fans were up in arms; and their lack of affection for the F310 was immediately made apparent. They did not want to believe that something as abstract and arbitrary as “Euro 4 emissions standards” could lead to the death of their favorite workhorse, but unfortunately for them, it did. You see, the F330 developed 1350Nm of torque, while the F310, with its lower power figure, actually makes MORE torque: 1550Nm. In the world of commercial vehicles, torque is everything. Economy is also everything: the F310 is more economical than the F330, and is cheaper. That may explain why despite the F330’s popularity, the F310 has outsold it several times over and is (and has been) the best-selling full-size bus model in the country.

  1. Is there really an answer to this question? “Best” is relative: the manual is the “best” for hardened petrolheads for whom driving sensations matter. It is terrible, though, quite the dinosaur in fact, in almost all other aspects. The CVT is the “best” from a scientific and engineering point of view, such is its simplicity (relatively) and efficiency of operation; but drive a car with a pukka CVT and you might park it at the side of the road and complete your journey on foot. They are boring and counterintuitive, and should be killed with fire while humans are still allowed to drive their own cars. Automatics have few fans and from an engineer’s eye view, they currently lack justification. They are heavy, inefficient and complex; but they are the best for towing, for off-roading and are the recommended transmission type for those who care little about driving as an activity but are still wary about Skynet taking over through the automotive singularity that is currently being initiated by the advent of autonomous cars. If you do not understand that last statement, then you missed some of my articles from earlier in the year.
  2. Yes, of course I am “man” enough. The question is: are Honda, Subaru, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Ford and Toyota “corporate” enough to hand over their vehicles for comparison; or am I going to hear yet another baseless accusation along the lines of :

“Baraza always talks smack about our cars, so let’s just feed him endless press releases via email. Anybody who gives him a car key will not only be fired but will also wind up in jail, I promise. Put that in a memo and send it to the guys downstairs…”

The guilty parties know themselves, I won’t name names.

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This Week On Car Clinic: A Navara, A Gaia; A Mark X, A Skyline

Hi Baraza,
Which among Hardbody, Isuzu DMAX and Navara is better? What specific problems should I expect from each and which is the lesser evil in terms of maintenance, parts, durability? – Bob

Hello Bob,
It’s not an easy call making a choice from a selection of mainstream double-cab pickups. That said, it is not impossible to make that choice either. Let’s see how it goes:

1 Hardbody: sturdy little thing, but it hails from another century. The vehicle is officially out of production but the strange ways in which the auto industry works means you can still get one with zero mileage from the local peddler. In comparison to its Navara descendant, it is slow, unrefined, poorly spaced, cramped and is best used as the workhorse that it was designed to be. If you want trouble-free motoring from a Nissan, this is the Nissan to buy.
2 DMAX: Did I say the Nissan is unrefined? The DMAX is downright agricultural. General Motors knows how to build a tool and the best qualities of a tool are not necessarily quality of finish or smoothness of operation. A tool is meant to work its entire life without having to worry about such mundane details as panel gap consistency or grain quality of plastic surfaces. You can stage a bullfight inside a DMAX without damaging the upholstery; that is how solid it is. Turbo power means it is quicker than the Hardbody (this applies to the turbo version of the Nissan also) but rudimentary underpinnings mean handling is sketchy on a good day and treacherous when the driver is caught unawares. I know this because a DMAX once spat me into the undergrowth on a murram road at part throttle. 4WD High Range is your friend when traction is not.
3. Navara: Ideally the chiselled underwear model to the other two’s construction worker and unwashed farmer. The Navara is a fancy dress party masquerading as an honest day’s work, just like those models who wear yellow helmets and high visibility vests in glossy magazines pretending to be part of a road building crew but cannot for the life of them differentiate a jackpin from a jackhammer. The Navara, like the underfed clothes horse, is a double cab pickup but give it pickup duties and watch it collapse under the weight of its responsibilities. However, use it lightly and you will enjoy it, however briefly. Yes, ECUs fail with disconcerting regularity and that delectable body does not hold up well to extended use. There is more than enough evidence on the internet pointing to bent frames; which is a black mark against what is for all intents and purposes the son of the Hardbody.
That aside, the Navara is quite the performer and is comfortable. It really is VERY comfortable: you could spend hours in it with nary a cramp nor an ache; which is more than can be said for the Hardbody. Another laurel in its wreath is the immediacy of its responses and the certainty of its handling. This is a good car to drive…. briefly.

So now:
1. Maintenance: these are all large vehicles and will attract large bills. However, the uncomplicated nature of the first two means a: there is little to go wrong b: the little that can go wrong is quite easily fixed and c: whatever needs fixing will probably be cheap. The Navara is another story, expect nothing less than five figure bills (or even more) once it turns into a garage queen.
2. Durability: the Hardbody lives up to its name: it is quite hardy; but not as hardy as the DMAX. To be honest, it is a tough call between these two, so robust are their frames that it really boils down to how careless the driver is when discussing durability. As mentioned earlier, the Navara harbours no such ambitions: it is a pretty little flower and like a flower it will wilt in short order when the heat is turned up.
3. Parts: two Nissans and a truck from General Motors. What spares?


Hi Baraza,
There is this Toyota Gaia I have been salivating at; a KAX. Thought it might help me do some business like carrying goods. However, a mechanic tells me it has an issue with spare parts. Kindly advise. – Morris

Hello Morris,
Two things:
1. Why do you want to use what we call a “people carrier” to ferry goods? Why not use a commercial vehicle or at least something akin to a commercial vehicle as the gods of automotive engineering intended?
2. What does the mechanic mean by “an issue with spare parts”? Are they rare or hard to find? This is a Toyota that shares parts with countless other – doubtless more ubiquitous- Toyotas. Are they of low substandard or counterfeit? Shop around for genuine articles. You are sure to find them at some point. Are they expensive? Perhaps he is looking in the wrong places. Or maybe the two of you should concede the fact that motor vehicle ownership and operation is only “cheap” when speaking relatively.


Dear Baraza,
Please tell me:
1. For the Lexus RX series (I have specific interest in those made after 2009), what is the difference between the GGL15W and GGL16W? I am not sure what these codes denote and if whatever they stand for determines power output.- Kevin

Hi Kevin
These codes do not determine the power output, they are simply model codes in terms of spec. From what I have been able to determine, the GGL15W is the middling AWD Lexus RX350 (or Toyota Harrier), falling between the 2WD GGL10W and the top of-the-line AWD Version L, the GGL16W. The difference between the 15W and the 16W seems to be about 40kg (the Version L is porkier) and the presence of air suspension (again on the Version L). They all use the same 3.5 liter 2GR-FE engine in the same level of tune: 276-odd horsepower at 6200 rpm.
2. How good is the RX450h compared to the RX350? The hybrid is said to develop north of 290HP to the RX’s 275HP. Are there any known issues to Lexus’ hybrid system? All I could glean out of the internet are seemingly embellished feel-good tales of Americans in praise of the hybrid system and PR from Lexus websites. I am inclined towards the conventional engine but I don’t want to pinch myself later and say ‘I wish I had asked’

It depends on your definition of “good”. The RX450h may be supposedly “greener”, which should please the environmentalists; and it develops more power, which should please millennial new age enthusiasts, but I am yet to be sold on hybrid systems. Nothing quite comes close to the purist stance -to which I subscribe- of knowing that none of your horsepowers, however few, come from electricity.
Trust the Americans to shell out feel-good tales about the hybrid system. These are probably vegetarians who gave up on the Prius following the vitriol it attracted after it was discovered that it is an ugly, hateful little destroyer of the environment, unlike what it claims on the sticker. At least the Lexus is better to look at, more practical and far more powerful
3. Why is it that vehicles with big engines to be found in the Lexus RX350, Landcruiser VX V8 among others have got single exhaust pipes, compared to smaller-specced vehicles with dual exit pipes – even those without turbos (ignoring the likes of Subarus with single outlet pipes that branch near the back)?
It all comes down to engine design and the results of balancing financial spreadsheets. The bigger vehicles may have bigger engines, but these engines tend to develop lazy power at lower revs compared to their high-strung punitive juniors, so scavenging of exhaust gases is not a matter of urgency like in the lesser mills. To save production costs and because it is also unnecessary to have more, some of these engines have single exhaust outlets.
4. I know the manufacturers know best and there are things like emissions and consumption to be considered in the design of some of these vehicles, but would modifying, say a VX V8 or RX350 from single to dual exhaust systems improve performance or has the lack of dual exhaust systems been catered for by the size of the exhaust pipe (in diameter)?
A little of both actually. However, simply adding another exhaust outlet is not going to give you the power increase you desire; with most modern engines, you will have to “tell” the engine (through a mild reprogram of the ECU) that it is disposing waste at a higher rate, otherwise you will drive everywhere with the Check Engine light glowing out your cluster and onto your chin.


Hello Baraza,
I am considering getting my first car. I am torn between Mark X and Skyline. Mostly to use it for long distance drives. What’s your advice? – Elizabeth

Hi Elizabeth
If the primary directive here is long distance driving, then the difference is the same. Both cars are roomy, comfortable and have powerful V6 engines coupled to automatic transmissions: the four key things to consider in a vehicle when contemplating long drives. Toss a coin or something.


Hi Baraza
Are consumers protected from shenanigans who adulterate fuel and lead to damage? – John

Hi John,
In a way, yes; because sale of adulterated fuel is illegal. Once in a while there are random inspections and crackdowns on peddlers of impure material. However, these inspections and crackdowns don’t seem to prevent follow-ups of the sin; and that is where social media comes in. It has been instrumental in blowing the whistle on errant outlets to either set the feds on them or to otherwise admonish would-be victims of this subterfuge.


Hi Baraza.
Recently, I came across a BMW 523i manual 2400cc and on testing it, I loved it. The car is a 1995 make. Kindly advise on the consumption per litre and if it is a worthy bet for a family car bearing in mind that my wife is wary about the capacity as she will be the one using it most of the time to work. – Charles

Hello Charles,
Prepare to be disappointed because I have no definite answer to your question. The consumption figure of a 21-year old German saloon equipped with a manual transmission is indefinite because of the number of variables involved.
How is it mechanically? A well-kept car will behave almost like a new one. A jalopy one major service away from being junked will not. How does your wife drive? The fact that it is a manual means changing gears can be done at almost any rpm between idle and the red line, which in turn means the consumption will vary equally widely.
Where will the car be driven and what will it be used for? The environment determines engine and road speeds, as well as the gears predominantly used; while the use of the car may or may not involve ferrying loads of indeterminate mass.
All these tend to have an effect on fuel economy, making it hard to arrive at a solid figure.

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This Week On Car Clinic: Loading Up A Van

Hello Bwana JM,

Thank you for humorously doling out wisdom on cars and English simultaneously. I would like to know: 1) How much weight can the Toyota Noah (2010-2013 model) comfortably withstand.2) Is there a way it can be modified to enable it to carry heavy loads (say 700kgs)?

I am a businessman in the supply industry who wishes to trade My Toyota Corolla DX, which packs like a pickup once I fold the rear seat, for a Noah.

Kindly advise.

Kihiko Kuria Joseph

Hello Joseph,

1) Toyota rates its van as having a load capacity of just about half a tonne (they say 400kg but one can get away with 100kg here or there)

2) You could carry a 700kg load in a Noah simply by installing heavy duty suspension, i.e springs and shocks of more substantial heft compared to the standard issue materials.

Whether or not you actually want this capability remains to be seen, because this sort of aftermarket engineering might not be exactly advisable. A car is built for its various systems to work in harmony; making one system withstand extra stress without beefing up the rest will lead to unpredictability.

Are the engine and transmission properly set up for extra loads? Will the brakes still work reassuringly? Is the frame capable of withstanding that kind of load or will it deform in short order?


Hello Baraza,

I recently visited Thailand and noted that most of their motor vehicles, including vans, cars, tuk tuks, lorries, name it, are powered by gas, not petroleum (fuel).

1. Kindly explain how this mechanism works and is different from our Kenyan, fuel-powered vehicles in terms of cost, safety, speed and reliability.

2) Their vehicles are also relatively new models. The few I used were actually 2010-2012 models (Toyota Camry, Yaris, Innova, Prius, etc.) compared to our mostly 8-year-old cars; does that mean anything in terms of the future of car imports in Kenya and are we likely to use gas?


Hello Arafathi,

Ahem…! Gas is also fuel, just like petroleum (and its various derivatives).

1. The mechanism works more or less the same: fuel goes into the engine from the fuel tank via the fuel lines. Air goes into the engine from the atmosphere via the intake.

The two meet up somewhere and are mixed in their appropriate ratios before being set alight and exploding within the cylinders to create the force that pushes the cylinders down, thus creating torque.

I am not exactly clear regarding the similarities or differences of running these vehicles in Thailand in comparison to Kenya, but I know cost might be an issue since sourcing LPG locally might be a bit more involving than simply driving to a fuelling station, as is the case with petroleum (and its various derivatives).

Performance might vary slightly: in some cases, gas-powered cars might deliver a bit more power compared to their petrol equivalents, in others they might not.

Safety is not much of an issue since the storage tanks for gas are reinforced to prevent leakages. Reliability also seems not to be an issue and might, in fact, be superior in gas-powered cars since gas is gas and is unlikely to wash away oil from the cylinder walls as sometimes happens with petrol-powered cars on cold starts.

2. The only implication to Kenya’s future imports is that Thailand is ahead of us on the curve. As for the use of gas, I really can’t say; that will mostly be decided through government policy and the results of any feasibility studies oil companies might conduct in future (or might have already conducted).


Hello Baraza,

How much should age play a factor when choosing between cars, especially when it comes to maintenance? For example, which one would be cheaper to maintain between a Mazda Axela 2008-2009 and a 2004-2005 BMW 320i?


Hello Andy,

Age is an important factor to consider when selecting a car to buy. It is as simple as this: who visits a hospital more often than the other, is it a healthy young person or is it the geriatric with one foot in the grave?

The same thing applies with regard to cars: an older car will require a lot more maintenance compared to a new one.

That said, 2005 and 2008 are not so far apart as to warrant a dramatic difference in the mechanical well-being of a car. This will boil down more to the vehicle’s construction and history rather than exact age.

It is in light of that that we easily conclude the 2008 Axela will be cheaper to maintain. For one, it’s a middle-of-the-road car from a middle-of-the-road Japanese brand. It is, therefore, intentionally built to be cheap to own and cheap to operate.

This is in comparison to an established German premium brand: these have never been cheap on any scale, not to buy and not to run.


Hallo Mr Baraza,

Yours is a column I greatly admire because of the information you give on autos, coupled with your wit and sense of humour.

Talking driving, I have on several occasions heard people mention “defensive driving”. Could you briefly explain what it is.

As an automobile enthusiast, it has come to my attention that most people refer to dampers as shock absorbers. What are shock absorbers?

I would also like to know what jackknifing is as applied to articulated vehicles.

Also, in relation to suspension, what is the difference between a positive and a negative roll radius. How applicable is it to my 505 Peugeot station wagon or a friend’s Mazda Demio?

When would I consider my wagon to have had:

 1) Self-aligning torque.

2) Pneumatic trail.

3) Slip angle.

In respect to its tyres.

Finally, a friend of mine with a 4WD experienced a propeller shaft wind-up during one of his manoeuvres. What could be the cause and what would you advise to prevent a recurrence of the same, apart from using the third differential?


Hello Lorento,

1. Defensive Driving: this is best summarised as driving in accordance with the tenets of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, stalwart proponents of the theory of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is the theory of doing the greatest good to the greatest number of people, so it follows that defensive driving is the kind of driving that benefits everybody. Google says it is driving to save lives, time and money despite the prevailing environmental conditions and actions of others.

It is essentially an advanced form of driving that reduces the likelihood of accidents by following certain stipulations such as the two-second rule (at any given speed, the safe distance to follow the vehicle ahead is such that you pass the same object the vehicle in front passes exactly two seconds after it does) and assured distance ahead, which, in summary, is what we call the braking zone or run-off.

2. Shocks vs. dampers: A damper is a shock absorber (depending on use, but this is an automotive column, so that is the use we will go with) and Google says a shock absorber is actually is a shock “damper”.

3. Jackknifing: This is the tendency of a trailer or bogie to skid or push the tractor to such a point that it spins around and faces backwards. The manoeuvre is similar to that of a penknife (or jackknife) as the blade is folded away. According to Google, one of the ways of preventing this eventuality could be by using antilock brakes (ABS) or EBD electronic brake distribution (EBD).

4. Roll Radius: I’ve never heard of positive or negative roll radius and neither has Google. However, Google apparently knows of scrub radii, terms I might have heard before but paid little attention to.

There is what we call the kingpin axis, which is the line between the upper and lower ball joints of the wheel hub (where the wheel is mounted). There is the contact patch, which is essentially the “footprint” of the tyre.

Now, zero scrub radius means that the kingpin axis meets the centre line of the tyre (as viewed from the front of the car) dead on the contact patch. Positive scrub radius is when the kingpin axis meets the tyre centre line below the contact patch, i.e somewhere inside the ground.

Negative scrub radius is when the kingpin axis meets the tyre centre line above the contact patch, which implies somewhere within the tyre itself.

The implications of zero, positive and negative scrub radii may be a bit too complicated to delve into right now and would require diagrams to explain fully.

There is also the rolling radius of a tyre, which is simply the distance covered by a tyre per complete revolution. It is also the circumference of that tyre. There are no positive or negative rolling radii: it is a scalar quantity (magnitude only), not a vector quantity (magnitude and direction) so positive and negative do not apply.

5. Self-aligning torque: Google claims this is the torque a tyre creates as it rolls along, which tends to steer it. I think this is what causes torque-steer in certain front-drive cars, though Google says nothing about this.

I thought tyres receive torque, not cause it. What Google also doesn’t say but I assume might be the explanation comes down to Newton’s Third Law of Motion: action-reaction of which both are equal in magnitude but opposite in direction. So maybe the driven tyre actually does cause “reverse” torque. I think I might have lost 95 per cent of my readers by this point.

6. Pneumatic trail: the remaining 5 per cent will also leave the room as they discover there is no end to the technical jargon, but we have already dived right into it we might as well see it through.

Pneumatic trail is… actually I can’t explain pneumatic trail without seeming senseless. I don’t know if Google is of any help. We are deep into advanced physics here.

7. Slip angle: This is a fairly simple one. The slip angle is the angle between the direction of movement of a tyre and the direction the tyres are actually pointing. That means for a car driving straight, the slip angle is zero (assuming toe is also zero on all tyres).

For a car with alignment issues (or variations in toe), or a car sliding (oversteer, understeer), there is a calculable amount of slip angle in a given axle. Google might provide diagrams to better explain this phenomenon if you haven’t understood it yet.

8. Propeller shaft wind up: this is the spring-like effect caused by twisting a propeller shaft rather than rotating it. It typically arises when one or more wheels catch air or when the transmission is overloaded: i.e the torque from the engine is excessive and the load, too, is excessive, so the only point of yield is the prop-shaft itself.

It is not a common occurrence but it does occur, more so if an SUV is driven in low range, first gear and it encounters an obstacle that is nearly insurmountable. Scylla and Charybdis, if you may.

Prevention is as simple as avoiding such a situation: if one or more tyres are unable to rotate for some reason under engine power, it’s best to resort to towing rather than revving in gear. You may have noticed the term “Google” appears several times in this response.

Could we try and use it next time before posing a question because I feel like this week we have really gone off the rails in jargon and technicalities.

Let’s keep things simple and interesting; my readership is a lot wider than post-graduate physics students and automotive engineers who are better placed to understand what this whole section has been about. To my less scientifically inclined readers, I apologise.

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This Week On Car Clinic: A Foton & A Ranger

Dear Baraza,

One of my employer’s vehicles  is a double-cabin Ford Ranger. I find this car very uncomfortable because:

  1. Entering and disembarking from the back seat calls for a lot of effort and is quite a big challenge, especially to women.
  2. When you sit at the back, your knees get raised quite a bit, making you  really tired on a long journey.
  3. Whenever the tyres have been used for, say four to five months, some wheel gets a puncture (while driving on tarmac) especially the rear ones; last weekend  alone we spent Sh2,100 on punctures.
  4. The Radio/CD buttons are “stuck”, making it difficult to change channels.

We recently got a Foton Cummins double cabin from China and this one is much better that the Ford Ranger in terms of comfort, clearance and even fuel consumption (I guess). A full tank in the Ford Ranger takes you from Kisumu to Nairobi and back after refuelling in Nakuru on the way back but the Foton does not need refuelling.

However, I don’t know if the fuel tanks are of the same capacity. I have also noted that the front panel of the Ford Ranger is exactly the same as that of the Ford Everest. Confirm please.

Kindly give your opinion on these two cars and also add the Grand Tiger— which our policemen use — in terms of performance and durability.



Very interesting piece of correspondence this is, Mr Job. Now, what you failed to do was specify which model of Ford Ranger you were referring to, because the newer vehicles are the height of excellence in overall quality. I doubt that  these are the ones you mean.

  1. Please specify the effort required. From your second point, this might indicate a lack of manoeuvring space during ingress, but why is this of particular concern to women? Did you mean heavily pregnant women, owing to their size? Or did you perhaps mean that there is no sidestep and the floorboard is too far off the ground, making it an exercise in immodesty for ladies in (short) skirts?
  2. What you say in so many words can be summarised as “poor rear legroom”.
  3. This might have more to do with the choice of tyres and/or the people involved in that vehicle’s operation than the vehicle itself. Poor driving habits and/or the use of cheap, low-quality tyres are to blame for the numerous punctures.
  4. Again, this has to do with the people operating the vehicle. I can wager a month’s pay that this vehicle did not leave the showroom floor with the buttons stuck. One of the many drivers who have handled it was rought  with the radio controls, and after bashing them into the dashboard, did not bother getting the radio repaired so the rest of you have to live with the results of his misdeeds.

Many people will clamour against your allegations that a Chinese pickup would be superior in any way to the current No. 1 ranking double cab pickup in Australia, where they take their off-road cars very seriously. I’m not saying the Cummins Foton is not better than the Ranger, but then again, I’m not necessarily agreeing. You really need to clarify which  model of the Ford Ranger we are discussing here and I strongly suspect the vehicle in question is the international (non-USDM (United States Domestic Market) model, either the 1998-2002 car (poor rear legroom) or the 2002-2006 car (poor everything). These two cars were not Ford’s finest moments, particularly  the latter, and I’m sure those closely associated with the American nameplate might be quick to blame the joint venture with their Japanese compadres.

The logical extension of the above paragraph is that the Ford pickup you are carping about is of a vintage somewhere in the range within 10 and 15 years of age. Show me a Chinese pickup that is 10 years old and let’s compare like for like. I’d be surprised if the dashboard were still intact, let alone having a stereo with stuck buttons in it.

The Foton Tunland is what I guess you call the “Cummins double-cab from China”. It does seem to be a tidy piece of kit, though from certain angles there’d be no mistaking its origins: a country with a fledgling auto industry that is yet to perfect such mundane details as the gelling of design nuances to create a comely whole. The back of this truck is ugly.  The rest of the car is well put-together, though, and it comes very well equipped with toys such as HVAC, cruise control, ABS, airbags, powered glass (windows and mirrors), remote entry, multifunction steering wheel, Bluetooth, interiors designed with human beings (and women too) in mind.

Consultations with  my Australian counterparts in car reviewing reveal that it is actually a cut above other Asian (but not Japanese) offerings; names as big as TATA and Mahindra and as long established (relatively speaking) as Great Wall. You might be on to something here, after all.

It still isn’t fair to compare it with something from the ’80s.

Given that the Foton pickup comes with such high specification and viscera from established bigwigs like Cummins (engine), Getrag (gearbox), Dana (axles) and Borg Warner (?), perhaps it is best to shove it into a classroom with rivals from the same reading level and from the same model year (2014), and this is where it meets giants like the Nissan Navara, the Toyota Hilux the Volkswagen Amarok, and of course, the Ford Ranger T6.

This sounds like the makings of another big fight in the double-cab class, and I’m not sure the Foton will not be bloodied by none other than the T6 whose ancestor’s name you have sullied ruthlessly. The T6 was, and is, the car to beat, and the Foton, unfortunately for you, might not be the car to beat it. If the sellers can put together a road test of one unit, I will be only too glad to share my findings here.


  1. The number of tanks used per drive is not an accurate method of calculating fuel economy, nor is expressing consumption in fractions of a tank or money spent at the pump. I strongly disregard people who come up to me saying they used “Sh1,000 worth of fuel from Nairobi to Nakuru”. I expect to hear about miles and gallons or kilometres and litres, not shillings and no sense.

As you guessed, tank sizes vary, so driving a Mitsubishi (notorious for small tanks) over the same distance as a Subaru (some of which have large tanks) will result in the Mitsubishi  visiting the fuel forecourt sooner than the Subaru, but that does not mean the  Mitsu is thirstier. There is also the issue of driving tendencies: the Foton has a 2.8 litre diesel engine that develops around 130hp. The Ford Ranger T6 has a 3.2 litre turbo that does 190hp in Power Stroke form. For the Foton to keep up with the T6 at highway speeds, it might need a lot of thrashing, which will hurt economy overall, despite its smaller engine capacity.

  1. The Ford Everest is a Ford Ranger estate. Same car from the C pillar forwards, and that includes panels, engines, fascias and platforms. The same way the Toyota Fortuner is a Hilux station wagon and the Pajero Sport is an L200 long-roof.
  2. The Grand Tiger looks promising, but I sometimes refrain from commenting on vehicles used specifically by the disciplined forces. They recognise me nowadays at police road blocks and more than once I have found myself being asked, “What was that you said about our car?”

Also, I am yet to ride in a Grand Tiger, and the Australians were of no help either.


Hi Baraza,

I am an ardent reader of your column.

I own a 2002 Nissan Vanette van with an R2 diesel engine. Last December,  the timing belt got broken and ended up damaging the cylinder head and one piston arm. I went to a mechanic and we bought an old cylinder head, took it to a workshop where it was  milled  and we were assured that it was okay. We replaced the bent piston arm and put new rings and a gasket.

When we hit the road, the vehicle performs fine except that it tends to overheat in hot weather, especially around midday. We have checked the fan, radiator and all have been confirmed to be okay, so what could be the reason for its overheating at noon?

I met another mechanic who told me that during the head repair, we should have put sleeves in the engine block; is this true?

There is very little information on the net about the Bongo, Vanette and Delica which share the same engine. I am now contemplating buying a new engine, or would the “sleeving” sort me out?




About that overheating: have you checked the coolant levels? The second mechanic might be pointed in the right direction in that during the milling and/or installation of the old cylinder head, something might  have been a little off. The probable result is either compression leakage out of the cylinders, which boils the coolant, or coolant leakage into the cylinders, which drops coolant levels. Either way, the car will heat up and also lose power. Either way, it needs fixing.

There might be a need for sleeving the engine block too. When the timing belt snapped, the con rod (what you call “piston arm”) got bent, meaning there is a very high likelihood that the piston crown dug into the cylinder walls/sleeves. While this might not necessarily cause heating problems, compression leakage is definite, though this is the kind that leads to power loss and oil fouling, not overheating. If the piston dug hard enough to go through the block and reach the water jackets around the cylinders, you have much bigger problems than overheating. Sleeving might  be a stop-gap measure, but eventually, you will need a new engine.

I am not familiar enough with these engines to know whether they qualify as sleeving candidates but you might have to buy a new engine and see how much of this cost you can recoup by selling the serviceable parts off the broken one.


Hi Baraza,

Thanks so much for your informative column.  I drive a 2005 Toyota Fielder and I have noticed that the rear braking is poor, despite my many attempts to have it fixed. I am considering replacing the drums with the disk and apparently, I have to change the whole axle. Is this possible? Will my braking stability improve? Is it safe? Will it compromise the ABS, steering geometry, etc?



Hello Everton,

Explain what you mean by poor braking. Unless brake force is unevenly applied, it is hard to tell when an isolated section of the braking system is malfunctioning. The front discs are self-adjusting for force distribution, unless one of them is binding. With the rear brakes, uneven force distribution will cause you to fishtail wildly and possibly spin. Is this what is happening? If not, what kind of braking are you doing that warrants an upgrade?

I did complain about the braking in the NZE (and Fielder) in an early review but that is because sometimes in my road tests I perform some… err… unusual manoeuvres, and the car failed to hold up, unlike its competition. In normal day-to-day operations, the brakes should work well enough. Not impressively, but well enough.

Now, on to your question. Yes, in most cases a brake upgrade from drums to discs might call for replacement of the entire rear sub-frame, not an inexpensive undertaking. The braking will improve, yes, but not necessarily its stability. Getting the force distribution right is not easy, but even harder will be trying to recalibrate the ABS. In fact, if you manage to recalibrate the ABS at all successfully, perhaps you should ask for employment in a Formula 1 Team.

The alternative is to go ABS-less, which comes with its own associated risks, more so given that you find the current braking setup inadequate. Steering geometry will not be affected.



The Foton seems to be a tidy piece of kit, though from certain angles there’d be no mistaking its origins: a country with a fledgling auto industry that is yet to perfect such mundane details as the gelling of design nuances to create a comely whole.

Still, it is a cut above other Asian (but not Japanese) offerings.

The Foton pickup comes with high specifications and viscera from established bigwigs like Cummins (engine), Getrag (gearbox) and Dana (axles). It is best to pit it against vehicles from the same model year (2014) than the old Ranger.