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Should I get a Honda Airwave or just stick to a trusted Toyota?

Thanks for your informative articles. Kindly contrast and compare Honda Airwave and any Toyota such as the Toyota Wish. I have seen many Kenyans buy Hondas.

I wanted to buy an Airwave but out of the people I talked to, including mechanics, about one out of ten encouraged me. One of my friends who owned one a 1500cc mentioned that it even consumes less than a normal Toyota with the same 1500cc.

Majority cited issues of availability of spare parts and resale value. I looked more spacious than a Toyota Wish considering that you can fold the back seats. The price difference between the two then was around Sh200,000.What is your take on Hondas? Is it that the Toyota did a lot in marketing?

Ken

 

Hondas are an open secret in the motoring world. If you want the best of Japan while avoiding the too-obvious Toyota, get a Honda.

If anything, this is the one car that is more reliable than a Toyota, too bad the Civic did not and does not sell like the Corolla; and Honda doesn’t build a pickup.

They do build and sell dozens of millions of motorcycles, though, and no, that is not hyperbole, they DO build motorbikes in the eight figures.

Spare parts are not and should never be a problem. How many Airwaves have you seen around? How do THOSE owners maintain their vehicles? Feel free to join them.

Resale value may be disheartening at the moment owing to the “should-I-shouldn’t-I?” uncertainty and indecisive mindset that you and many others seem to have; so hopefully this will clear things up: Yes, you should. I plan to, too, one day…. VTEC coming soon to a column near you.

Residual values are something else; related to resale value but not dependent on it.

Actually, the converse is true: resale value is dependent on residual value. Residual value is how well the car holds up over several years of usage and ownership, but this is not per car, it is per model of car.

Here are examples: cars with good residual values are best exemplified by the Toyota Landcruiser and the Toyota Hilux. They simply never depreciate.

This does not mean that you cannot find a grounded or worthless Hilux, you can and will, though this will be an isolated case; but as a model, it maintains its physical (not sentimental) value over time.

Cars with bad residual values? They’re almost exclusively European and almost exclusively French. Peugeot tops the list closely followed by its fellow Frog-mobiles: Renault and Citroen. Alfa Romeo also joins the list of Euro-letdowns, but this brand of car is usually rescued from ignominy by its sentimental value. Its residual value is below zero.

Toyota may have done a lot of marketing, but the biggest contributing factor to their success was they let their products speak for themselves. The two aforementioned vehicles, the Hilux and the Landcruiser, have done more to market Toyota as a brand than a billion-dollar advertising budget ever could.

Honda’s engines may also speak for themselves, but this is only in closed circles: Ask anyone to explain what VTEC means (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) or how it works (a camshaft with two cam profiles or two different camshafts; one of which is oriented for economy and the other for performance, and the switchover occurs at around 6,000rpm) and they’ll stare at you like you were a creature from Star Wars.

Yet VTEC engines are the one type of engine to have never suffered a single failure in their entire history, not one, and this is in spite of them being in production since 1988 and now numbering in the tens of millions.

How about the fact that Honda designed a cylinder head (CVCC heads) for use in its American version of the Civic hatchback, a design so delightfully simple and so fiendishly clever that the fuel economy figures achieved from a carburetor-fed engine from the 1970s are still unbeaten even by today’s cleverest EFI systems?

This geeky techno-frippery may be what scared people off Honda. Everybody is cagey about innovation, especially the really technical ones.

Try selling an all-in-one app to a major corporation and see them approach it like a cat approaching a bath.

Then again, maybe the movies,  newsreels of war theatres, bush ambulances, adventuring tourists, lifestyling twentysomethings, successful businessmen and happy farmers almost always feature a Toyota Landcruiser or a Toyota HIlux and we are thus indoctrinated from childhood to believe that Toyota is the beginning and the end of everything; anything outside of that is nothing but a brief and temporary sojourn into the unknown.

 

Hi Baraza, 

Does engaging ‘N’ (neutral gear) when going downhill save on fuel, mine is a Toyota  DX with a 4E engine, what’s  the average fuel consumption in terms of l/km.

Matata

Yes, coasting downhill saves fuel… somewhat. It is not the best fuel-saving driving technique, though. A Toyota DX will return anything from 10km/l to 20km.k, depending on who is driving and how it is being driven, but the mean (average) and mode (commonest) rate of consumption is around 13km/l.

 

Hi JM,

I am an ardent reader of your motoring column every Wednesday. Keep up the good work.

A friend of mine is looking for a mid-size 4×4 vehicle, probably a SUV. The car will be used by his wife in rural areas on weather roads. The wife is a teacher and every morning crosses a seasonal river when going to school.

He is weighing on four Models: Nissan X-trail, Mazda CX-7, Nissan Murano and Subaru Tribeca. All 2008 models.  

A quick check on Youtube shows a lot similarities on handling of off-road conditions for the four vehicles. This leaves us more confused.

Given the kind of terrain the vehicle will be used on, which one is better putting into considerations other factors such as:

(i) Durability;

(ii) Repair costs;

(iii) Fuel Consumption;

(iv) Stability control; and;

(v) Comfort. 

David

 

I will do something unusual this time round and ignore the actual question you are asking, and go ahead and answer your inquiry according to what stands out with these vehicles. You can make your judgment call from my seemingly impertinent (or are they?) responses.

To start with, yes, YouTube is mostly right; these cars are basically facsimiles of each other. This is the primary reason why I will ignore the (i) to (v) queries up there, except for (iii).

Let us focus on the elephant in the room and think about that seasonal river you are talking about…. I have sampled the first generations of all the cars listed (and the second generation X- Trail too), and the most fitting for wading through a water carpet thicker than ankle-deep would be the X-Trail.

Forget the others, their ground clearances are too low and/or their wheelbases too long and/or their overhangs too intrusive for them to make a case for themselves as anything other than high-priced shopping baskets for the housewives with slightly larger disposable incomes. This is especially noteworthy of the Tribeca.

Speaking of the Subaru: it has the biggest engine here, a 3.6 litre flat six (forget the original Tribeca B9 with its weedy little 3.0 litre), so it is also the thirstiest: 5km/l on a normal day, stretching to 7km/l when the going is good.

The drop in fuel prices may have brought smiles in many a Tribeca-borne household. I liked its automatic gearbox the best too, but the swoopy, futuristic, beige interior of the test car I drove is the kind that attracts fingerprints like a mirror in the hands of a toddler.

The Tribeca is also the lowest riding, whether for real or apparently is hard to tell; but the long wheelbase doesn’t help -making it the most inappropriate for off-tarmac jaunts.

It is the only car in this list that seats seven, though (the rest seat five), so you could always look for paying passengers to offset the fuel bills…

The Mazda CX7 is a rocket ship. It is hard to tell exactly what the car was meant for, because what starts life as a cramped cross-over utility — in essence what looks like a Mazda 6 with a hatch and a lift-kit- is then saddled with a limp-wristed engine that has no torque. To ensure that this lack of torque is not noticed by drivers, the engine has a little extra something bolted to it: a stinking turbocharger.

The result is this Mazda goes like a getaway vehicle in a PG13 TV program.

If you want to humiliate the Tribeca-driving housewives on tarmac, then this is your weapon of choice. Sadly for it, speed is about all that it’s good for: with turbo comes compromised reliability (the front-mount intercooler is an especially sensitive sticking point) and woeful fuel bills. 245 horsepower ain’t a joke.

The CX7, however, comes a close second to the X-Trail in off-road acts.

Next up is the Murano. This is a car I lambasted not too long ago (to my own detriment: I have been unable to live down the dressing down I received from pundits who won’t calm down).

The first-generation model still looks funny to me; what with that fat rump at the back and the leering rictus up front. While the Mazda goes like a sports car, the best the Murano can do is claim to have an engine from a sports car: the veritable VQ35 unit from the Z33 Nissan 350Z, the famous Fairlady. The Murano is not that fast though. It also takes some getting used to: not everything is where you’d expect it to be.

Try filling up at a fuel forecourt for the first time in one and prepare for some red-faced scrabbling around in the driver’s foot-well looking for the release catch for the fuel filler cap. Here is a hint: stop looking, it doesn’t exist.

Another problem with the Nissan is one could easily end up with the more plebeian 2.5 litre 4-cylinder as opposed to the 3.5 V6, and you’d never know the difference… that is, until you try to overtake a Mazda CX7 and wonder why a 1200cc capacity advantage and two extra cylinders are not helping. Not a bad car for roughing it, but then again not quite at the CX7’s level.

Lastly, the X-Trail. This is the one you should get. It may not necessarily be the most durable (Murano), nor the most comfortable (Tribeca), nor the most stable (CX7) but it should be the cheapest to buy, fuel and maintain. It is definitely the most appropriate car for the terrain. It also has the most boring interior of the four cars. Invest in a good sound system to take your mind off the naff ambience.

 

Hi Baraza,

I have been thinking of two cars, Toyota Prius and Honda Civic hybrids. Tell me, what are the advantages and disadvantages of buying a hybrid car? Which one should I buy?

Baba Quinton

 

Advantages of a hybrid car: they put you in a good mood because you think you are saving the world. Disadvantages of a hybrid car: you are not actually saving the world.

Trade-off: the lower fuel bills will be a joy until you discover how much of a swine a hybrid car really is to fix. Ask your mechanic if he knows what Miller cycle is as opposed to Otto cycle.

If he cannot answer this, he cannot fix your Prius; even if he is also an electrician by night, he still can’t fix your Prius.

Between eating bitter fruit at 10am and eating bitter fruit at 3pm, which is better? Neither, at the end of it you still eat bitter fruit.

Get a Prius, there are quite a few around, maybe there exists an owner’s club for these things by now (a good source for unreliable and unverifiable information) and/or a graveyard of dead Prii/Pria/Prix/Priuses  (a good source of parts).

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Which is king between Mazda RX-8 and Toyota Celica GT?

Dear Baraza,
I am an ardent reader of your informative column and I thank you for the great work and research.

I am planning to buy my first car and I plan to use it to travel approximately 140km to Nairobi every Saturday and Monday.

I am a fan of sports cars, so when I came across Mazda RX-8 with a 1.3-litre engine, and fell madly in love with it.

However, I realised that the car uses a rotary engine which makes its fuel consumption very high. I would like a car that is economical with fuel and has a high resale value. Kindly advise me on the following,

1. Whether it is possible to replace the RX8 rotary engine with another one that is not as thirsty.

2. How does the RX-8 compare with Toyota Celica GT? Kindly advise me on any other better sport car models.

3. Finally, since I would like to import the car, is the import duty for sport cars higher than that of ordinary boxes?

Duncan Muthoni

The Mazda RX-8 is a sweet little car, but the rotary engine technology was doomed from the start, which was way back in the late 1960s, because it was not really a workable one.

Mazda just insisted on exploring that option as a way to look “unique” from other manufacturers, but even they had to eventually accept the circumstances and adapt accordingly. The RX-8 was the last car ever to use a rotary engine and it is no more.

Anyway, the high fuel consumption comes from the fact that there are three power strokes per every revolution of the crankshaft for a single rotor — the Wankel equivalent of a reciprocating engine piston — as compared to “half” for the piston — one power stroke per two revolutions of the crankshaft. The power stroke is the phase when fuel is burnt to produce power.

Other complications connected to a rotary engine are high oil consumption, lack of torque, which necessitates a high-revving engine, which in turns leads to even higher fuel consumption (the RX-8 revs to 9,500 rpm) and is expensive to maintain since the rotor tips, made from carbon, get cooked very fast and are always in need of replacement.

Anyway, to your question:

1. Yes, it is possible to replace the rotary engine with a reciprocating one. However, the work and money involved are off-putting, especially in fabrication and computer work.

At the end of it all, you may have even forgotten that the original intention was to save money. You might be better off sticking it out with your rotary and replacing it with another rotary once it goes bang. With good care, this might not necessarily happen.

2. The Mazda RX-8 is “sportier”. It has more horsepower (230hp vs the Celica’s 190hp), it is revvier (9,500 rpm is not a joke), it looks more snazzy, handles better, and is generally quicker. Other options would be a Nissan 350Z, a Honda S2000, Mercedes-Benz SLK, Chrysler Crossfire (stay away from this one), and BMW Z3 or Z4.

3. This I am not sure of, but I hardly think so. A friend just imported a crazy-fast sports car (R35 Nissan GTR) and initial calculations based on KRA’s universal customs duty criteria closely matched what the actual payment made was. So I do not think there is a “special” sports car importation tax.

Dear Baraza,

I have have been seeing buses with engines mounted at the rear and I am curious to know the following:

1. How does this setting compare with engines mounted at the front in terms of transmission, efficacy and maintenance.

2. Assuming two buses with the same engine specificiations (with one having the engine in front and the other at the rear) are going uphill, how would they compare? I am assuming one engine is pulling the load and the other is pushing.

3. Do the rear engine buses have a drive shaft since the engine is on top of the driving wheels?

Chris M M

I have had this debate between rear-engine and front-engine buses before. We had some interesting points, but these are the ones that stood out regarding your question:

1. Transmission: Front-engine buses have some advantage here because a rear-engine bus requires remote controls from the driver area to the back, where the engine is. These remote controls include the accelerator and clutch (for buses with a manual transmission). Also, the placement of the transaxle (gearbox, engine, and diff is all in one unit) means repairs and maintenance is a lot more complicated than in a front-engine bus.

However, rear-engine buses have been found to be much quieter than their front-engine counterparts because there is noise isolation. The rear-engine setup also means the engine and the driven wheels are at the same end of the vehicle, eliminating the need for long prop-shafts travelling along the centre line of the bus from the front to the back axle.

This absence of a lengthy prop-shaft means that the bus body can be fabricated with a much lower floor, thus maximising the available space from that chassis and hence optimising efficiency.

2. The difference would be hardly noticeable. Buses rarely suffer from loss of traction, and I know this particular question concerns that. In both cases, the engine would be pushing  the bus because either way, drive is going to the the rear axle. Placing the weight over the rear axle will not really make much of a difference.

The difference between pushing and pulling usually comes from the driven axle and not engine position. A front-wheel drive car pulls, while a rear-wheel drive car pushes, irrespective of engine placement.

3. Yes, they have to have a drive-shaft. There is no other way in which power from the engine can reach the wheels for a traction engine without drive-shafts. (Note: traction engines are the sort where the engine power directly powers the wheels.

The other type is a reaction engine where the vehicle motion comes from Newton’s most famous law. A good example is a jet engine, where the momentum of the exhaust gases pushes the entire vehicle)

Hi Baraza,
I have noticed that Scania F330 buses are quite adept at scaling steep sections, and that Isuzus, on the other hand, are more of jacks of all trades but not good for speed and power on either flat or steep surfaces. Nissan Diesels, I have also learnt, are quite underpowered when going uphill but become beasts on flat surfaces and even outsprint the Scanias and Isuzus. Could you kindly demystify this phenomenon and also drop in a word or two on efficiency and durability of the three.

Victor Dola.

From your description, I would guess either you are referring to obsolete models of these buses or maybe the respective drivers had different ideas on how to approach bus driving. The F330, for starters, is no longer on sale. It has since been replaced by the F310, which is just as quick but more fuel-efficient due to having a smaller engine, a 9,000cc five-cylinder unit compared to the F330’s 11,000cc six-cylinder.

When you say the Isuzu is “not good for speed and power in either flat or hilly surfaces”, I am tempted to think that you are referring to the old Isuzu MV118, which has been out of production for, what, 13 years now? It was replaced by the Isuzu MV 123, which is turbocharged and intercooled up to 270hp and 980Nm of torque, with a six-speed gearbox, and, from experience it is not exactly slow.

It might not have the sheer go of the Scania pair (which have 330hp and 310 hp respectively), but is works just fine on hilly and flat surfaces. Unless you were referring to the smaller FRR, in which case that is a lorry dressed as a bus, so forgive its lethargy on mountains.

The Nissan Diesel UD is another one. The CB31 SXN is a weak noisy thing which eventually found its calling in life — ferrying prisoners between courtrooms and jail. The updated version, the CB46 Turbo Intercooler, is a lot better: It is quieter, quite fast, and hugely reliable. Again, it is no match for the Swedes in making molehills out of mountains, but then again it is not THAT bad now, is it? Have you ever been in a CB31? Now, that one was POOR on the hills.

Anyway, the phenomenon of different performance capabilities… The Scanias use close-ratio gearboxes and taller final drives in the diffs (mechanical devices that transmit torques and rotation). This gives them almost unbelievable acceleration and hill-climbing power, but trims down their top speeds somewhat.

Not forgetting the advanced turbocharging AND turbo-compound technology that yields massive outputs from the relatively small engines — the F310, like I said, has a 9,000cc engine but it also develops the most torque: 1550Nm. The Nissan Diesel UD CB46 Turbo InterCooler does 290hp and 1,079Nm of torque, but from a 11,670cc engine. The Isuzu MV123 Turbo Intercooler also has a small unit; 9,800cc, giving 270hp and 980Nm.

Though the UD and the Isuzu are also turbocharged and intercooled, theirs are much simpler setups and are combined with taller, widely spaced ratios in the gearboxes and much smaller diffs to give high top speeds, but the acceleration and climbing power are slightly compromised. I hope this helps.

In terms of efficiency, the Scanias rule. Both of them. The Isuzu is not so bad, but sadly for the UD, it comes last. Durability sees the list almost being reversed. UDs do not die; they get sold and continue working on other routes.

They are harder to kill than a cockroach on steroids. Isuzus (MV 123) are ephemeral by comparison and are prone to turbo failure, especially when driven by people who did not take the time to listen when care for turbo engines was being explained to them. The Scanias fall somewhere in between.

Dear Baraza,

I am a die-hard enthusiast of the Peugeot pedigree and happy that for the first time in many months you critiqued the ‘Simba’ but dwelt on an old model. Anyway, to my problem. I have owned the Peugeot 405GL for six years and cannot complain except for a rear right suspension, which was eventually fixed.

However, due to two factors — my retirement and and the high cost of fuel— I approached my mechanic who suggested that we change its double carburettor to one fixed on a 305. It was fine until I noticed an increase temperature.

He replaced the cooling fan but now my three-month-old Chloride Exide battery is unable to crank the engine if the car stays static for a day. What is the problem? Would a 305 carburrator compromise power?Any known/tried benefit and/or damage?

Ossome.

I believe you installed the wrong carburettor in your Peugeot 405 GL. It is a, what, 1.8-litre? 2.0-litre? The smallest I would give it is 1.6 litres. The Peugeot 305, on the other hand, was most commonly found in 1.3-litre guise.

By installing a carburettor meant for a smaller engine into a bigger one, you are starving the bigger engine of fuel. The result is that it burns air and fuel in incorrect ratios. The ideal or stoichiometric air-fuel ratio is around 14.7:1. If it goes any lower, say 10:1, then the car is running rich — burning more fuel than it should for the air coming into the engine. If it goes any higher, say 17:1, then the car is running lean, i.e it is burning a lot less fuel for the air getting into the engine.

I believe the smaller carburettors have led you to the second circumstance: You are running lean. The symptoms are typical: a lean-running engine also runs very hot and it is hard to start because a lot of fuel is used in the cranking process and yet here you are, starving the engine even further with your small carburettor jets. And once it is running, yes, power will be severely compromised.
The only remedy is to revert to the original carburettors.

Dear Baraza,

First, you are doing great work. Your column is witty, informed, and clever. Keep it up.

Now, I like to keep my car very clean, so I hose down the engine, wax the body and tyres, and spray the undercarriage.

1. Does hosing the engine have any effect on new V-Tech engines?

2. Is it true that a buildup of dirt and oil affects the engine’s ability to cool down?

3. Does waxing and polishing affect the paint work?

4. What is dust-proof car paint?

5. Why does local paint work seem inferior to the original?

Lastly, I have come up with a fuel dispensing pump concept after getting conned by my driver. Who can I pitch this concept to?

Mathers Davies.

High praise indeed, Davis. I am flattered. Now, to your questions:

1. Hosing down the engine is never advisable. That powerful jet of water could easily make its way into nooks and crannies where it is not needed i.e into an electrical system, then you will find yourself in undesirable circumstances where your car will not start, or will not run properly, or the Check Engine Light is on and the diagnostics are not isolating the problem.

The best thing would be to wipe the engine with a wet/damp rag using water where the dirt is easy to get out and the relevant cleaning agents (degreaser and such) where necessary. Yes, it is more taxing physically, but it is the way to go.

2. Yes, that build-up causes cooling issues. While it may not interfere directly with your cooling system components, the grime and dirt around the engine forms an overcoat or a sweater. Part of the heat loss form an engine is through radiation. The heat build-up may sometimes exceed the cooling capabilities of the equipment available.

3. Only if you are using bad quality wax or polish. If anything, waxing and polishing your car is supposed to IMPROVE the appearance, not deteriorate it.

4. Some paints/waxes/polishes can get sticky in very hot sun, and then attract dust which then embeds itself in the goo. I think (I am not 100 per cent sure) dust-proof licks are those that stay crisp even when baked to within an inch of their lives, thus whatever dust falls on them can still be wiped off without any risk of damage to the paintwork.

5. I would say poor business practices. Profiteering. The need to make a quick buck without having to invest too many resources in a venture.

This device of yours: There are two ways you can sell it. The first is if you can mass-produce it yourself after approaching owners/proprietors of various petrol stations and convincing them that not only does the device actually work, but that they also need it, and need it now.

The second is to approach the multinationals that own the oil companies. You could sell you intellectual property rights to them or enjoy royalties for the rest of your life but that will only happen if they believe that it benefits them.

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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.

Posted on

If you like the prison feel, go Russian

Hi Baraza,
I understand the Russians make some of the best war planes and tanks, but rarely do we see Russian products on our roads, like the Niva, or the Kamaz, which I understand has won the Dakar Rally nine times in a row. Tell me about the Lada Niva and the Mazda 6
Joe

The percentage of clients who buy trucks in order to win the Dakar Rally or a similar event is too small to be calculated, so a Dakar Championship is not necessarily a bragging right for lorry manufacturers.

In all other respects, Russian trucks are about as good as their prisons in usability: the Spartan level of build and kit is what we motoring hacks call “crudely effective”.

In comparison, a Mercedes Actros is a high-powered R93 Blaser Jagdwaffen sniper rifle while a Kamaz is a wooden club with nails driven into its head. Both will kill with only one blow but the cost difference is huge and the degrees of sophistication are poles apart.

The Lada Niva was a good seller in the ‘90s because it could do all that the Defender 90 could at a fraction of the cost, so it was a farmer’s favourite. It also attracted the off-road enthusiast with a small bank balance. But the prison cell passenger environment, 0-100 km/h in 22 seconds and the fearsome thirst from its 1.9-litre (and very unrefined) engine meant only the really desperate needed apply. For a harsher and more unforgiving analysis of cars from eastern Europe, please watch BBC Top Gear. You might die laughing.

The Mazda 6 is a very good car. I have been in one recently, the 2011 model, and it is exceptional to drive. Build quality is a step ahead of most of its rivals, as is its performance, and yet it costs less than its major rivals (the Hyundai Sonata costs about Sh4.5 million, the Camry a whopping Sh8 million, the Legacy Sh5.5 million.

The Mazda? Only Sh4.1 million). It is also quite practical: it can seat five and the boot is massive, large enough to accommodate a magazine editor and leave enough room for one of his writers to fit in there with him — pictorial evidence of this unusual test technique coming soon to a social network near you.

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Hi
In a past article in the Daily Nation, Shell had put up the final figures of their fuel challenge conducted over a distance between Nairobi and Naivasha. What astonished me is that a certain lady driver took her car over 181 km with only 3.32 litres, achieving an enviable consumption of 54.52 kpl. If this is achievable, then what is the magic, other than the fact that she is a salonist?
Kioko

There is no magic, there is only skill, patience and a set of cojones bigger than most other people’s. To achieve that kind of consumption figure requires some pretty oddball driving techniques, some of which include turning off the engine while in motion (no power assistance for the steering, no servo assistance for the brakes, you cannot accelerate should the need arise) and the risk of warping some delicate drive-shafts due to low-rev high-gear manoeuvres.

And the fact that she was salonist has nothing to do with her abilities. That lady is damn good behind the wheel, period.

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Dear Baraza,
I want to buy a vehicle that is a bit high from the ground due to my rural terrain but which is also stable and comfortable. I have in mind an 1800cc Honda CRV year 2000 and a 1600cc Suzuki Vitara year 1998. Please advise me in respect to consumption, spares, resale value and stability. And do we have old model CRVs with 4WD locally?

Yes, there are old CRVs with 4WD. The CRV is comfier and more economical than the Vitara, but the Suzuki can climb a wall with the right driver behind the wheel.
Spares are not a problem for either; resale value favours the CRV, as does stability (I presume we are referring to the absence of wobbling on the highway).

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Baraza,
A friend of mine wants to purchase a saloon car. His preference is a 2000cc to 2500cc Nissan, year 2005. After checking around, the car that comes to mind is the Nissan Teana, which comes with initials such as 230JK, 230JM, J31, etc, and a VQ23, with a 2300cc engine with CVTC technology and a compression ratio of 9.8:1. The model is said to produce 173PS (127Kw, 171hp) at 6000 rpm and 166ft.lbf (225 Nm) at 4400 rpm.
Kindly shed some light on the following:
1. The VQ23 engine compared to other engines in terms of performance and durability.
2. The CVTC technology in terms of fuel consumption and whether this is the same as the VVT-i technology used in most Toyotas.
3. What is a compression ratio and how does it determine fuel consumption in a vehicle? What is the difference, for example, between an engine with a compression ratio of 9.8:1 and one with 10.8:1?
4. With the power produced by this car as shown indicated, how many kilometres can it cover per litre on a highway and in traffic?
David

1. Nissan’s VQ line of engines are commonly used in sporty vehicles, so performance is not a worry. The most famous version is the VQ35 3.5-litre NA V6 engine, as used in the Nissan 350 Z/ Fairlady Z and the Murano. Durability is not a cause for concern if you stay away from bashing against the red line on a daily basis, and make your oil changes right on cue.

2. The variable valve timing system gives an engine two personalities, one for performance and one for economy, so you could say it does improve economy. It is similar to VVT-i and MIVEC and what not.

3. Compression ratio is the ratio of volume of all the air in the cylinder when the piston is at BDC (bottom dead centre, the lower most point of piston travel) to the volume with the piston at TDC (top dead centre, the uppermost point of piston travel), that is, the volume of the cylinder (V1) + volume of combustion chamber (V2) divided by the volume of the combustion chamber (V2), or (V1 + V2) / V2. It has no direct effect on fuel consumption, but it does affect torque and piston speed, which in itself determines power output.
High compression ratios create more torque and increase power output, but require higher octane fuels to prevent pre-ignition. An engine operation with a 9.8-to-1 compression ratio means the intake charge (air-fuel mixture) is not compressed as much as much as it is in the 10.8-to-1 engine.

While from my explanation it would be easy to assume that the latter engine develops more power than the former, it is not as simple as that. Sometimes the compression ratio is adjusted to allow an engine to run on a different type of fuel without adversely affecting power output.

The commonest way would be to use different pistons (with either concave or convex crowns, depending on whether you want to raise or lower the compression ratio) or replacing the cylinder head.

4. A 2.3-litre modern engine should return 8 to 9 kpl in the city and up to 14 kpl on the highway, though these figures are subject to driving style.

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JM,
I would like you to comment on the new technology that has been developed by Mazda called SkyActiv. Using this technology, the new Mazda Demio can achieve a consumption of up to 28 kpl. Also, what is your opinion of the turbocharged Mazda Axela with manual transmission? In some reviews on the Internet, it beats the Subaru Impreza hands down.
Derek

The SkyActiv tech covers a wide range of parameters, from engines (G: a type of direct injection for petrol engines that uses extremely high compression ratios and D: diesel engines that use two-stage turbos to widen the boost operating range); transmissions (DRIVE: an ordinary automatic with features from CVT and DSG and a wider lockup range for more efficient torque transfer and MT: a manual gearbox with lighter components and more compact dimensions); and platforms (body and chassis).

So I guess combining all this SkyActiv stuff in a tiny car like the Demio can result in 20 kpl, though I smell a lawsuit here. Ask Honda what happened when they took liberties with fuel economy figures and one lady driver failed to achieve said figures. Another issue is our fuel. Part of the reason you don’t see high performance cars on our roads is that even though we could afford them, our fuel couldn’t run them.

Cars with high-pressure turbos or high compression ratios require high octane fuel to run. A compression ratio of 11.0:1 is already very high: Mazda’s SkyActiv G boffinry boasts of 14.0:1, so for those who don’t follow the jargon, this means an engine with that kind of compression should run on something closer to paraffin or aviation fuel than to regular petrol. Let the SkyActiv cars get here first then we will see what is what.

In other news, I can bet that Impreza was not an STi. I am not an Impreza fan, but I know what the flagship car in the range can do and I highly doubt if the Axela is in that league. The closest Mazda came to the 280hp-4-cylinder-turbo-intercooler-4WD rally car formula was with the Mazda 6 MPS, and even that was not able to unseat the usual pair of tarmac terrorists: the Evo and the WRX Sti.

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Hello Baraza,
I want to buy a second-hand 1820cc Subaru Legacy Station Wagon STI, year 1996, petrol. What should I check for to ensure I’m getting a good deal? I’m a bit lame with cars.
Peter

You claim to be “a bit lame” with motor vehicles, but the car you are asking about is an enthusiast’s car. Interesting.

It is not a common car, this one, so my guess is you are getting one from Japan, in which case by the time it gets here a physical check will be too late. Anyway, with such performance-oriented cars, it is best to look at brakes and suspension mostly. Test the brakes to see if they work, and the car should not sag or lean on one side.

Then the tyres: check for bald spots, which suggest hard use or abuse. Finally, check the engine and gearbox (the oil especially, and the sounds). Any suspicious clinks, pings or rattles from the engine and/or transmission suggest that either something is broken or is about to. Go to one of the local tuning houses (they are almost always run by guys with names such as Singh, some of whom are my friends) for a checkup on the turbo, to see if it is boosting properly.

If you can afford it, also have the car checked for chassis straightness. Some may have been involved in a big accident then the evidence cleverly concealed underneath a fancy paint job.

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Hi Baraza,
I drive a manual 1998 Starlet EP 91, which has the following problems:
1. The engine vibrates excessively when idling.
2. It has reduced speed over time, even after replacing the plugs.
3. A mechanic removed the thermostat, is this in order?
4. Can the fuel consumption improve from 16 kpl?

1. Check engine mounts or the IAC (idle air control). From what you say in question two, it most likely is the IAC.
2. See 1 above.
3. It is not fatal, if that is what you are asking. But now that the water pump and the fans have to be connected directly to the car’s electrical power system since there is no switch, the car will overheat before going too far.
4. It can but why would you want to? Attaining a better economy figure than 16 kpl involves some unusual and extra-legal driving techniques, some of which I would not recommend.

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Hi Baraza,
My car is a Nissan Bluebird EU-12 (SR 18), and for sometime it has really been misbehaving. It slows down like it is about to stall, then suddenly picks up like a jet on the runway. It is now stripped down for repairs. My mechanic told me that the carburettor is faulty, and because he believes I cannot get its model in our shops (something to do with a CI model), I can only replace it with another model, meaning modification will be needed.
Because I believe in originality, I decided to consult another mechanic who said my carburettor isn’t the problem rather it is the computer that is faulty. He also believes that I cannot get its computer and advises me to get a carburettor of another vehicle and forget about the computer. Please advise me on the following as my financial status cannot allow my mind to dream of a new toy yet I need to be mobile as soon possible.
1. What was the cause of the stalling and picking up?
2. The computer and “CI carburettor” analysis by my two mechanics, what do you have to say?
3. If the mechanics are right about unavailability of both the computer and the carburettor, which I think may be true because of the age of the vehicle, what would you suggest I should get that will fit?
4. What do you think I should do to put this vehicle back on the road?

Both reasons are legitimate for a car that is not running smoothly. Other reasons could include wiring problems, fuel delivery issues (pumps, lines, filters, dirt in the fuel), and a lot more, so I cannot tell you why exactly your car is not running.

However, one of the two mechanics knows not of what he speaks, and my prime suspect is the chap who started the talk on computers. What year model is your car? Is he sure there is an ECU?

And incredible as it sounds, there are still carburettors on sale. While some are model specific, others are built to be installed on almost any engine (after-market Weber and SU), especially for those seeking to modify performance on their cars.

My advice: Get another mechanic. Even if I was to help you, I cannot begin describing here how to tune your carburettor, it will take at least 25,000 words just to explain what is what.

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Hi JM,
I would like to know more about the Chevy Aveo in terms of fuel consumption, spares availability, and performance. Would you advise one to acquire it?

Consumption: 10 kpl urban, 14 kpl extra-urban.

Spares: General Motors should still have parts for the car as they sold some not too long ago.

Performance: Nothing near a Ferrari if that’s what you are asking. It is a 1.5-litre naturally aspirated engine fitted into a small saloon car, so what do you expect?

Advice? It depends. How badly do you want an Aveo? If the answer is “very”, then get an Aveo. If the answer is “not very”, then shop around some more for something else. Anything I say beyond this point will amount to what someone once called “de-marketing”.