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Fuso launches new truck for booming construction sector

Competition in the heavy commercial truck sector is set to go a notch higher following the launch of the new line of Fuso FJ Tipper trucks in Kenya. Speaking during the official launch in Nairobi, the Simba Colt Motors executive director, Dinesh Kotecha, said Fuso Trucks are designed to address the growth potential shifting to developing markets in African countries.

“Kenya and the East Africa region is experiencing tremendous growth, especially in construction and mining, and players in this sectors need reliable trucks that are globally benchmarked for greater fuel efficiency, lower maintenance, longer life, and greater reliability,” said Mr Kotecha.


Kenya is the first export market in which Fuso has launched its new truck line following the start of production in May this year at the new Fuso Plant in Chennai, India. Prior to its launch, the FJ Tipper was put through vigorous testing locally in different towns across Kenya.

Data indicate that sales of heavy commercial vehicles still account for 26.8 per cent of the market share and it is believed that construction projects in the region will fuel sales in the heavier segments in coming days.

According to Mr Kotecha, the FJ Tipper will give a better service interval that is over 300 per cent better than what is already in the market, meaning that ownership cost is still cheaper than the competition. The FJ Tipper will retail at a showroom price of Sh8 milion and will come fully loaded.

“While our pricing may be slightly higher than what is currently available in the market, there is no doubt that the eventual cost of ownership and maintenance is way more affordable than any other brand in the market,” said Mr Kotecha. “What this means is that while the current tippers will require service at intervals of 5,000km, the FJ Tipper will require service after every 15,000km and will still give the owner two more years of service than any other Tipper in the market” added Mr Kotecha.

More powerful, fuel-efficient engine: The direct injection 205kW diesel engine combines higher output and flat torque, making this the engine to choose for power-hungry applications. Unit fuel injectors and higher boost pressure on the turbocharger ensure complete burning of fuel, reducing emissions and increasing fuel efficiency. The oil-lubricated fuel pumps reduce wear, increasing durability.

Nine-speed transmission with crawler gear: The nine-speed transmission with crawler gear provides the flexibility required to negotiate complex terrain in off-road applications.

Not just for driving, power take-off (PTO): Transmission power take-off to supply power to other equipment is a standard feature of FJ trucks designed for construction and mining applications.

Comfortable cabin reduces driver fatigue: Three-way adjustable seats and tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel allow the driver to choose an optimum driving posture. The extended day cab includes a fold-down bunk and an air blower (or optional air conditioning) and rear windows.

Suspensions with enhanced functionality: Multi-leaf rear suspensions have more and thicker leaves for longer life and heavier loads.

Anti-roll bars for greater safety: Anti-roll bars increase vehicle stability. Both front and rear anti-roll bars are standard equipment of FJ trucks for construction and mining applications.

Extra-rugged for longer life and heavier loads: The thicker, deeper long members in the FJ chassis are designed to last longer and support heavier loads. The longer, thicker bulges in the cross members add additional strength. Both are shot-peened and powder coated to increase surface strength and prevent corrosion.

Differential lock prevents getting bogged down: The differential lock overcomes one-wheel spinning and makes trucks easier to operate in slushy or bogged down conditions

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Psst: BMW drivers are the worst. Ever!

Jokes about BMW drivers being, on average, somewhat less than courteous are fairly common. They often run along the lines of, “Despite its good brakes, a BMW will usually stop with a jerk.” Sometimes the language is more colourful.

Paul K Piff, a researcher at the Institute of Personality and Social Research at the University of California, Berkeley, has conducted a study linking bad driving habits with wealth.

The study was published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2010.

The study also found that male drivers were less likely to stop for pedestrians than were women, and that drivers of both sexes were more likely to stop for a female pedestrian than a male one.

“One of the most significant trends was that fancy cars were less likely to stop,” said Piff, adding, “BMW drivers were the worst.”

In the San Francisco Bay area, where the hybrid gas-and-electric-powered Toyota Prius is considered a status symbol among the environmentally conscious, the researchers classified it as a premium model.

“In our higher-status vehicle category, Prius drivers had a higher tendency to commit infractions than most,” Piff said.

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

Dear Baraza,

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

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

Arap Kulet Kibs

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

Thanks and thumbs up for this weekly feature.

Ken Migiro.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Sir,

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

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

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

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

Interested Seller.

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

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

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

Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Njoroge Gitonga.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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


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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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The Great Run Volume III: Nairobi-Nanyuki-Meru and back

People can be very unusual sometimes…

May 28, 2013 03h00 (3 in the morning)

Ring, ring…

Caller 1: Hello, is this the Great Run?

Me: Yes sir, this is the Great Run.

Caller 1: What exactly is this Great Run?

Me: The Great Run is an endurance driving event… etc (*see definition below)

Caller 1: (Sneering) Why would I want join a group of people to drive to Meru when I can just hop into my car and do so by myself any time I want?

Me: You do that, sir, and have a safe journey while you are at it.

Caller 1: *&(^^%##…..!!!


May 31, 2013 14h30

Ring, ring…

Caller 2: Hi, I am calling about the Great Run.

Me: Yes, ma’am; how can I help you?

Caller 2: I want to take part. How do I take part in the Great Run?

Me: You have to register online, but as it is we already have a full entry list and so registration is closed. However, if you want to…

Caller 2: (Interrupting) What is it anyway? What usually happens during the Great Run?

Me: The Great Run is an endurance driving event… etc (*see definition below)

Caller 2: (Interrupting again, shrilly) Sounds like a waste of time, a waste of money and waste of fuel! And I have been to Meru before anyway! I’d rather attend Blankets & Wine!

Me: (Genially) Have fun at The Carnivore then, ma’am….

Caller 2: *&(^^%##…..!!!


These are just but two of the hundreds of calls fielded by The Jaw and I in the run-up to the Great Run Volume III, Nairobi-Nanyuki-Meru.

People can be very unusual sometimes…

June 1 2013, 07h00. Venue: Shell Petrol Station, Exit 5 along Thika Road

People can be very good sports at times too, and these people can really make you proud. The turnout for the Great Run III was nothing short of epic.

Gazing around the fuel forecourt early that Saturday morning, my mind was almost overcome by the sheer volume of pomp, colour, variety and circumstance swarming as far as my still-sleepy eyes could see.

Cars decked out in Great Run livery, people decked out in Great Run and DN2 merchandise, rumbling exhausts, hissing dump valves, camaraderie between strangers, interviews on camera, interviews off camera, reminiscences of previous Great Runs, anticipation of the drive ahead, introductions (so this is the Paji you keep talking of, huh?), order, disorder, back to order, speeches, applause, flagging off, clutch in, first gear, clutch out… and we were gone in a flurry of activity. The Great Run Volume III was under way.

What, exactly, is The Great Run?

We should pause here for a moment to try and decide just what exactly The Great Run is. Originally, the idea was simply to gather a few petrolheads, get them in their cars and head out of the city for a bit of fun.

That is OK, by any standards, but we wanted to make this an “official” kind of occurrence, something with a bit more gravitas, more presence and possibly recognition as a proper calendar event.

Like our two callers in the opening lines of this write-up, not many people saw the sense in that. After much head-scratching, somebody somewhere said: if you do charity you cannot possibly go wrong.

So charity came into play, and lo and behold, there just happened to be a children’s home along our planned routes. It became cast in stone that all Great Runs will be charity events in which a children’s home will be visited, and as such participants (and sponsors) are strongly encouraged to come up with “something small” for the kiddies.

As it turns out, the children in these homes are lonely as hell and they greatly appreciate visits by the less-unfortunate, especially when they show up in a convoy of very diverse vehicles bearing goodies.

It shows them that being an orphan is not the end of the world; that there are folks out there who have them in mind and in heart, and would do anything within their power to ease their hardship.

Case in point is Car No 54 in The Great Run III, whose owner pledged long–term unending support in the education — and edification — of one of the little ones at SOS Children’s Village in Meru.

Caller 2, this is how we at The Great Run waste our time, our money and our fuel. We do it just to see the smile light up a child’s face. There is no price you can place on that.

A year ago I tried defining what a “run” is, and again, not many people got it. It became imperative that The Great Run assumes a proper, easy-to-understand identity.

Going over the things that have happened with the previous two (and now also with the just-concluded third edition), we got a bee in our bonnet — not a vehicle bonnet, the bonnet in the idiom. How about we brand it as an endurance event? Car vs Driver vs Distance. Who will win the three-way match? Our archives told us that in previous runs, not 100 per cent of the cars finished under their own power. So set people a challenge and watch them sweat.

Seeing how we present certificates of participation and (as from Great Run II) medals and trophies, now participants have to actually EARN their awards. Go the distance, get recognised. Falter along the way and er…. too bad.

True to form, not everybody finished; some cars did not make the distance, and one driver who forgot to have breakfast before he left his house had to ask his passenger for assistance in helmsmanship lest he passes out at the wheel from hunger. For the sake of prudence and propriety I will not delve into details.

This event identity goes a long way in giving participants a sense of belonging. While in other motoring events the ordinary individual is reduced to passivity and cannot do much besides stand around like a lamp-post observing and possibly trying to get drunk while at it, The Great Run affords such people a chance to be “in on the action”.

The stickers and vehicle numbers are just cherries on the pie in giving our participants a first-hand experience in being part of “something”.

Don’t get me wrong: it has been a long-held misconception that The Great Run is a road race. No, it is most definitely not: there is no first and there is no last, there are no time stamps, there are no lap records, there are no average-speed recognitions; it is as simple as: Who will finish the course?

The Run takes place on public roads, and the event has not been sanctioned as a form of motorsport by the responsible authorities: so it is NOT a race. Traffic laws still apply.

A fortunate by-product in the organisation of The Great Run’s events comes from a very unlikely corner. To keep things lively for the participants and to reach as many children as possible, Great Run events take place on different routes every time.

One of our supporters (a former rally ace) called it “local tourism”, and I thought: In the name of internal combustion, the man is right! Who knew the roads to Namanga and Loitoktok were that smooth and that lonely? Who knew that the curvy, sinuous route from Machakos through Wote to Makindu was that scenic? How many of us had driven “around the mountain” before, so to speak; from Nyeri and/or Karatina, through Nanyuki to Meru?

Back to the run itself. This time, as you may have gathered by now, we went to SOS Children’s Village in Meru. For support, we had DN2 run ads and provide shirts. And make an appearance. You can imagine my surprise when my own editors showed up to take part in The Great Run in a Range Rover Sport!

Vivo Energy (agents of Shell Petroleum in Kenya) offered us a venue for starting, their Managing Director flagged us off and then, to top it all off, threw in a fat cheque for the children’s home (God bless the man).

Del Monte chipped in with plenty of fruit and juices for the small ones. Red Cross provided a fully-kitted ambulance in case things got hairy for drivers and/or their passengers. The rally ace came in his tow truck, ready to help the mechanically weak and the wayward.

There was another beneficiary: Toto Children’s home, from Embu. The original plan for Great Run III was to actually do a loop: Sagana—Nyeri—Nanyuki—Meru—Embu—Sagana (or the other way round) then head home. However, the road to Embu from Sagana… ahem… has some bumps along it that would… (cough, cough)… take out the body kit on a Lancer Evolution or rip out an aftermarket exhaust back-box from an Impreza STi… and the khat-bearing utilities that haunt that road take no prisoners; so, no.

However, we had already made contact with the children’s home in Embu, and it would have been really uncool for us to get their hopes up like that then break their hearts, so we asked them to please come and meet us in Meru at SOS… and they did.

Conclusion: I am not going to narrate what went down during the Run. This is one of those “you-had-to-be-there” situations, but all in all it was a huge success; partly because of the support of the Great Runners and the sponsors, and partly because of the massive turnout (we registered a record 75 cars, and we still had unregistered tag-alongs for those who couldn’t register in time but still wanted to take part).

Those that came for the Great Run III had a good time; and yes, there will be a Great Run IV. For now, let the pictures do the talking.

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Are lifesavers required by law?

Hi Baraza

I am a frequent reader and a big fan of your column, which I find both educative and humorous. Now, recently I was stopped by a traffic policeman. He checked my licence, which was in order, the insurance was also okay, and I thought all was well because I had also buckled up.

Then he asked me “Wapi lifesaver?” And the truth is, I did not have one. What happened is a story to be told another day. My question is, does the law require one to have those gadgets in the vehicle?


I can only hope that you are not writing to me from inside a police cell. The hardest lessons in life are those that we do not forget easily, or soon. You have my sympathies for discovering this the hard way.

Yes, it is now a legal requirement to have lifesaver triangles in your car, along with a fire extinguisher.

This was a law that was gazetted not too long ago and I will tell you from experience that the upholders of the law have been fastidious in upholding this particular one.

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I’m waiting for new RAV4 to outrun the X-Trail and CRV

In the recent past I have found myself in a good number of new cars, all of which beg reviews, but since there is hardly any time (or space) to do them all, they will have to share a bed or rather a space. To kick things off we have the new RAV4, the 2013 model.

Toyota RAV2 and RAV4: New this year is another iteration of the Random Access Vehicle (RAV), and with it comes some interesting new changes. The exterior has been tweaked. The car still looks a bit odd, just like the last one, but a different kind of odd.

The face has some Korean-ness about it (sharp and pointy, slashes and curves, all angles and lines, and generally the typical Pacific Rim characteristic of overdesign), the side has been infused with a lot of character (inverse relief here, a mix of convex and concave surfaces there), and there is a shelf at the back.

On the outside. The acreage of metal on the tailgate is overwhelming, a tendency further accentuated by the relatively small tail lamps. And there is a black plastic skirt going round the lower hem of the vehicle that we are told will not be replaced with a colour-coded option.

In other words, the Really Amorphous Vehicle is what it should be called. I will not say it is ugly, but when the light hits it just right, this is one car that a motoring correspondent would be hard put to describe in plain words.

Exactly like the outgoing model. The design language, says Toyota, is to shed the feminine image the ‘Roses And Violets’ car has had to endure for the previous three generations.

At the test drive they even had an ad-banner with two Doberman pinschers in it, and the blurb said “Mark Your Territory”. Very manly. For animal lovers especially; or dog-loving, manly rappers like DMX.

The interior is typical Toyota. Again, there is a shelf on the centre console right below the radio (please note that these shelves I am referring to are instruments of form, not function. Do not place stuff on them expecting the stuff to stay put for long).

There is some “space” below the shelf, then the usual gear lever gate/cubby-holes/cup-holders/hand-brake tunnel but from there is where Toyota’s cleverness comes to light — a pun, this, because the RAV’s interior is actually quite dark.

The transmission tunnel from the B-pillar rearwards has been “buried” (and even been disposed of) under the floor, greatly improving floor space and manoeuvrability — though the reason a person would want to slide from one side of the car to the other on a regular basis is unbeknownst to me — but the concept has worked. The leg-room at the back is impressive even for bean-poles like The Jaw and I.

The rear drive shaft has been buried under the floor. It could also be missing because for the first time ever in the history of motoring, the RAV4 is now available in 2WD… FF platform to be exact. So why did they not call it the RAV2?

The LWB version of the outgoing model gets its own name (Toyota Vanguard), so why did the 2WD version of this model not get its own label? RAV2 to be exact, because RAV4 in reality stands for Recreational Active Vehicle, 4-wheel drive.

So the FF car in reality is a RAV2, not a RAV4. I guess we will never know.

Anyway, the existence of the FWD car is to “capture” a “niche” that apparently Toyota has been missing out on. The “niche” of pretenders who want a big car to drive in places where it would be more practical and convenient to walk, such as from your middle-class suburban house to the supermarket, which is 300m away on a well-tarmacked road.

Toyota seems keen to “capture” this “niche”, judging from the pricing, let them have a go at it. Pointless vehicles have had sales success before (all Hummers, the BMW X6, and the Toyota Prius), so why not now?

Price range: Aah, the pricing. The base 2.0 litre 2WD with a lazymatic auto-box costs about Sh4 million. The specced-up 2.5 litre 4WD costs almost half as much again (!!!), at Sh5.8 million, and this is the only one available with a manual gearbox. The reign of the petrolhead is dangerously under threat here, but it has been for a while now. My heart bleeds.

Given the pricing, it is clear Toyota wants our “lifestyling” activities to change from things like white-water rafting, bungee jumping, hand gliding and surfing to stuff like shopping, going to the gym and generally places where there is a tarmac road.

It is obvious they want the 2WD to sell more. Also, the RAV4 has now been lowered by some millimeters, making it slightly less off-roadish than its ancestors.

The non-enthusiasts who will obviously go for the 2.0 litre 2WD car will pay for their sins. I am not saying it drives badly — it actually drives well, and the economy is amazing: close to 11 kpl even when thrashing it on the open road — but the 2.5 4WD is so much better.

It feels more together where the 2WD feels a bit feathery and wayward when challenged by cross-winds. The bigger 2.5 litre engine gives it more punch and there is the possibility of kicking the tail out when exiting a junction under power and excessive steering lock (doing this in the 2WD just creates massive understeer that scares the hell out of nearby hawkers).

Body control (elk test-esque swerving and swift overtaking) is also better optimised in the 4WD, and in Sport mode, the engine growling all the way to the red line gives the impression that torque is being tortured in an unsuccessful attempt to keep up with a silver Mercedes-Benz ML500 that has just overtaken me, and I really should get back on topic….

Economy also suffers. Half a (60-litre) tank to cover 180km is not worth bragging about, but you can blame my heavy right foot for that. Equivalent acts in the 2.0 litre 2WD yield, say, 70 per cent of the same exuberance, and the belligerence of the engine is not as charismatic. It sounds like just another automatic car struggling to make a point at times and in places where it really should not.

Sports utility

But I loved the Sport mode in both cars: the Tiptronic override is really only useful in downshifting when you want some engine braking (lack of full lock-up control at clutch level means you will not get the same retardation effect as you would in a conventional manual, so be ready to dab the brakes a little if you want to slow down sooner), upshifts take place at a heady 6,500 rpm even on part throttle, a notch past the peak power point, and progress is swift.

They have also given the car some new features previously seen on upscale cars. The rear tailgate is now powered (I want that), there is auto-adjustment between high beam and low beam for the headlamps (I do not want that, but thankfully it can be turned off), and there is… hold on a moment.

That powered tailgate takes some getting used to. It can be opened from the driver’s seat or from a button next to the number plate light, but shutting it requires you to be there at the tailgate to press a button on the lower edge for it to come down.

Also, knowing when the tailgate button or the key-fob control will open the tailgate is not easy. Sometimes with the doors open the tailgate button itself does not work. So you have to lock the doors and then open them again electronically for it to work.

Sometimes. It is hard to tell from one day’s use. Not handy when you are an assassin trying to make a quick escape with your high-powered rifle and three police departments hot on your heels, but then again, it is not everyday that an assassin will drive a RAV4. Hollywood tells us they prefer Audis.

I fear I may have digressed again…

Overall I would say the new RAV4 is a step up on the old one, but here is a word of advice to Toyota Kenya. This car’s rival is NOT the Nissan Qashqai: you do not set your targets as “I will not be last”; rather, say “I will be first”. The Nissan X-Trail is a more worthy opponent and there is some work that needs to be done to catch up with the CRV, which is kicking dust in faces right now.

My opinion? Do not squeeze the RAV4 out of market in favour of the “RAV2”. It is a good car and deserves sales.


Range Rover Sport borrowed from Defender 4

Victoria Falls, on the Zambia-Zimbabwe, border is where I have been this past week, driving a 2013 Range Rover Vogue L405 SDV8, a Land Rover Discovery 4 SDV6, a 2013 Range Rover Sport (SDV8 also) and a Range Rover Evoque SD4.

The Vogue and the Evoque I reviewed earlier, and they are the same amazing pieces of equipment they have always been, and since the Sport is due for replacement in the foreseeable future, let me talk about the Discovery 4.

It seats seven human beings (not five humans and two dolls like some other cars), the front and middle rows of seats both have sun-roofs and the seating arrangement is cinema hall-style: the middle row of seats is a bit higher than the front, and the back row overlooks the middle one. That way everybody can see where the driver is taking them.

Worth noting is the child-proofing of the hand-brake. It is electronic, yes, but it is accessible from a great number of locales within the car, so ill-behaved children can reach it.

The Discovery 4 has a safeguard against that. Applying the parking brake (inadvertently or the result of highly adventurous, safety-unconscious passengers) while in motion only activates the ABS, it does not lock the wheels like it normally should. You can try it if you own a Discovery 4… also, if you have the trousers for it.

The car is also roomier than its stable-mates and is an unstoppable force off-road, but has gone too far upmarket, unlike the first two generations which were essentially comfortable Defenders.

The current one is more of a “cheap” Range Rover (it donated its platform, like Adam donating a rib, for the creation of the Range Rover Sport). The Discovery 3 has a serious problem with the air suspension, which costs Sh300,000 per wheel to replace.

Seeing that you have to replace all four, the day you find your Discovery sitting on the floor like a relaxing elephant, know that Sh1.2 million is bout to fly out of your wallet. These are Range Rover bills right there.

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Fuel-saving devices and other hoaxes to avoid

I am sure many of you saw this coming: the second chapter of my hoax stories. This time round, they are much closer to home. Schemes (I will not call them scams just yet) either run by Kenyans or people using Kenyans.

Before proceeding, can I just lay down a disclaimer? I have not seen any of the products I am going to discuss here, mostly because I am not sure I even want to see them (that is the scientist and car buff in me talking).

Also, after not-so-lengthy discussions with the peddlers of these products, I am of the opinion that they are innocent and unaware that they are trying to pull the wool over our eyes using witnesses and ambassadors who, like the investors of water-powered engines, know precious little about how a car works.

I have read the blurb on how the manufacturers claim that these things work: one seems almost plausible while the other, well… let us just say it is good to learn the basics of how the electrical system of a car is wired and whether or not this affects the physical aspect (shape or form) of an engine’s internals in any way.

As is the norm with money-making scams… sorry, schemes… these two are aimed at an area we are sensitive about, that being the fuel economy of our cars. Pump-side expenses recur with such frequency as to be the most commonly discussed issue concerning motor vehicles, both by engineers and laymen.

It also makes this field fertile for seeds of hope, however unfounded and misguided these hopes may be. Anybody would love a solution to the numerous bothersome trips to the fuel forecourts, and so when someone steps up with magic pellets, snake oil, or a spell to chant every morning with the aim of improving fuel economy, he is guaranteed an audience.

These two certainly did; not only did they get an audience, they also got ambassadors (some of whom even appeared on TV taking liberties with statistics and throwing percentages around without much forethought).

These ambassadors included housewives, bank managers, high profile personalities, and a slew of other people who had two things in common: 1. They had used the product and, 2. They were not from the motoring industry. Not once has any of these peddlers included an automotive engineer, a motoring journalist… not even a mechanic as a witness. A telling sign? You tell me. Here are their stories:

The fuel filter that is more than just a filter: This little device reminds me of the SLX I talked about recently, in that it comes along with a whole lot of scientific explanations. Again, like Leach’s idea, it is convincing — to those who feared organic chemistry and were confused by the mole concept. This is the basis of operation:

The filter device is installed somewhere along the fuel system, typically just after the fuel pump but before the actual fuel filter (or another way of looking at it is before the fuel lines reach the engine bay).

It is some cylindrical thing that wraps around the fuel line and emits a strong magnetic field (now we are in the world of physics, another greatly feared subject… so few will have enough knowledge to raise an argument).

Now, hydrocarbons, which are derived from crude oil, are made of long molecules of carbon and hydrogen in form of chains. Petrol and diesel are hydrocarbons (with a few additives, but that is beside the point).

The idea behind this fuel filter (I do not know why they call it a “filter”) is that the strong magnetic field breaks these long chain molecules into smaller chain molecules and, if possible, into even smaller chain molecules, all in the name of “optimising combustion efficiency”. They say the lengthy molecules do not burn too well in the combustion chamber, so breaking them up into little bits improves their combustion properties.

Makes sense? Yes and no.

Yes, because from a chemical reaction point of view, having many smaller units rather than one large unit increases the effective surface area for reaction. That is why in the lab we prefer to use substances in powder form (or “filings” in the case of iron) instead of just great, big lumps of stuff. It makes for a faster, more efficient, and more complete reaction.

However, hydrocarbons are funny things, because for one, they are usually in liquid or gas form and you cannot fragment them the way you would a solid.

Also, hydrocarbons are defined by the number of carbon atoms in them. For the sake of example, I will use octane, which should be instantly identifiable to petrol-heads out there. It has eight carbon atoms per molecule (hence the prefix “oct-”).

If the molecule were to be split evenly, it would yield two butane molecules of four carbon atoms each. Now we have moved from a petrol additive to cooking gas (butane and propane are used in cooking gas cylinders). See where I am going with this?
If you split it even further, you get four ethane molecules of two carbon atoms each…. Now we are drawing closer to tequila and Nubian gin (chang’aa or ethanol).

My point is this: splitting a hydrocarbon molecule into smaller parts yields products that may have nothing to do with the original substance. When I brought up this issue with said peddler, he raised a counter-point:

“Ah, you see, we are not splitting the molecules themselves. These molecules come bunched up together and entangled within themselves. What we are doing is isolating the molecules for a smoother flow of fuel and better combustion. We are making the units smaller, not by breaking the molecules but by isolating them into itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny droplets that are good for combustion.”

What is the work of the injectors then? No answer.

The fellow may have a point, though. However, his claim ranks alongside that of the Pakistani engineer. “Secret calculations” do not hold water in the critical mind of a scientist, and though the peddler did not say anything about secret calculations, he should know that getting molecules to part ways with each other requires a lot of energy input, and a simple magnet will not do the trick.

And since the magnetism takes place just outside of the fuel tank, within the fuel lines, and the separated molecules continue travelling together within the same fluid medium through the narrow fuel lines to the engine, what is to stop them from getting tangled up again before they get to the fuel filter/injectors?

Why do we not see motoring giants applying this technology? No racing team that I know of uses it, no major manufacturer has said anything about it: not Toyota, not Mercedes, not Ferrari, not Volkswagen, not General Motors, nobody.

The makers of this device (and their minion housewife ambassadors) claim a 27 per cent improvement in fuel economy. Surely that is a figure substantial enough to attract the attention of a major engine builder, isn’t it? Why have they not snapped it up?

Light at the end of the dashboard: This second bit of kit I saved for last because I reckon some of you may have as big a laugh as I did when you read its claimed abilities. Installation is simple: it is what the IT world calls plug-and-play.

We have a little glowy thingy which you plug into the cigarette lighter port in the dashboard and voila! Economy improves by 27 per cent (also) instantly. Apart from preventing you from smoking while driving, I do not see how else it would affect anything. This was the point at which I was directed to their website.

These are the instructions on how to use this device, from the web page: “1. Turn off your car engine. 2. Plug in firmly into the cigarette ( auto plug) socket. 3. Turn your car engine and drive” (verbatim).

Doing this will give you access to a variety of benefits, which include, according to the web page, fuel savings between 10 per cent to 30 per cent, brighter headlights, stabilised voltage, reduced engine pressure, improved engine torque, reduced emission, high ignition power, improved horse power, improved air condition systems, smoother gear shift, clear audio AV system, and prolonged battery, plugs and “altermotor” lifespan….

All this is supposed to happen when the LED light blinks on after plugging it in. I am not even sure where to start. The device is a tiny little thing that you plug into the cigarette lighter port. How does it give smooth gear shifts if you have a manual transmission?

Does it change gears for you? That is not even the point. How is the cigarette lighter connected to the transmission? How does it save fuel? How does it make your headlamps brighter? If you have 100-watt bulbs, the only way you will make them brighter is to swap them with units of higher wattage.

What voltage does this thing stabilise? Why does that voltage need stabilising, anyway? “Reduced engine pressure”? What is that? Economy, torque and power improvement: can this thing access the engine control unit (ECU) through the socket? I cannot go on, this is simply ridiculous.

What it is and how does it work?

I asked for an explanation and there was none forthcoming, the excuse being that if I understood the technology inside it, I would run off to China with my new-found knowledge and start spewing knock-offs: that is how good it is (allegedly).

I do not think so. The response and claims I received just barely managed to avoid words like “magic” and “miracle”. The only time light and miracles go together is in religious teachings. And fantasy movies.

This is a device that has been specifically banned by several automotive websites in the US, and in my hands I had someone trying to get it some free air-time in my column. Well, he got his wish.

My verdict, take it or leave it: Now, the first device looks like a workable idea, only that the makers tend to skip some really vital aspects of chemistry and physics in their explanations. Also, it seems a bit irrelevant.

Direct injection, swirl control valves, stratified fuel delivery, infinitely timed pulses, and the use of really small (multi-point) injector nozzles makes for combustion as complete as we will ever have. The key to efficiency now is to minimise energy losses in form of heat.

So we are barking up the wrong tree on that one. The second device has no place in the world outside of Harry Potter; where a light glows and magic happens and suddenly things are much better than they were a moment earlier. They should try something else.

In both instances, credibility went down when, during the discussions, we got to the point where we agreed there was only one way to find out. Put the devices to the test. Both agents insisted I buy the product first.

I do not want either of these things, I already have the best fuel saving kit one can ever have: my right foot and whatever material lies between my ears. No, can’t do, they said. No demo units, you test it on the premise that you will buy it.

For people making such big claims, you would think that they would have one or two demo units available for review. If Jaguar Land Rover can spare 15 vehicles each costing Sh20 million just for gambolling in the Moroccan desert, I do not see how these folks cannot spare an item the size of a cologne bottle (or smaller) for the same purpose.

I was not asked to buy the supercharged Jaguar XJ saloon I drove after my recent road test in Durban was done, was I? The whole setup reeked of someone desperate to make a sale, if only a single one, to justify their existence as an outlet for these products.

Be smart. Improvement in fuel economy begins in your mind and gets transferred down to your right foot. I have said time and again, driving style is the biggest determinant of fuel consumption if all factors are kept constant. I stand by my statement.

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The great H2O hoax… people just never learn

There are very many ways in which a car can be powered. Some of these methods have entered large scale mainstream use — petrol, electricity, ethanol, biodiesel, LPG — while some, though they worked, were not commercially or ethically viable — chicken guano, dog (yes, dogs have powered motor vehicles), charcoal (believe it!), compressed air, liquid nitrogen and tequila.

That whole statement is true, just so you know. There are cars that have run on the tipple that, when not properly regulated, often leads to a night full of bad decisions and a morning full of regret.

The number of people who understand exactly how a car engine works is a very small one, as can be seen every week on Wednesday when the Car Clinic segment runs (forget what you read in the paper, you should see the stuff that does not get published.

It is tragic). This makes the motoring industry prime real estate for establishing hoaxes as outrageous and elaborate as they are creative and daring: one major manufacturer once attended a global climate conference and fronted an electric van; only that it was not electric, it was a regular petrol-powered van with the words “Electric Vehicle” painted on the side. The attendees were none the wiser.

We have had manufacturers take liberties with statistics, be it power output (Ford with the Mustang GT 390) or top speed (Jaguar with the E-Type) in the hope that the cowardly and afraid-to-think-for-themselves people who buy those cars will never bother to countercheck those figures. Thank God for the motoring press.

One thing that cannot happen now and is not likely to happen any time soon is the achievement of water propulsion in a road-going motor vehicle. Water cannot burn, and water does not create or store electricity; these two being the main ways of powering an automobile.

We have had cars powered by steam, but these were monstrous contraptions dating back to the days when we had ducking stools instead of electric chairs for punishing those who cannot adapt properly to society.

This has not stopped some really determined types from trying to revive H2O horsepower. If we judge them by their doings, then they all deserve to be strapped to a ducking stool and dunked several times in the same water with which they are trying to fool us.

Louis Enricht: 1844-1923

Mr Enricht ran two lies, the first being that he could run a car on water, and the second that his secret formula was “inexpensive”. He called up the press and set up a demonstration where he first invited the reporters to inspect the motor vehicle just to make sure there were no auxiliary fuel tanks.

Having established that, he then proceeded to do his act: he asked one of them to bring him a bucket of regular tap water, to which he added a green substance.

Mr Enricht then poured the resultant solution into the fuel tank of the car (nobody says what car this was), cranked the engine and voila! The engine turned over and ran. He was in. Just to sweeten the deal, the exhaust smelt of almonds.

Among his most notable victims was Henry Ford himself, who paid Enricht a visit in 1918 in the company of Ford’s New York area manager.

Enricht had admitted that the almond smell came from cyanide (readers of spy novels would recognise this as a respiratory poison favoured as a suicide agent by carriers of sensitive information), but he would not reveal anything else until his lawyers had patented his formula.

The creator of the Model T offered to buy the formula from Enricht, who had by then attracted millions of investment dollars from his demonstration.

Some $100,000 (Sh8.7million) was put up by one Hiram Maxim as a down payment on a million-dollar investment; the rest to be paid when the formula was revealed — but this was later withdrawn (allegedly).

A banker named Yoakum was more enthralled and put up a similar amount, after which he was given an envelope reported to contain the secret to the water magic with the promise that Yoakum would not open it until the million dollars was paid.

Then the plot got really thick. Enricht was accused of being a German spook. This prompted good old Yoakum to unseal the envelope (breach of contract) only for him to discover that it contained a few low-value treasury bonds. Ticked off, he ran to court but his attempt to have Enricht tried for treason failed.

A clever fellow by the name of Miller Reese Hutchison observed Enricht’s demonstration and came to the conclusion that Louis was using a mixture of liquid acetylene and nail polish remover.

This mix is more expensive than ordinary petrol to start with, and oddly enough, when mixed with water, will run an engine. However, the amount of corrosion and wear that the engine will experience will ensure that engine life will be measured in hours instead of years. The cyanide was used to mask the smell of acetone.

That he escaped unscathed from this escapade gave Enricht the gall to try another scam four years later, this time claiming that he could distill gasoline from peat.

Peat is essentially swamp material. In true human fashion, again investors came flocking to him, but there was one district attorney (Nassau County) who didn’t like the look of Enricht, and decided to investigate him and his accounts, only for the DA to discover that investor money was being blown away in gambling exercises.

On the back foot, Enricht tried (and failed) to demonstrate in court how his “machine” could produce naphtha from swamp material, and the unimpressed judge found Enricht guilty of grand larceny and threw him in the clink for a good seven years. Enricht claimed that the disassembly and reassembly of his equipment caused the fiasco but the judge would have none of it.

Poor Louis passed away at the age of 79 shortly afterwards, just when he was due for parole. Science will not miss him.

Sam Leslie Leach:

Now, Mr Leach’s experiment actually makes sense from a scientific point of view. His idea was to create a “hydrogen generator” that used “electrolysis” to produce hydrogen from water. The hydrogen would then be combusted in the engine to produce… water. This was in the 1970s, and this can be done.

However, science has not gone as far as uncovering an efficient way of achieving this; and by efficient I mean less energy-intensive and with a net-gain in energy production (energy released exceeds energy consumed).

The commonest methods of production of hydrogen are the gasification of coal and the electrolysis of water; none of which is cheap, easy or simple; in processes that are predominantly endothermic (they use up energy) as opposed to exothermic (they release energy) such as the combustion of petrol. But scientists thought this was good because they had never heard of the SLX — the Samuel Leach Experiment.

This is how it works, in a nutshell. A water molecule is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, hence the chemical symbol H2O. These atoms are held together by a non-radioactive bond; a force slightly similar to magnetism.

If a reactant were to be introduced in the correct amounts and the correct environment, that oxygen atom could be made to adopt another preference and bond with this new reactant, leaving the Hydrogen free, and it is this hydrogen that we seek.

It could be done by “changing the polarity” (if we look at the bond as magnetic) of the oxygen such that rather than attract hydrogen, it would repel it.

The exact process would be to superheat water to 300 degF (149 degC) in an enclosed space then introduce it to a reaction chamber containing said reactant. Two simultaneous and interdependent reactions would then occur: at specific temperatures and pressures the reactant would bond with oxygen atoms, liberating the hydrogen atoms in an oxidising exothermic reaction (produces heat).

The liberated hydrogen atoms would then be reunited into hydrogen molecules in a photochemical reaction that would also release heat. The implications of such a reaction working are immense.

Some said Mr Leach’s vision was as viable as a wooden engine, but the jibes came to a quick stop when several patents began rolling in. HJs “lab rat”, the test vehicle, was a Plymouth Horizon TC3.

For an engine to run on hydrogen, modifications have to be made to its combustion chamber design, ignition, timing, combustion surface texture, method of fuel delivery, spark plugs, and combustion-exposed materials (pistons, rings, and valve heads, for example).

Spark plug characteristics relative to cold-start versus warm-engine drivability also must be changed. Sudden burning of fuel and resulting cylinder pressure rises can lead to damaged pistons, rings, walls, gaskets, and bearings. Uncontrolled, these conditions are similar to knocking or pre-ignition in ordinary petrol engines.

The real story is a bit too long to elaborate here, but as people who have fallen off ladders can attest, there is no escaping the laws of physics: in Mr Leach’s case being the laws of thermodynamics.

As I said earlier, more energy is required to create hydrogen than is produced when burning that hydrogen. Also, as I have mentioned in the preceding paragraph, the basic design of a petrol engine needs some small changes before it can run properly on hydrogen. Mr Leach’s efforts are still being studied, we will give him credit for that, but as far as his claim that he had found a way for a car to run on water… he lied to us.

What makes it odd is that he was already a multimillionaire, so it is unlikely that an empty wallet drove him to the claims. It could have been a matter of pride. Many believed him (I would too), and the amount of investment that followed the patents was staggering. What happened after is a matter of conjecture as further information on him is unavailable.

Agha Waqar Ahmad

At least Mr Leach had the decency to give us an outline of his thinking. This Pakistani individual didn’t. And unlike the other two fellows who lived in times when things uncomprehended could be simply explained away as “magic”, Agha The Engineer lives in an era of Google, The New Scientist Journal and sharing of information (copyright and intellectual property laws will save the budding inventor from plagiarism).

As of July 2012, he is the latest preacher of water as the lifeline of automotive propulsion.

He claims to have a water kit that will allow a car to run purely on water, and achieve an economy figure of 40km per litre of the Great Slaker Of Thirst. Not only does he want the water to power cars, he has a vision where it will power his entire country. And he has the entire country listening.

His idea follows that of Leach very closely: produce hydrogen which will be combusted in the engine; but he prefers electrolysis instead of Leach’s magic reactants. His kit is as simple as a cylindrical jar with water and electrodes in it, essentially an electrolytic cell, which is powered by the car battery.

Having broken water into its constituent elements, the car won’t even need to breathe the same air as us: after all it has its own oxygen supply (hydrogen and oxygen gases would be the results of the electrolysis). This mix can run in an unmodified petrol engine, he says. The kit requires distilled water, he adds.

“I am better than other inventors in achieving high amounts of HH and O because I have ‘undisclosed calculations’”, he boasts. This has ticked off the Western media, who have since branded him a fraud and are laughing at Pakistan’s expense for entertaining a trickster.

The government attention he was seeking, he got. Several ministers have endorsed his work. One minister branded him a national hero (reminds me of George Orwell’s Animal Hero First Class) while another said he had “revolutionalised” science, following a lot of publicity and carefully orchestrated demonstrations.

Not long afterwards, he has been chided for not explaining properly how his kit works without blatantly flouting the second law of thermodynamics: the law of conservation of energy (allegations of 200 per cent efficiency had scientists and maths geeks like me laughing).

A TV appearance in Abu Dhabi did not go well, and his weak defense of not having installed the water kit on the car he was to demonstrate with live on air started losing him some support.

Nuclear physicists in particular have denounced his work as delusional and ignorant, and the fact that so much national pride and the hopes of a government desperately in need of cheap energy and world recognition are pegged on his pipe dream make for a potentially ugly outcome.

Reading the reactions of his fellow Pakistanis in the original press release of his invention makes one cringe, as once again I think about how important it is that one goes to school….

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A case of bad laws, kamikaze drivers and fake Ferraris

Hi JM,

I have a motoring question, but not about cars. It’s about drivers, road safety and accident reduction. To exhort drivers to change behaviour has as much a chance of success as a snowball in hell.

But one move which will certainly have positive results is be to launch a highway patrol division of the police. This would comprise high-powered cars, in a highly visible livery, equipped with properly calibrated equipment to check speed and video cameras to record errant driver behaviour.

The mere presence of these vehicles on our roads will cause some drivers to adjust their technique, and others will do so when it is seen how effective the patrol is in putting drivers in court! This would catch bad drivers before accidents, not after. I’d be interested to get your views on ways of reducing accidents and deaths on our roads.


Tony Gee

Hello again, Tony. I agree, talking will not solve anything, nor will the abnormally punitive laws that keep coming up. If anything, those laws will only broaden the scope for extortion.

If one risks a three-year or Sh500,000 penalty for what may be, in essence, a “minor” infraction, think of the possibilities. Even the most moral amongst us will start to seriously consider greasing a palm with a promise “not to do it again”.

Your suggestion, by the way, may already be under consideration by the government. Spotted around town is the MG 6 Turbo, in various GK colours, including the blue-and-white patrol livery.

Also spotted was a fleet of Imprezas, again, in police colours. Sadly, these are not STi-spec (for more of my thoughts on this, please check out

The powerful police cars, complete with video equipment, would be a powerful deterrent. In town, I’m thinking cameras would also work: those misbehaving within roundabouts or jumping red robots will soon find themselves in an uncomfortable position as they are presented with photographic evidence of themselves caught in the act.

The government revenue from fining these folks would go up, and even more noticeably, bad behaviour on our roads will disappear.

Hi Mr Baraza

I have an ex-UK VW Touareg fitted with an automatic gearbox. On accelerating, as it auto-changes from D3 to D4 or lowers from D4 to D3, there is this heavy jerk that is startling. A local mechanic (ex CMC) reckons I should change the gearbox, but I am not convinced. Actually, I don’t want to! Your diagnosis and treatment please.

Ms Lucy Ciru

That mech is an expert in burying his head in the sand. Gearboxes are not cheap. Have a diagnosis done, but first of all check the level of the ATF. It may be too low (or too high). Also, first-generation Touaregs had unrefined, slow-thinking gearboxes, and so it could be that the jerking is one of those characteristics that defined the car at the time.

Dear Baraza,

Thanks for helping us grow our knowledge and understanding of cars. I am trying to make a decision between two car models: a Subaru Forester and a VW Golf station wagon, both 2005 versions.

How would you compare the two using the following parametres: ground clearance, general and off-road handling, stability, performance , ‘hotness’ and resale value? And which of the two would you go for?

Clearance: The Forester wins.General handling: I’d still say the Forester. However, if the Golf was hatchback…

Of-road handling: No contest. Forester.

Stability: Hard to call. The Golf has a lower ride height, but the Forester is set up in the fashion of the Impreza, and it has 4WD to boot, so…. Forester?

Performance: Forester. Especially if it has the letters “STi” attached to the rest of the name.

‘Hotness’: This is relative. Your opinion matters here to you more than mine does.

Resale value: Take a guess. Yes, you are right. Forester again. Kenyans are scared of European cars, and oddly enough, they also love Foresters, so reselling one would never pose a problem.

My pick: Ahem… drum roll… and the winner is… the Forester. Especially if it has the letters “STi” attached to the rest of the name.

Hi Baraza,Thank for your informative articles on motoring, which you do with a touch of wry humour. About three or four years ago there were reports on BBC radio that police were investigating the sale of counterfeit Ferraris in Italy. Please let me know :

1. How these counterfeits compare to the genuine article in terms of specifications, performance and availability of spare parts.

2. Whether there is a big market to sustain such an enterprise.

3. If it is legal to own such vehicles.


1. I have no idea. I have never owned or driven a Ferrari; real or fake. I once owned a Ferrari toy though….

2. Maybe in China. And maybe Kenya too (we have to admit, Kenyans have a taste for fake stuff. I, for one, own a fake Breitling watch. I realised it was fake because it cannot summon a helicopter, but apparently the real thing can…)

3. I don’t know. I think local laws would apply (they might be legal in China. And maybe Kenya. But they are definitely illegal in Italy).

Hello Baraza,

I applaud you for your good work! I’m happy to tell you that I have accumulated enough savings to purchase an eight-year-old car. However, I can’t make a choice between a Toyota Premio 1800cc and a Toyota Avensis 1800cc. Therefore, kindly enlighten me on the following issues between the two species of Toyota.

1. Which one supersedes the other in terms of versatility?

2. Which one supersedes the other in terms of fuel efficiency?

3. Why is the Avensis not as common as the Premio?

4. I have seen some manual-gearbox Avensis’ but not any manual Premio. Why is this so yet they come from the same Kingdom?

5. Which of the two is stable at high speed when all other things are held constant?

I hope your answers will not polarise the customers of either species lest you be accused of bias.Regards,

Peter Waweru

1. None

2. None

3. The Avensis was sold in small numbers new, from Toyota Kenya. The used Avensis being imported are mostly ex-UK (where they are exclusively assembled). The Premios are mostly ex-Japan (where they are also exclusively assembled). More imported cars come from Japan than the UK, so there.

4. Actually they don’t come from the same Kingdom. As pointed out in 3 above, the Avensis is assembled in the UK and has a European target market. The Premio is a JDM car. Market forces/dynamics and vehicle classification led Toyota into deciding that the Premio will be auto-only, while the Avensis would have the option of a manual gearbox.

5. They are the same.

Hi Baraza,

While I have no reservations about the performance of the Subaru Outback, kindly help me clarify one or two issues:

1. How is the fuel consumption of the car in comparison with the Toyota Premio 1800cc, which I own?

2. I am a moderate-speed driver with an average income of Sh250,000. Do you think I can maintain the Outback comfortably? I am a family man with two daughters and I don’t drink or go partying.

3. Are the spare parts for the Outback expensive?

The Premio has been wonderful so far but I am in love with heavy cars not exceeding 2500cc. Also, if you were to choose between Toyota Mark X and the Outback, which one would you go for?



1. The fuel consumption is definitely much higher in the Outback than in the Premio (I want to add duhhh… at this point).

2. Ahem… I really can’t answer that. I don’t know your priorities, or your budgetary allocations for the basic needs and wants of your family. And to be honest, I’d rather not know. That is personal information. Only you can decide whether or not keeping the Outback will bankrupt you.

3. A little bit more, compared to the Premio.

Between the Mark X and the Outback I’d go for the Mark X. But one with 3,000cc and a supercharger (316 bhp)

Hi Baraza,

Great column, Sir! Just read your piece stating that you want to supercharge a Carina. ’Been considering turbo- or super-charging a 1992 Corrolla AE 100 but was held back by the many modifications I would have to do to the engine for it not to fall apart, and to the brakes and suspension (guessing would need stiffer suspension). ’Curious, therefore, to know:

1. Where I can get a super-charger or turbo-charger compatible with a Toyota engine.

2. What mods I would have make to the engine (guessing air intakes, fuel pump, engine block and pistons, heads, valves etc); the suspension stiffer and responsive, the transmission, and the brakes (I prefer ventilated discs, rear and front). Please be specific on brands and cost, if known.

3. Which garage should I use? Most guys I speak to don’t have the faintest idea how to go about it.

4. The overall costing.

5. Would nitrous be a better option? What is the resultant power and cost implications? What garages, if any, can do a proper job? I did consider just buying a stock Starlet GT engine, but feared  compatibility and performance issues (AE 100 is much heavier), or getting a trubo Subaru Forester engine and plugging it into the AE 100, but then again compatibility cropped up. Although it would be a labour of love for me, the logistics (getting products and reliable garage) and costs (might just be cheaper and more reliable buying a WRX) have made me reconsider. So I’m quite curious to what you have in mind and how you would go about it.

BTW: On the V8 Land Rover, I have a friend who just bought a 500hp 6.4 litre Ford F150 Raptor and he has been going on about it. It sounds like a good idea and a much simpler project to mount a V8 on a 4×4, although you could just buy a V8 Land Rover or Range Rover and avoid the headache. Thanks, and sorry for the long mail.

PH (Petrol Head) Nzoka.

Nzoka, actually, it’s an Allion that I want to supercharge, not the Carina. Anywho:

1. Toyota Racing Development (commonly known as TRD). Either that or get one from someone else. I may know one or two people who want to get rid of their TRD superchargers (if they haven’t already done so)
2. That is one long list you are requesting there, and requires a bit of research. I haven’t come up with a proper check list of all the mods I intend to do, mostly because I don’t have the Allion to start with (or the money to supercharge it). But it is a serious plan. I will let you know once I embark on it.

3. I will use The Paji’s garage (Auto Art K Ltd). He does this kind of thing all the time, and I want to abuse my friendship to pay less (or nothing) for the work.

4. See 2. And 3. Mostly 2…

5. I really abhor the use of nitrous injection, so if and when I start modding an Allion, I will eschew that line of tuning. Power implications are heavily dependent on set up (dry shot, wet shot or direct port), while cost implications will be bad for anybody who depends on you for survival.

It will burn a huge hole in your pocket, and your cylinder head if not done properly. Garage? Auto Art. Or Unity Auto Garage, somewhere near Auto Art.

That friend with the Raptor: Where does he drive it? I’m curious. Stay in touch for the time when I start the modification. It may not necessarily be an Allion, but I definitely want to modify an NA engine with a supercharger, just to see the effects (turbos have been done by many, I want something unusual)

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Nairobi to Namanga and back: Petrolheads with a cause

The Birth of Great Run: In the world of petrolheads, a “run” is simply a drive from here to there, and possibly back to here.

It has nothing to do with the Olympic Games — even though “run” is also a word whose meaning our Olympic athletes seem to have forgotten.

However, depending on the degree of organisation, there could be an element of competition. The Paji and I introduced a mutual acquintance called The Jaw (or simply Jaw) into the picture.

Our three heads agreed that a run would be a good idea. Creative juices were at an all time low that day, and so, lacking a better name, we decided to call our gig “The Great Run”. The name stuck.

Precedents, Precautions and Preparations: Ours is not the first run in history; it is not even the first run locally, but it was certainly the first to be — almost — commercialised over here.

It was shaped in the fashion of the world-famous Cannonball Sea-To-Shining-Sea Trophy, better known as the Cannonball Run, in the US. Other runs of note are the Gumball 3000 of Europe and… ummh… yeah.

There were a few issues to be careful of. While the Cannonball and Gumball runs involve competitive driving, foresight demanded that we eschew this line of thought.

Introduce a clique of restless Kenyan drivers in high-powered vehicles to a driving “competition” and you will have opened a veritable can of legal, administrative and life-threatening worms. For evidence of this, refer to Subaru Fest’s Gymkhana Challenge.

We had to have something with gravitas. We needed a sponsor to endorse our arrangement and lend an air of legitimacy to our project. We needed participants. We needed a route. We needed to divide these responsibilities amongst ourselves. Most of all, we needed money. This is how it went.

The one sponsor we got pulled out at the last minute. It followed that costs had to be covered out of our own pockets, but I will confess: costs were covered mostly out of The Paji’s pockets.

The Jaw handled the fruitless phone calls demanding sponsorship and sought entities that would provide “background support”, such support being the printing of T-shirts and stickers for the participating drivers and their vehicles.

I adopted a managerial position: the key responsibility being standing around looking important while actually doing nothing. The Paji and The Jaw are two very patient men, I must point out here.

Three weeks, it took us — them, rather. Three weeks to establish an online presence, gather a sizeable crowd, find a route, do a recce, print T-shirts and stickers, find (and subsequently lose) a sponsor, and identify the unwitting beneficiary of another last-minute occurrence: a charity addition to our list of requirements.

You see, we may love cars, but we also give back to society. Note: We were told to say this by someone who whispered to us that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is fashionable in big companies, so talk of charity will help you snare an unsuspecting firm with money to lose… I mean… spend.

July 14, 2012: This was the date of The Great Run. The starting point was at a fuel forecourt in Parklands, Nairobi, and the variety of hardware present was enough to warm the cockles of any auto-oriented heart. I could not have hoped for a bigger turnout, especially considering my “managerial” approach to the whole thing; but the response was enormous.

There were Nissan Skyline GTRs, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions and countless Subarus, in various forms, shapes, colours, ages and degrees of tune (later in the run, also various states of mechanical soundness, but let me not dwell on this).

There was a Hummer H3 (!!), which I would have chased off were it not for the fact that its (mostly human) contents were instrumental in making our event a success then and afterwards.

There were a lot of other cars, but the ones that stood out the most were a father-and-son pair in a Mk IV Toyota Supra and a Nissan 350 Z “Fairlady”. Time to drive.

The Event: Had we got a sponsor, we would have had the money to make maps and print navigational details for everybody, and this shortcoming was felt within three gear changes from the starting point.

In spite of the instructions I shouted at the gathered crowd just before departing (We are going to the Tanzanian border!!), after the start some of the cars left in several different directions and it was with a sinking feeling that I assumed maybe people were heading back home after collecting their T-shirts. The Jaw insisted I should have more faith in human nature.

And I should have. There were no deserters (at that point). I took a wrong route myself, my excuse being that I was trailing one of the “lost” vehicles.

Our first unintended meeting point was 10 minutes from the start when it transpired that one of the cars had a six-cylinder engine, but, ahem, was only running on five — spark plug issues.

(To protect the privacy of owners, drivers and participants, certain details will be omitted). Everybody had stopped in a long queue behind the stricken car, on the side of the road. I was last to arrive at the scene, approaching it from the wrong direction.

More Drama: The run was not without incident. The burnt spark plug was just the first of several. When turning off the Mombasa highway to enter Kitengela, two cars got lost (again) and went on towards Mombasa (Mr Not-Sponsor, are you reading this? We need maps!). They were reined in in short order.

One of the cars, a blue Lancer Evolution (VIII or IX, it was hard to tell), suffered a heart attack. Pumped full of steroids, the extremely capable tarmac athlete over-exerted itself and got a myocardial infarction, haemorrhaging to death.

It had to finish the trip at the back of a hearse. In real terms, the Evo was pulling hard when an oil seal blew and the car lost all oil pressure and had to retire, returning home atop a tow truck. This was the first DNF (Did Not Finish).

Next victim was another Evo, a grey one. Said vehicle was conducting a spectacular overtaking manoeuvre when the driver found himself on the receiving end of the unfinished work results from an incompetent road repair crew.

The fellows had abandoned the site, leaving it unmarked and with rocks strewn all over the road surface. This put the Evo driver between a rock and a hard choice.

Too late to stop, he noticed some especially daunting bits of landscape right in his overtaking path. If he dodged them to the left, he would slam broadside into the car he was trying to pass.

To the right was a guard rail, beyond which lay an abyss. If he continued straight, he was going to hit the rocks and shatter at least one of his rims.

He chose to continue (wise decision), and his fears were manifested: three spokes and a section of the front offside rim edge were bent out of shape, shredding the tyre into useless ribbons of rubber. Hopeless space-saver spare in the boot… second DNF.

The remaining DNFs were not DNFs per se, they intentionally did not finish; and they were the biker gang.

Heading for the nearest border requires one to cover quite some distance, and balancing a 150kg lump of metal between your legs while moving at warp speed can really sap one’s strength and resolve, almost as fast as some of those cars were draining their fuel tanks.

They begged leave of us and we graciously allowed them to. I would not want to be responsible, by virtue of duress, for the outcome of when a biker man is approaching a sharp turn and tries to apply the brakes only to realise that his fingers have gone numb from the sustained blast of cold wind on them…

Charity: Hawa Children’s Home: The route was very simple. Drive to Namanga and back. It so happens that along this route lies a children’s home just 9km outside of Kitengela town as you drive towards Kajiado.

This was our point of charitable focus and a brief stopover there provided not only a respite from the hard charging on the highway, but also allowed the little orphans to mingle with the owners of cars they would probably like to own when things eventually turn out right in their lives.

The place is called Hawa Children’s Home, and it is run by the Rotary Club and the St Andrew’s Church. It serves as the abode for 24 no-longer-unfortunate orphans of various ages between four and 18, with room for up to 200, and they were the surprised recipients of clothing, stationery and several cash handouts from participants of the Great Run.

Who says we waste all our resources on fuel, eh?

What We Learnt From The Great Run: Most of the questions I receive in my Car Clinic were brought to the fore that day. Performance (about 60 to 70 per cent of the cars had the kind of performance you wouldn’t dare exploit fully), fuel economy — or the lack thereof (Toyota Supra), cost of spares (again, the Toyota Supra), maintenance costs (take a guess. You’re right! the Supra), reliability (the oil-less Evo and a mechanically unfaithful Subaru whose brakes caused the driver untold worry) and ground clearance — or the lack thereof (about 30 per cent of the cars will struggle on unpaved roads).

What can I say? That orange Supra has been modified to the apogee of motor vehicle tuning. Nothing is stock, except, maybe, for the engine block. And I can’t even begin to describe what had been done to the Evo that lost its oil.

Why? Back to my original question: What were we thinking? Why did The Paji, The Jaw and Yours Truly stage The Great Run? It is mostly because we wanted to. And because we could.

We wanted something extraordinary; let us call it a moving motor show. Static shows are fine, yes, but car buffs prefer seeing and hearing these vehicles do their thing in the metal.

To “legalise” the project and keep a lid on potential hazardous behaviour, we formalised the whole affair and included a safety car, which I drove (more drama: as the safety car driver, I had to tail the entire convoy, but returning from Namanga, I found myself as Car Number 3 in a split convoy of about 20.

Unbeknownst to me, out back the Supra had ground to a halt, having lost one expensive tyre to a puncture. I had to turn back. Total mileage at the end of the day: 464km).

An unexpected bonus was the charity. Little did we know that we had opened a channel for philanthropic minds which otherwise did not know where to direct their generosity.

It turned out to be a blast, the only complaints from participants being that we did not spend enough time at the home, and that had they known beforehand, they would have given more (that charity thing was literally last minute, I tell you).

As a result, there has been public demand for an encore. Auto Art the Paji, Jaw the Jaw and I intend to honour that demand.

Missed Shifts: Two elements that should have been there — but weren’t — were a supercharged 5.0-litre V8 coupé (part of the sponsorship package that we lost) and a news reader (not part of the sponsorship package).

I was hoping to drive the supercharged car with the news reader in it, but having been withdrawn from the table, I resorted to a naturally aspirated 3.4-litre V6 vehicle, further plundering The Paji’s already stretched resources.

The news reader is a personal friend who thinks she likes cars, but an entropy in the lines of communication led to her missing out on The Great Run. As a result, rather than having a comely news reader in the passenger seat of the 3.4 V6 with me, I had to put up with a Jaw.

Bring on the next run.